Is the end of the Big Four nigh?

Thursday, 29 October 2009



This season’s Premier League title race was billed to be the most competitive in years and it certainly hasn’t disappointed us thus far.

The Big Four are no longer the untouchables and with the emergence of new sides like Manchester City, Aston Villa Spurs and Sunderland, their status is under threat especially in regard to Champions League football.

Without a doubt this is the season we see the end of the Big Four. After 10 games there is no clear leader emerging from the pack. It is Chelsea who top the table on 24 points while Manchester United lie second on 22 points; Arsenal and Tottenham are third, both on 19 points. Then there is only a point separating the teams from 5th to 9th.

In those opening 10 fixtures – the Big Four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have lost a combined total of 10 games, 7 of them to teams outside the top four.

Manchester United had an early lapse against promoted Burnley, but then went on an 11 game unbeaten run before being humbled by Liverpool last weekend, a game which threw up their real weaknesses.

Liverpool who only lost twice last term have been beaten four times after just 10 games, losing to Aston Villa, Tottenham, Sunderland and Chelsea. These teams they really should be beating if they want to win their first title since 1990.

Chelsea may not have lost any players in the close season, but they still don’t look the force they were under Jose Mourinho. Their away form is particularly worrying; having been beaten by Wigan and Aston Villa on the road, but Stamford Bridge still remains their fortress.

Finally, Arsenal like Chelsea have been beaten twice this season already, again both on the road, and to the two Manchester sides. They still however remain in contention even though they were tipped to be the one that would drop out of the Big Four. Their only signing in the transfer window was Thomas Vermaalen, but what a signing he has proved to be.

So, that begs the question is the end of the Big Four nigh? And the answer is yes.

There has been a clear drop in the quality of the Big Four’s football this season which has made things very interesting already, by throwing up some shock results. Also the Big Four have to contend with both domestic and European football and that is proving to be an achilles heel for some.

It certainly could mean we won’t have an English team in the Champions League final, or that they won’t be three of the four semi-finalists like previous seasons.

For now we are left with many unanswered questions, can Manchester United set the benchmark and become the first side to win four-in-a-row? Will Liverpool get back to winning ways in search for their first title since 1990? And can Chelsea or Arsenal bring back the Premier League crown to London?

But there is one very important question for you to think about – which side will break the Big Four?

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Eamon Dunphy - genius or gobshite?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009



'You're never going to win a popularity contest writing about football, but if you write with conviction, if you write from the heart, if you're passionate about the game, readers will sense that and be prepared to have their own beliefs challenged'

Best known for his sweeping statements and scathing reviews - Eamon Dunphy is widely regarded as Ireland's best football pundit. The former Millwall midfielder is part of RTÉ's football analysis panel, which is without doubt the best in the business.

Bill O'Herlihy is the ringmaster and knows how to push Dunphy's buttons; Johnny Giles is his sparring partner after years of working together the trio have built up great camaraderie. Graham Souness is the newest edition to the panel and fits right in, with the boys, replacing Liam Brady who left to become assistant manager to Giovanni Trapattoni.

Brady's most memorable appearance on the panel had to be when he went head-to-head with Dunphy over a piece of footage regarding Arsenal, and Arsene Wenger. He certainly isn't the first to feel the brunt of Dunphy's outbursts, and won't be the last.



Dunphy is a box-office hit, and is a man who has traded in controversy since becoming a pundit in 1978. However, if marmite was a person, then it would no doubt be this man. Love him or hate him, Dunphy is not afraid to speak his mind and to stand up for what he believes in, even if sometimes his logic is flawed.

A prime example of this was his constant criticism of then Manchester United player Cristiano Ronaldo. Frequently calling him 'a puffball', 'a cod', 'a brat' and 'a disgrace'. 'He'll never be a player as long as he has a hole in his arse'



However, more recently, he backed down, saying in his weekly column in The Irish Daily Star - "I couldn't have been more wrong about Cristiano Ronaldo". He further claimed that Ronaldo "looks like the real deal", and concluded by saying: "Ronaldo is something special. I was wrong".

