Ipswich manager will have to start turning draws into wins if his improving side are to embark on a late charge for the Championship play-offs, writes John Percy
AT a tense, searingly honest AGM towards the end of November, Roy Keane ascertained that he had “five or six weeks” to save his job at Portman Road. It is safe to say that the Ipswich manager has succeeded in riding the storm, just a few months after presiding over the worst start to a season in the club’s history.
Keane was housebound – unable even to get into his car – last week due to the snow but Ipswich’s Championship play-off bid now appears to be gaining traction, with this draw at the Walkers Stadium ensuring that they have lost only one of their last 14 games. While the sacking season has kicked into life in this unforgiving division, at least Keane’s revitalisation has provided trigger-happy chairmen with another warning that change is not always the answer.
After such a dreadful start, that saw Ipswich fail to win their first 14 league games, Keane has masterminded an impressive recovery.
There was a time in October when they were the only club in all four divisions without a league win. Only a difficulty in transforming draws into victories – this was their 13th stalemate of the season –is holding Keane back. Last night he was even talking up the chances of sneaking into the play-off places. “You’ve got to believe and I’m a dreamer,” he said. “Sixth place can be available to nine or 10 teams. You only have to look at Crystal Palace’s run a few years back to see what can be achieved.
“We can talk all day about it but I’ve got a bus to get and I’m sure you people have got to go home. We can have a good season, whatever that means. The draws won’t get us up that table and we need wins – but we can’t be written off.
“What is holding us back and will continue to hold us back is goals. The onus is on the strikers and that’s something we need to look at. We can do a lot better in terms of possession but to draw a game and to be disappointed is progress.”
The game was only 20 seconds old when Ipswich stunned the home fans in the Walkers Stadium into silence. Jack Colback’s delicious cross bamboozled the Leicester defence and, under pressure from David Norris, Ryan McGivern could only divert the ball past goalkeeper Chris Weale into his own net.
It provided a decent platform for Keane’s men who controlled the first half-hour. Leicester, however, have built the foundations of their impressive progress under Nigel Pearson on an excellent home record and they levelled in the 38th minute. Lloyd Dyer’s innocuous pass somehow confused the visiting defence enough to find its way through to Steve Howard who slid the ball past Arran Lee-Barrett.
The young Ipswich goalkeeper may have been powerless to prevent Howard’s intervention but he enhanced his growing reputation early in the second half. As Ipswich failed to clear a corner, Wayne Brown’s scissor kick went all wrong but Matty Fryatt swivelled eight yards out to hook a volley towards goal that Lee-Barrett clawed to safety.
Leicester finished the game stronger but could not test Lee-Barrett again, earning a point that keeps them in the play-offs places. Pearson admitted: “It wasn’t a very good game and we struggled a wee bit to get anything going today in a positive manner. It was a poor goal to concede and set the tone for the afternoon.
We tried hard but didn’t hit the standards that we’ve set ourselves.”
Leicester City (4-4-2): Weale; Neilson, Morrison, Brown, McGivern; King, Oakley, Wellens (Gallagher, 71), Dyer (Waghorn, 71); Howard (Kermorgant, 84), Fryatt. Substitutes not used: Logan (gk), Adams, N’Guessan, Hobbs.
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Lee-Barrett; Bruce (Rosenior, 57), McAuley, Delaney, Balkestein; Peters, Leadbitter, Norris, Colback (John, 83); Walters, Wickham (Garvan, 73). Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Wright, Edwards, Quinn.
Referee: M Haywood (W Yorkshire)
Booked: Ipswich Bruce.
Man of the match: McAuley