Is Paul Jewell the right man for Ipswich Town?

Following the dismissal of Roy Keane last week, Ipswich Town have appointed Paul Jewell as their new manager.  But for some reason Paul Jewell (Plan B lookalike) decided to sit out the first two fixtures and left Roy Keane’s assistant Ian McParland to sweat it out in the dugout.  After all, it was away to Chelsea in the third round of the FA Cup and at home to Arsenal in the first leg of the League Cup.

Being a wily old fox Paul Jewell probably thought that Ipswich were going to be on the wrong end of a thrashing in both games and subsequently suggested he would leave the team in the capable hands on McParland as he hadn’t got to know the players.

Well, after Chelsea returned to winning ways and thrashed Ipswich 7-0 last Sunday at Stamford Bridge Jewell must have felt rather smug.  The last thing a new manager wants to do is start with a hiding.  So imagine his dismay when he witnessed a gallant Ipswich team beat the mighty Arsenal 1-0 last night at Portman Road from a comfortable seat in the directors’ box, knowing he cannot take an ounce of credit for their best result in ages.

Instead he will take charge for the first time this Saturday when Ipswich travel to Millwall; a game which looking at the form book should result in defeat for Paul Jewell’s Tractor Boys.  The following Saturday Ipswich are at home against Doncaster Rovers.  If Jewell fails to win that game he then faces Arsenal at The Emirates in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final; and on the 1st February Paul Jewell will return to Pride Park when Ipswich take on Derby County where he is bound to get a hostile reception.

So what has Paul Jewell done since he miraculously took Wigan into the Premier League?  Not a lot is the simple answer.  His record at Derby County is not a good one.  He replaced Billy Davies and won his first match in charge when Derby, then of the Premier League, beat one of his former clubs, Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on penalties.  Four days later they were knocked out of the same competition by Preston North End who was fighting a relegation battle in the Championship. His 16th game in charge saw him lead Derby to a 2-0 defeat to another former club, Wigan, and in doing so set a new club record of 21 league games without a win.  That same year, Derby County were relegated from the Premier League with just 11 points, equalling a 108-year Football League record.

Just three points above the Championship relegation places, if I was an Ipswich Town fan I would be sad but relieved to see Roy Keane given the sack but shaking my head at the appointment of Paul Jewell.  I wouldn’t be too surprised if Ipswich Town get relegated to League One this season while fierce rivals, Norwich City rub salt in to their wounds by winning promotion to the Premier League.



Who’s Next: George Burley and Roy Keane Form Latest Disappearing Act

The current vogue for getting rid of managers in the Championship continued this week with another two positions becoming vacant: somewhat surprisingly considering his appointment in June and the feeling that Crystal Palace would have been skating on thin ice this season even if Jose Mourinho was in charge at Selhurst Park, George Burley was dismissed as Crystal Palace manager after the Eagles were beaten 3-0 at Millwall on New Years Day.

Roy Keane’s dismissal from Ipswich Town could not have been any less of a surprise. Aside from the Carling Cup run – which more or less coincided with their best form of the season – Ipswich have been terrible since mid October, losing ten of their last fourteen league games and dropping into the bottom six for the first time this season following a 1-0 home defeat by Nottingham Forest. The first leg of Carling Cup semi finals take place next week, but it would be a major upset if Ipswich managed to do anything other than lose to Arsenal on Wednesday, especially as they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup on Sunday.

However, it’s not all been bad news for managers this week. Former Hull boss Phil Brown returned to management with Preston and although the approach from Turf Moor was turned down flat, Norwich’s Paul Lambert could be destined for greater things if the right opportunity arises.

If you’re struggling to keep up with the managerial changes, it’s not surprising. Since January 2010, 16 of the 24 clubs have changed their managers at least once and there are currently three open positions. Dave Jones (at Cardiff since May 2005) and Doncaster’s Shaun O’Driscoll (appointed in September 2006) have been in their positions the longest.