But this is not really a shock, Dunphy making a u-turn. He was the ghost-writer of Roy Keane's autobiography and defended the now Ipswich manager after his departure from both Saipan in 2002, and from Manchester United in 2005.



Now, Dunphy is more against Keane than for him. Once again using his newspaper column to portray this - ‘Clearly, Keane doesn’t have the personality to be in charge and I really think that this will be his last job in management.

The man is a cult-figure on Irish TV and doesn't just ply his trade in football analysis; there was the moment he cried on the Late Late Show and his outbursts on Frontline. If something is making the news, there is no doubt this man will have an opinion on it.

I believe Dunphy does have some valid opinions, but at times they a flawed and biased. Sometimes he can be seen more as a comedy figure, rather than a cult one. This can almost certainly be seen when he takes on Graham Souness, who he tells he dosen't know what he's talking about. Souness replys 'Where did you ever manage?' to which Dunphy quipped back 'I didn't manage anywhere, I managed to stay alive for 63 and a half years, baby'



Dunphy is a class act in what he does, but sometimes there is a line and he crosses it, his views can be biased but it's the fact that when he believes in something he will stick it to the bitter end.

Therefore, for me, Eamon Dunphy is a genius.

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Lehmann gets OWNED.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009



Brilliant stuff from the ballboy, finally taking down a man who's needed to be knocked down a peg or two for years. Luckily he didn't get pushed over by Lehmann, he has a habit of doing that when he doesn't get his own way.

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Liverpool finally bounce back.

Monday, 26 October 2009



As Bobby Vee once sang – ‘Like a rubber ball, I come bouncing back.’ And that is exactly what Liverpool did. After four straight defeats, their worst run in 22 years, they managed to grab a vital 2-0 victory over Manchester United at Anfield.

A defeat for Liverpool would have extended their run to five straight losses for the first time in 55 years and could have effectively ended their already very faint title hopes of their first league title in 20 years. But a win now keeps them in
contention, despite being nine points behind league leaders Chelsea.

Goals from Fernando Torres and David Ngog secured a much needed win for the Kop. But, as usual in a game against Liverpool and Manchester United it was not without controversy. Before kick-off the Kop faithful once again protested against owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who were in attendance. That was followed by Manchester United fans throwing inflatable footballs onto the field before kick-off. While in stoppage time both Nemandja Vidic and Javiar Mascherano were dismissed for second bookable offences.

Victory for Rafa Benitez in his 200th game in charge means that he has won 114 games out of 200, just behind Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish who won 120 of his first 200 games in charge.

Liverpool are not out of the woods just yet by any means. They face Arsenal in the Carling Cup mid-week and will want to prove that this was not a flash in the pan victory, and that the four defeats before this victory were a minor blip.

Before today’s game Manchester United had been unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions but Liverpool exposed some fatal flaws and managed to dominate the game from start to finish.

Even manager Sir Alex Ferguson agreed, speaking after the game he said – ‘It was a disappointing afternoon. It was a disappointing performance,’ the Scot said. ‘Liverpool were the better team, they deserved to win the game, but there were so many controversial things that happened we have to feel aggrieved at some of them.’

Crisis, what crisis? Well, all teams go through a rough patch, but I think Liverpool still lack the quality needed to win a league title, but so do Manchester United. Neither defence is as air-tight as previous campaigns which could prove to be their downfall.

It’s early days yet, but one thing is for sure, there are many more twists and turns to come at Anfield.

Now that’s a fact.

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The road to Wembley begins

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Well, the road to Wembley begun in August, but now we've reached the First Round Proper of the world's oldest football competition.

Chelsea were the winners of last season’s FA Cup beating Everton 2-1 in the Final, in May. Less than three months later, 762 teams started out in the 129th FA Cup, and now with six qualifying rounds completed, the clubs from League One and League Two, join the non-league sides who have made it through the qualifying rounds.

With the final taking place on May 15th, the Wembley arch is quite a distance away.



