Keane on the brink

ROY KEANE’S Ipswich Town adventure appeared to have come to an end last night with the former Ireland skipper on the brink of parting company with the Championship club.

The club refused to comment on fevered speculation over the past 24 hours but they are set to make an announcement today ahead of the side’s FA Cup trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

The Tractor Boys dropped to 19th in the Championship after Monday’s 1-0 home defeat to Keane’s former club Nottingham Forest with the Cork man involved in angry exchanges with fans behind the dug-out and on the way to the tunnel at the end of the game.

The 39-year-old’s position had been looking increasingly under threat after a run of form which had seen the Tractor Boys drop from an early season high of second to their current lowly position, a long way from owner and chairman Marcus Evans’s ambitions of taking the Suffolk outfit back to the Premier League after nine years away.

Ipswich have won just one of their last eight league games and fans have become increasingly concerned that the side could find themselves dragged into a relegation battle. Keane took over at Portman Road the day after former Northern Ireland international Jim Magilton had been sacked, late in April 2009.

At his first press conference he was in typically bullish mood, targeting promotion in one season, despite having signed on for two years.

“I’ve signed a two-year contract but I’d like to try and do it in one year. That may be a challenge, but that’s what challenges are. If I wasn’t up for challenges I’d be out walking my dogs today. I think my dogs need a break,” he said.

Two wins in the remaining two games of the 2008/09 season seemed to suggest that Keane, with his former Nottingham Forest team-mate Tony Loughlan his first team coach as he was at Sunderland, was having an immediate effect and Portman Road season ticket sales were boosted to almost 15,000.

Keane spent the summer rebuilding the squad backed by Evans’s investment. Midfielder Lee Martin came in from Manchester United, Tamas Priskin from Watford, while Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbitter were brought in from Sunderland.

While Town fans welcomed the new additions, there were the first signs of dissent with supporters unhappy that promising young striker Jordan Rhodes had been sold to Huddersfield, a player many had expected to be the coming season’s breakthrough player.

The season began with a 2-1 defeat at Coventry, which was followed by 13 more winless league games, the club’s worst ever start to a season.

Fans began calling for Keane’s head but owner Evans and his chief executive Simon Clegg were happy to keep to Ipswich’s traditions of giving managers time. “Roy’s position is exactly the same now as it was at the start of the season. His team is improving with every game,” said Clegg.

A first victory at home to Derby in the final game of October saw Keane’s side finally get going and eventually they escaped relegation comfortably, finishing in 15th, another ex-Sunderland man Daryl Murphy coming in on loan and netting six important goals.

The summer saw a drop in season ticket sales with fans disappointed not just with the poor showing but a lack of style to the football being played and a frustration at Keane’s apparently limited scouting network — targets were all too often his former Sunderland players or ex-Ireland colleagues.

Additionally, popular coach Bryan Klug, the man who had been behind the Ipswich academy which had produced the likes of Kieron Dyer and Richard Wright, had been unceremoniously jettisoned after more than 20 years at the club.

There were also mutterings regarding Keane’s regular soundbites on national and international footballing issues when fans thought he ought to be concentrating on matters closer to home.

The close season also saw the first signs of cracks in the relationship between Keane and Evans and Clegg, the manager venting his frustration at the failures to sign the senior players he was after, most notably former Crystal Palace skipper Shaun Derry, who moved on to QPR.

Despite this, the season started brightly with a 3-1 win against Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough, the pre-season favourites.

But Ipswich, with youngsters increasingly to the fore, failed to keep the run going and the pressure started to grow from fans. Keane didn’t help his standing with supporters by suggesting that some of them didn’t know what they were on about.

“I’ve no problem with people’s opinions, but a lot of people do not have a clue what they’re talking about in terms of football,” he said.

Despite a Carling Cup run which sees Ipswich face Arsenal in a two-legged semi-final this month, the end has seemed on the cards for some while, as Keane himself acknowledged last month when he said: “I haven’t got a clue whether I’ll keep my job.”

Evans’s reluctance to commit further cash ahead of this transfer window was the final sign that the end was close.

The bookies are tipping former Wigan, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford boss Paul Jewell as Keane’s successor, while Keane himself is settled in Suffolk and is likely to remain living in the small town of Woodbridge, until he begins the next chapter in his eventful footballing life.

It all started so well

* ROY KEANE’S time with Ipswich began on April 23 2009 with a wave of optimism, the Ipswich faithful believing that the Irishman could repeat his Sunderland trick of getting a side promoted in one season.

* Wins at Cardiff and at home to Coventry followed at the end of the 2009/10 season but there were few highlights subsequently.

* A record 14-game winless streak at the start of the following season saw Ipswich drop to bottom before David Wright’s goal led to a victory over Derby County.

* Relegation was comfortably avoided but fans were still less than impressed with what was on show at Portman Road.

* Having been brought up on the flowing football of the Bobby Robson and George Burley eras, fans weren’t pleased with Keane’s less attractive approach.

* This season briefly flickered into life, Town reaching second in the Championship in the early stages, but a humiliating 3-0 defeat to QPR showed just how far Keane’s side were behind the division’s serious promotion challengers.

* Since then it’s all been downhill – except in the Carling Cup.

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