The stress of being at the bottom of the table is obviously getting to club mascots as well. Preston’s mascot – a duck, which is an odd choice for a club that has a lamb on their badge – was chucked out of the ground and subsequently arrested after allegedly attempting to distract Derby goalkeeper Stephen Bywater. This led to a protest by ‘Captain Blade’ of Sheffield United on Saturday which delayed the second half kick-off at Bramall Lane.

The first table of 2011 looks similar to the last one of 2010. QPR are five points ahead of Cardiff, Norwich and Swansea who are only separated by goal difference; Queens Park Rangers would have been even further ahead if Bristol City’s Stephen Caulker hadn’t scored a dramatic late equaliser at Loftus Road on Monday afternoon.

Interestingly, a mini league based on form over the holiday period indicates that there may be some changes in the top six over the coming months. Six teams were unbeaten but only Watford and Norwich are currently in playoff positions and the Hornets’ Danny Graham has overtaken Jay Bothroyd as top goalscorer: Nottingham Forest are now seventh but have two games in hand. At the bottom of the table, Tony Mowbray has definitely got Middlesbrough moving in the right direction but Millwall deserve an honourable mention for their efforts – the Lions were unbeaten in their four games and are currently three points outside the playoff spots. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Kenny Jackett hasn’t been nominated for the December manager of the month award.

The third round of the FA Cup takes place this weekend, but as it’s now over 30 years since a team from outside the top tier of English football won the competition, the description of the tournament as ‘a great leveller’ is no longer the case. As we mentioned in November, the draw wasn’t particularly kind to Championship sides: only seven teams have ties against teams from lower divisions and there’s a possibility that half the clubs in the Championship could be forced to ‘concentrate on the league’ when the third round has finished.

Having said that, there are some interesting games and a couple of possible upsets. Reading and Millwall probably won’t get promoted this season but are in no danger of relegation either, unlike both of their opponents this weekend. The Royals have not lost to WBA in any cup competition since 1948 and knocked the Baggies out if the cup last season: it’s only the second time that Millwall and Birmingham City have met in the FA Cup but the Lions have only lost twice in the last ten games between the sides in South London. There’s a similar type of game between Championship sides at the Ricoh Arena: despite their recent poor form – three defeats in their last four games – mid table Coventry face a managerless Crystal Palace that won’t need the distraction of a cup run.

The short trip to Brighton may not be one that Portsmouth will be looking forward to: the Seagulls have only lost once at the Withdean Stadium this season and Pompey haven’t won at Brighton since March 1986.

Arguably the most interesting tie involving a Championship side is Sheffield United v Aston Villa: both are involved in struggles at the wrong end of their respective divisions, having both lost four of their last six league games. The Blades have only won four of their twelve home games in all competitions this season and were lucky to earn a point at home to Doncaster on Monday while Villa are on an eight game streak without an away win.

Three of the five televised FA Cup games feature Championship sides, although there’s definitely an element of curiosity in the selections. Arsenal v Leeds (ITV, 12:45pm Saturday) provides an excuse to dust off the footage of the 1972 final, while Sunday’s coverage of Leicester v Manchester City (ESPN, 4:00pm) will probably refer to the fact that the two sides met in the 1969 final. ESPN are also showing Derby’s trip to Crawley on Monday night (8:00pm) although the network could be in for a disappointment if they’re expecting a giant killing.



Ipswich sack Roy Keane

After just 20 months as manager at Ipswich Town, Roy Keane has been sacked following a run of nine games in which his team have lost seven.

The final straw for Keane appears to have been Monday’s 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest which has left the Suffolk club in 19th position in the Championship table.

This season had started in promising fashion for Ipswich who scaled the Championship losing only one game in their first eight despite an horrendous injury list at the club.

Their luck turned for the worse and the club have slid back down the table over the last couple of months despite securing a semi final place in the Carling Cup where they will face Arsenal over two legs, the first of which takes place next week.

Ipswich are also in the FA Cup third round where they will play Chelsea this Sunday, a game that Keane would have relished for sure.

Paul Jewell is among the favourites to take over from Keane although it has to be said expectations at the club may have to be reassessed if they really feel they are good enough to reach the promotion play off places in the near future.