FA Cup First Round Draw

Gillingham vs. Southend United
Grimsby Town vs. Bath City
Gateshead vs. Brentford
Chesterfield vs. AFC Bournemouth
Blyth Spartans or AFC Telford vs. Lincoln City
Stockport County vs. Tooting & Mitcham United or Eastbourne Borough
Burton Albion vs. Oxford City
Barrow or Chester City vs. Eastleigh
Oldham Athletic vs. Leeds United
Lincoln United/Cambridge United vs. Ilkeston Town
York City vs. Crewe Alexandra
Wycombe Wanderers vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Hereford United vs. Sutton United
Nuneaton Town vs. Exeter City
Bristol Rovers vs. Southampton
Carlisle United vs. Morecambe
Forest Green Rovers vs. Mansfield Town
Oxford United vs. Yeovil Town
Paulton Rovers vs. Norwich City
Swindon Town vs. Woking
Port Vale vs. Stevenage Borough
Luton Town vs. Rochdale
Bromley vs. Colchester United
Accrington Stanley vs. Farnborough or Salisbury City
Millwall vs. Crawley town or AFC Wimbledon
Stourbridge vs. Walsall
Shrewsbury Town vs. Staines Town
Wealdstone vs. Rotherham United
Torquay United vs. Cheltenham Town
Barnet vs. Darlington
Notts County vs. Bradford City
Huddersfield Town vs. Dagenham & Redbridge
MK Dons vs. Macclesfield Town
Rushden & Diamonds vs. Hinckley United
Northwich Victoria vs. Charlton Athletic
Aldershot Town vs. Bury
Wrexham vs. Gloucester or Lowesloft Town
Hartlepool vs. Kettering Town/Redditch United
Tranmere Rovers vs. Leyton Orient
Northampton Town vs. Kidderminster or Fleetwood

Ties to be played on the week of the 7th & 8th November.

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Dida makes a boo-boo.

Saturday, 24 October 2009



Worst goalkeeping error I've seen in a long time, luckly his opposite number Iker Casillas was in the same form.

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Premier League Weekend Review

Monday, 19 October 2009

After a two week international break we are back and ready to go for another Premier League weekend and it while it might have looked to be a boring fixture list it was far from that with controversy the centre of attention.

As you may have seen Liverpool’s title hopes were burst at the weekend, losing 1-0 to Sunderland, their fourth defeat of the season, after only nine games. While Sunderland’s goal should have been ruled out because it did in fact touch an outside agent, the beach ball. It may be easy to blame the referee for not disallowing the goal, but in fact Sunderland is a team Liverpool should really be beating if they want to win the title. Without Torres and Gerrard they will win nothing, their defence is weak, and they can’t even keep clean sheet. Title winning sides are built on a tight defence; things far from alright on the Kop.

Another title chasing side, Chelsea, fell to their second away defeat of the season, this time to Aston Villa, a side who has already beaten Liverpool. Once again goalkeeper Petr Cech left himself exposed, and proved he is not the same keeper he was three years ago. Chelsea took the lead through Didier Drogba in the 15th minute, but the sides were level going into the break after a Richard Dunne header from a corner. Villa wrapped up the victory in the 52nd minute, another corner and another header, this time James Collins. Worrying from a Chelsea point of view, they came flying out of the blocks, but now seem to have hit a blip.

Elsewhere, Stoke beat West Ham 2-1, two goals from James Beattie, keeping up Stoke’s solid record at home. Worrying for West Ham who have not won since the opening day. Everton drew 1-1 with Wolves, which is a valuable point for Wolves. Goals from Kevin Doyle and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov made sure both sides got a share of the spoils.

Harry Redknapp’s return to Portsmouth ended in a 2-1 victory for Tottenham. Ledley King opened the scoring on the half our mark, before Jermain Defoe made it 2-0 for Spurs. Some fantastic goalkeeping from Heurelho Gomes managed to keep Pompey at bay, they did however get one goal back from Kevin-Price Boateng, but it wasn’t enough. Defoe turned into bad-boy after stamping on Aaron Mokoena, and was sent off; Michael Brown was also sent off for Pompey after a second bookable offence.

