IF JOE ROYLE had any illusions about the task when he accepted it, he will have none now. Here, unfolding before him, was the story of Manchester City's recent past captured in one vivid, definitive chapter. City were within seven minutes of victory but by then their self-belief had all but drained and Ipswich picked their way through the tension-ravaged home ranks to claim all three points.
Maine Road had welcomed its sixth Messiah in 19 months with well-practised gusto, and the The New One presented a goal in just four minutes, courtesy of Kit Symons' header.
All too familiar dejection followed on the heels of fresh promise. Bobby Petta equalised with a cross which evaded the ruck of players in front of City's goalkeeper Tommy Wright, and then the Dutchman set up the winner for Kieron Dyer in stoppage time.
Peter Beardsley, on loan from Bolton, briefly influenced proceedings but his ageing craft may offer limited solution. So do the creaking limbs of Uwe Rosler. He can no longer make the penetrating runs required of the main striker. Royle will inevitably lean on the small frame of Georgi Kinkladze and when the Georgian gives rein to his exquisite skills anything seems possible. Alas, even he needs resourceful accomplices.
His countrymen Kakhaber Tskhadadze and Murtaz Shelia, along with the oft-maligned Symons, defended manfully and intelligently, yet were ultimately powerless to prevent another miserable capitulation.
Those opening minutes had generated such optimism. Beardsley instigated the move which broke Ipswich's defence. Craig Russell crossed from the left and Symons climbed at the far post to head in. But Beardsley's influence waned and Ipswich began to confirm they were the better side. Mick Stockwell and David Johnson might have turned the match long before Petta's fortuitous goal.
Royle said: "It's been a long day and I though there might be a good ending. I've learned things, about fitness, for one, but there are good things we can work on. When something went wrong the heads dropped and you can see the difference confidence makes. Ipswich showed that. It will be a struggle, but one we can win."
Manchester City (3-5-2): T Wright; Symons, Tskhadadze, Shelia; Edghill (Crooks, 45; Beesley, 67), Jim Whitley, Jeff Whitley, Kinkladze, Russell; Rosler, Beardsley (Bradbury, 74).
Ipswich Town (3-5-2): R Wright; Uhlenbeek, Mowbray, Cundy; Stockwell, Dyer, Holland, Clapham (Petta, 74), Taricco; Mathie, Johnson (Naylor, 87). Substitute not used: Sonner.
Referee: G Frankland (Middlesbrough).