Hornets Sting Rangers: Blades Cut Ties With Gary Speed

Two big stories in the nPower Championship this week: QPR lost for the first time on Friday and Gary Speed left Sheffield United.

As I wrote last week, it was a case of when rather than if QPR suffered their first defeat and they were comprehensively outplayed by Watford, who were 3-0 up before the hour thanks to goals from Danny Graham (2) and on loan Birmingham City midfielder Jordon Mutch.

Despite Watford’s unexpected win, the situation at the top of the table remained pretty much the same on Saturday evening. Once again Cardiff and Swansea failed to take advantage of the leaders dropping points. Swansea were lucky to earn a point at home against Millwall and the Bluebirds lost at Middlesbrough: Jonathan Howson’s winner at Burnley showed that Leeds have now adapted to life in the Championship – the Yorkshire side had to come from behind at Turf Moor and became only the second team to win there this season.

There wasn’t a great deal of change in the relegation zone either, but with Preston picking up their first win in eight games, there are now only four points separating the bottom six clubs. Scunthorpe made their first – but probably not their last – appearance in the bottom three and Boro’s victory propelled them to the heady heights of 21st place.

Although there haven’t been any postponements yet, the winter weather is supposed to be returning this weekend and so it’s worth checking to see if your team will be in action. This week’s programme begins on Friday with Doncaster v Middlesbrough – the visitors have won the last three league meetings in Yorkshire but share the worst away record in the Championship with Crystal Palace; despite being in 16th place Donny are one of the most improved sides at home this season and have only lost once at the Keepmoat stadium this season.

There are three candidates for game of the week on Saturday. Norwich travel to Coventry for a game between two clubs who are looking to maintain or improve their current positions, but it’s Aidy Boothroyd’s side that appear to have the advantages. The Sky Blues have become a force to be reckoned with at the Ricoh Arena and have also improved defensively, keeping clean sheets in their last four games. The Canaries have one of the best away records in the Championship, but only one of their four away wins has come against a team that’s in the top six and they have only won twice in the last twenty league games at Coventry.

Sheffield United v Swansea is the only game between sides in the top and bottom six this weekend and it’ll be interesting to see how the Blades get on without Gary Speed. The ‘will he/won’t he’ saga of Speed’s courtship by the Welsh FA was finally resolved this week and it has to be said that the Blades probably made the right decision to release Speed from his contract. He lost half his games in charge of United; with a couple of obvious candidates for the job now available (Sam Allardyce and Chris Houghton), a manager with experience in the Championship that is capable of getting United out of their current situation is required.

Whoever takes over at Bramall Lane will have to shore up Sheffield United’s home record. They’ve lost five times at Bramall Lane already (they only lost three home games last season) and have failed to score in four of their nine home games so far. Not the best time to be facing one of the six clubs in the Championship with a positive away goal difference that hasn’t lost an away game since the end of September.

Saturday afternoon’s big game is Leeds v QPR, but it would be premature to write off the visitors after losing for the first time last week. The key to this game is whether Leeds can break down QPR’s stingy defence – two of the five goals Queens Park Rangers have conceded on their travels came at Derby at the end of August – without compromising their own. Despite their league position, Leeds have the worst home defensive record in the Championship and opponents have scored more than once in half of the games at Elland Road this season. Yet another away draw for QPR is on the cards.

The last game of the weekend takes place at Portman Road – yes, Ipswich are on telly again (5:00pm Sky Sports 2), presumably because it’s Roy Keane v Sven-Goran Eriksson, but there are a couple of points worth making here. Firstly, none of the last ten Championship games shown on Sky have featured teams from the top ten playing each other but three of those ten have been between teams currently in the bottom six. Secondly, anyone that tunes in might be watching one of the last games featuring Roy Keane as Ipswich manager.

There are four teams that have suffered a serious decline in both home and away form compared to last season: two of them (Leicester and Middlesbrough) have new managers, Nottingham Forest remain an enigma and that leaves Ipswich. The cold hard facts for Ipswich fans are as follows: six games without a win in the Championship, only one win in the last five home games and only Preston and Scunthorpe have lost more home games.