While Chelsea and Liverpool lost, the other two of the Big Four, Manchester United and Arsenal managed vital victories. United made it 10 games without defeat in all competitions, but it was far from an easy victory against Bolton. An own goal from Zak Knight, and a first goal from Antonio Valencia gave United a 2-1 win over the Trotters. Arsenal beat Birmingham 3-1 at the Emirates with goals from Robin Van Persie, Abu Diaby and Andri Arshavin, showing that they shouldn’t be written off just yet.

In the Sunday games Blackburn beat rivals Burnley 3-2, the Clarets keeping up their abysmal away form. One positive is this time they managed to score. In the other game of the day Wigan managed to grab a point against Manchester City.

Tonight, Fulham are taking on Hull, and as I write Fulham are leading 1-0, Bobby Zamora scoring two minutes before half-time.

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O'Neill floored but Villa have the last laugh.

Sunday, 18 October 2009



Martin O'Neill may have ended up flat on his arse during the game, but it was Chelsea who ended up their at the final whistle as Villa recorded their second win over a top 4 side this season.

Nicolas Anelka once again ending up in a tussle with a manager.

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Liverpool all as sea as balloon sinks title hopes

Liverpool yesterday fell to their fourth defeat of the season, in a game which could prove to be the undoing of their whole season. Sunderland beat them 1-0 through a very controversial goal.

A shot by Darren Bent in the 5th minute of the game stuck off a beach-ball which which was thrown onto the field by a Liverpool fan and deflected into the Liverpool net.



You could say Liverpool were left feeling deflated, but when you hear it was Liverpool fan who threw the ball onto the field then you get what you deserve.

I'm sure Steve Bruce was in no doubt as to who his man of the match was yesterday. Of course, the red balloon.

He said: 'Listen, I thought it was a deflection off a player. I have to say when I have just seen it there, if anybody knew that rule - that it is a drop ball - then you are a saddo.'

Rafael Benitez's response to the goal was - "These things happen," ''It's a bad situation for us that the ball was in the middle and was influential but again I will say we didn't play well. That's the main thing for me.''

A big win for Sunderland, as Bent adds to his tally of goals this season which now stands at eight. Liverpool now lie seventh, while Sunderland move up to sixth.

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Who's on the plane to South Africa?

Thursday, 15 October 2009




HOSTS

South Africa

AFRICA
Ghana
Ivory Coast

Play-off
Cameroon
Gabon
Tunisia
Nigeria
Algeria
Egypt

ASIA
Australia
Japan
North Korea
South Korea

Play-off
Bahrain vs New Zealand
(0-0 after 1st Leg)

EUROPE
Denmark
England
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Serbia
Slovakia
Spain
Switzerland

Play-offs
Portugal
Greece
Slovenia
Russia
Bosnia
Ukraine
France
Ireland

Draw takes place on Monday 19th October.

SOUTH AMERICA

Brazil
Paraguay
Chile
Argentina

NORTH, CENTRAL AMERICA
United States
Mexico
Honduras

Play-Off
Costa Rica vs Uruguay

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Best wishes to Charlie Davies.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009



I would just like to say that from all at the twofootedtackle blog network that our thoughts are with USA footballer Charlie Davies, who was involved in a car accident yesterday.

A woman also died in the accident, our thoughts and prayers also go out to her family.

Let's hope he has a speedy recovery.

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Hunt on the attack.


Stephen Hunt may be known for his skillful wing play, but he has now swapped all that and launched an attack on RTÉ pundit Eamon Dunphy.

Hunt branded former Irish international Dunphy a 'skinny little rat' following another one of his scathing attacks on the Irish squad and manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Hull midfielder is speaking on behalf of the team, who really have had enough of the criticism from the press. Would we have ever achieved a draw with Italy in the Steve Staunton era? The answer is no, never. While Italy are a shadow of their former selves, they are still the current holders of the World Cup.

I think Trap and his squad should be praised instead of criticised. We are on the brink of qualifying for our first World Cup since 2002. We have a squad with the ability to cause big sides problems, which is why we managed two draws against Italy and are still unbeaten in the run up to qualification for South Africa.



