Keane's stuck in mud with the Tractor Boys

After bold talk of promotion, a defeat today against Preston could spark a crisis for Ipswich's volatile manager. James Corrigan reports
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Six games into a new season is no time to be judging a new manager. But then this is English football and this is Roy Keane and it is inevitable that, as Ipswich find themselves at the opposite of the end of the Championship table from that which he promised, the importance of today's home match against Preston takes on an over-inflated status.

Despite having arguably the most driven man in football at the controls, the Tractor Boys have begun the campaign with their wheels stuck in something suspiciously resembling the brown stuff. One point out of a possible 12, second from bottom in the League, out of the Carling Cup and still awaiting their first win of the term ... this may be early in the day but there are a few alarms bells ringing across Suffolk.

It is possible to use the "early doors" cliché in terms of Keane, too, as the slammings and openings have started to reverberate around Portman Road. While Ipswich are not the only club involved in some hectic buying and selling before Tuesday's end of the transfer window, none seem to be any more desperate. As ever, Keane has worn his heart in the middle of his rolled-up sleeves.

"Brucey's come out and mentioned one or two players and I've spoken to one or two lads from Sunderland about maybe coming," said Keane yesterday. "But there's a lot to do when you're trying to get players out of the Premiership, in terms of the finances and the desire – I want to find out if these players want to come and play for Ipswich. There's a long, long way to go for these deals to be concluded. It's hard work."

Brucey is, of course, Steve Bruce, his Manchester United compadre. In stark contrast Bruce already attracted favourable reviews for his start at Sunderland, Keane's last club. On Thursday, Bruce admitted he had given permission to two players – Grant Leadbitter and Carlos Edwards – to talk personal terms with Keane. Yesterday Edwards was reported to have returned to Wearside unimpressed by the deal offered down south. And so the games are played out.

It is probably fair to comment that this is not Keane's favourite part of the job, but if he does discover himself losing the phoney war, then he probably only has himself to blame. After last Saturday's one-sided loss to West Bromwich, Keane announced: "There are one or two players who played for me who will never play for me again." He also admitted: "Without a doubt we are short [on quality] but I'll be having a conversation with the board this week to see if funds are available.''

With multi-millionaire Marcus Evans at the helm the funds plainly are available. It is one of the reasons Keane took on the role. He arrived at Portman Road and sought to dismantle what he viewed as a comfort zone. "I've not bumped into an angry person yet," he said. If he wants to see what a couple of angry people are writing, he only need to log on to that scourge of gafferdom known as the message boards.

Predictably they wonder if he is the man to spend the millions. They point out that he has already brought in £4m of his own players and they are as much to blame for the woeful beginning as the old guard. Furthermore they look at Keane's claim at the start of the season that "we have a very good chance of promotion" and wonder.

At this depressing stage they may also raise an eyebrow or two to his exhortation that "any half-decent manager can lead a side to half-way in the Championship". Still, there are plenty left to support Keane. He can count Alan Irvine, his dugout rival today, as a believer. ''Roy Keane knows the Championship," said the manager, whose Preston side are in fifth place. "He did a great job getting Sunderland promoted, and their current form is probably just a blip as everyone settles down."

Irvine's referral to his first managerial job is particularly apt at this juncture. When Keane joined the Black Cats in the last week of August, 2006, they were second bottom of the Championship having suffered a torrid four-game opening. Famously, nine months later, Keane took them to the League title. On the final day of that transfer window, the Corkman made six signings. He has been here before. It just feels a little bit different this time around.