The good news for Ipswich is that Leicester’s away form this season is nothing to write home about and the Foxes have lost seven of their last ten trips to Portman Road, but having won at both Barnsley and Leeds this season, Leicester’s 5-1 demolition of Doncaster Rovers last weekend might be an indication that things might have to get worse for Ipswich before they get better.

Postponements In December Could Have An Impact In May

With a number of games already postponed and several more under threat at time of writing (Friday lunchtime), any further postponements in the next couple of weeks could have a dramatic impact on the various aspirations of clubs in the nPower Championship. We’re already approaching the busy Christmas and New Year period and so any rearranged games will have to take place later in the season: squad strength becomes crucial at times like these and with Championship clubs already having  two midweek fixtures scheduled in February any backlogs could take until Spring to clear.

No doubt about the story of the week: having been thoroughly beaten by Norwich in the ‘Old Farm’ derby on Sunday lunchtime – the game was effectively over after Damien Delaney’s first half sending off – Ipswich reached the semi finals of the Carling Cup with 1-0 victory over WBA on Wednesday evening.

The Tractor Boys were on a four game losing streak going into the game against the Baggies but a Grant Leadbitter penalty twenty minutes from time saw them reach the semi finals for the first time in a decade – although Ipswich were a Premiership side at the time, they were knocked out by eventual runners up Birmingham City, who were playing in the Championship that season! Roy Keane’s side will face Arsenal in the two-legged semi final, first leg at Portman Road in mid January.

Back to a full programme on Saturday: Ipswich play their third televised game in a week when Swansea visit at lunchtime (12:45pm Sky Sports 2). Despite taking an early lead courtesy of a Craig Beattie goal, the Swans lost a golden opportunity to move into second place after losing at home to Portsmouth on Friday night: QPR moved five points clear at the top of the table after beating Cardiff the following day.

It’s a bit early to start using clichés such as ‘if the season ended today’, but it’s beginning to look as if QPR are safe bet for the playoffs at the very least: unless Darren Ferguson can make some magic happen at Deepdale, Preston look as if they are already in a relegation battle. The competitive nature of the Championship means that everything else is still pretty much up for grabs.

There were three games scheduled this weekend where clubs in the top six were supposed to play teams in the bottom six: Preston travel to Cardiff, but the Bluebirds have lost three of their last five games and will be looking for a morale boosting victory against the current basement dwellers.

If it’s not postponed, arguably the most interesting one of these games is Coventry v Middlesbrough: it’s still something of a surprise to see Coventry in the playoff spots and Middlesbrough in the bottom three, but the Sky Blues took full advantage of Scunthorpe’s lamentable home record last week and – not for the first time this season – Boro had to come from behind twice to earn a point at home to Hull. It was supposed to be the Tigers turn to try to beat QPR this week but that game – along with three others – has been postponed due to the atrocious weather conditions affecting most of Britain.

Game of the week is Derby against Norwich: both clubs are currently in the playoff places and only goal difference separates them. Despite a wobbly start at Pride Park, the Rams have won six consecutive home games but Norwich have kept pace with the other clubs in the top half a dozen despite not having won an away game since the beginning of October.

After Luke Moore had given his side the lead, two goals in the last ten minutes at Turf Moor last weekend meant Derby had a pointless afternoon at Burnley and – as mentioned earlier – Norwich beat Ipswich 4-1 for the Canaries first win in six games and their biggest win over their local rivals since March 1995.

Last game on Saturday is the teatime clash between Millwall and Scunthorpe (5:20pm, Sky Sports 2),  a repeat of the memorable League 1 playoff final from 2009. The Lions have only won once in their last five games, but the trip to south London further evidence of Scunthorpe’s schizophrenic performance away from home: the Iron have won on their last four trips to the New Den!

Apart from Hull v QPR, as of late Friday morning there were four confirmed postponements this weekend:

•    Doncaster v Barnsley
•    Nottingham Forest v Bristol City
•    Portsmouth v Burnley
•    Sheffield United v Reading

Needless to say, if you’re thinking of going to any of the remaining games it’s always worth checking  to see if your game is on before you leave.