This is how Dunphy rolls, he is an overcritical and controversial in his analysis, and is always going to cause a stir with his comments. I am a big fan of his, but I don't think he is right in saying our performance against Italy was 'shameful'. Some of the things he says should be taken with a pinch of salt, but on other issues he can spot on.

In reference to Hunt's comments about him being 'a skinny little rat', Dunphy quipped: 'Stephen Hunt's not exactly Mr Universe himself!'

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In other news....

Tuesday, 13 October 2009



My latest weekly column on Irish football is now available over on Back Page Football.

You can read it in all its glory right here.

Enjoy!

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Celebrate good times, come on!

Friday, 9 October 2009



Looks like Jose has been working on a new celebration, gotta love this man!

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Lets be having some of this tomorrow......



I'm sure I speak for the whole Irish nation when I say 'we can do it!' Anything is possible, as we have already noticed under Giovanni Trapattoni, but tomorrow has surely got to be the biggest test of his reign as Irish manager when he comes up against his home nation Italy.

We go into tomorrows game full of belief, and why shouldn't we. In the world of football anything is possible, Italy are certainly not the same team they were when they won the World Cup in 2006. And this we reflected in their performance at the Confederations Cup back in June.

Under Steve Staunton we would be going into tomorrows game with no hope, but under Trapattoni we have a fighting chance of a draw, if not a win. I'm a huge fan of what he has done since taking over, and tomorrow will be proof in the pudding that he is the right man for the job, despite people not agreeing with many of his team selections.

I would love to make an outright prediction, but I can see it being one of three options. 1-0 Ireland, 1-1, or 0-1 Italy. My money would certainly be on the 1-1 draw, but expect the unexpected, gimme 1-0 Ireland anyday!

Your comments and predictions are also welcome!

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The Kentaro Experiment.



I was going to do a post on the upcoming Ukraine vs England game, which is being shown online only, but I think these two posts really sum it up.

Paddy McKenna has written a fantastic account of The Kentaro Experiment, which really gets down to the brass tacks of the issue.

Also, Chris over on twofootedtackle writes about the lack of insight shown by broadcasting the game online.

Both are very well written posts and are worth reading.

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Home Views: A time of transition in Ireland.

Monday, 5 October 2009



My latest column on Irish football is now available over on Back Page Football.

This week, and next week in a two part series I will be looking at the transition in Irish football, and the effects of the financial crisis on clubs.

The column this week looks at Part-time or full time football, and you can check it out right here.

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Premier League Round-Up

As the Premier League prepares to go on another international break, we were once again given an action packed and goal filled weekend in Europe’s most exciting league.

Not the ideal place to start, but we have to start somewhere, and that is with the tie of Bolton and Tottenham, where Harry Redknapp’s men had to come from behind twice to draw 2-2. Spurs failing to end their 13-year wait for a league victory in Bolton. If you go to the Reebok you have to be prepared to graft, and that’s what Liverpool did a couple of weeks ago, along with Stoke. Spurs were also made to do the same, and after Bolton took the lead after four minutes, Ricardo Gardner scoring the goal, Niko Kranjcar levelled things up on the 34th minute. Also on the scoresheet were Kevin Davies and Vedran Corlucka respectively.

Speaking after the game Harry Redknapp certainly came out with one his usual bizarre quotes ‘To come back was fine. Obviously you want to pick three points up but when we were 2-1 down I would have certainly taken a point.’

Burnley kept up their 100% home record in the Premier League as they beat Birmingham 2-1, goals from Steven Fletcher and Andre Bikey gave the Clarets all three points. Elsewhere, Hull secure their second win of the season, and only their third in 30 games since last December. The final score was 2-1, with Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Geovanni scoring for Hull. Also victorious, were crisis club Portsmouth, their first of the season. Hassen Yebda giving the south coast club a 1-0 over Wolves.

Saturday’s late kick off was that of Manchester United and Sunderland. United had to be rescued by a late goal from Ferdinand, but it wasn’t Rio, it was brother Anton scoring an own goal prevent his team, Sunderland a shock victory. The Red Devils had been on an eight game winning streak, but that was ended by The Black Cats deadly strikeforce of Kenwyne Jones and Darren Bent. Dimitar Berbatov was on the scoresheet for United, but it was Ferdinand’s own goal that saved Fergie’s blushes. A draw isn’t really a fair result, Sunderland deserved to win this one, but they will no doubt be happy at taking a point away from Old Trafford.

Sunday saw another round of fixtures with eight teams in action. It was Arsenal who were the most impressive as they hit Blackburn for six. The star of the show had to be Cesc Fabregas, as his display helped the Gunners come from behind to earn three points. Leading 3-2 at the break, the Gunners managed another three in the second half, keeping up their 100% home record.

Elsewhere, Everton, Stoke, West Ham and Fulham all shared points, as they played out 1-1, and 2-2 draws respectively. Everton are finally racking up the points after a poor start to the season, while Stoke continue to be a stumbling block. They are certainly showing no signs of second season syndrome. West Ham and Fulham continue to their poor starts to the season, and a draw is perhaps the best result for both sides.

Perhaps the biggest game of the weekend was at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea took on Liverpool, and it was the home side who bounced back after last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Wigan. Goals from Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda put Chelsea back at the summit of the Premier League. Rafa Benitez’s side have now lost three games out of eight this season and their bench looks increasingly weak these days.

Aston Villa take on Manchester City tonight, in what is Gareth Barry's return to his former side. City are flying high, and another win will keep them in check with the league leaders. It will certainly be an interesting match, and is certainly worth watching.

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Keanewatch: Stubble and strife.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Its back, Keano’s stubble is a growing. I wonder why that is? It could be due to the fact that Ipswich has yet to win a game this season, and this weekend fell to their sixth league defeat. This time they were beaten by fellow strugglers Barnsley, who won 2-1.

In the post-match press conference Keane was very angry, as questions were more focused on Jon Macken’s injury time winner for the Tykes, rather than a missed penalty, which he felt Barnsley should never have been given.

‘You’ve watched the game and none of you have asked me about the bloody penalty’ he said angrily ‘That about sums you up’

We always knew the former Sunderland managers’ statement when he took over last season that he would guide Ipswich to promotion within two years, or else it would be a failure on his part to be a bit of a jinx.

In a previous post on here I said – ‘Keane will be gone by October if things don’t change, he couldn’t hack it as a player, and he won’t hack it as a manager either, not in the Premier League anyway. Perhaps his should stick to walking his dog?

While the club have come out and backed Keane, that surely won’t stop him from walking away. The former Manchester United captain certainly has made history at Ipswich, as the club continue their worst start to a season ever. 11 games in they are bottom of the Championship, drawn 5 games, lost 6 games and are still looking for their first victory. Surely the fans have had enough, because I certainly have, and I am neither and Ipswich supporter or a Roy Keane supporter, but I think for the benefit of the club he has to go.

If Ipswich realistically want to get promoted they have two options, sack Keane, or starting winning soon, in order to climb up the table. I know it’s early in the season, but the Tractor Boys only chance of promotion now is via the play-offs.

As I did in a previous post I quoted Eamon Dunphy in his biration of Keane in the Daily Star but here is another quote that sums up the situation - ‘Life is tough for professional footballers without having to cope with the manager casting a dark shadow on the training pitch. Looking at Keane’s time in Sunderland, I feel he had an intimidating effect on the squad.’

‘He rarely ever says anything complimentary about players and Steve Bruce’s brief spell at Sunderland shows what a proper manager can do at that club.’

A proper manager is what Ipswich need right now, because Keane is not the man to lead them out of the championship, well, he is, but not in the right direction. Ipswich are certainly not susceptible to relegation, just look at Leeds, Charlton, Norwich and Southampton as an example of that.

For now, the Tractor Boys are stuck in a pit more bottomless than Victoria Beckham, but help could be on the way as the wally with the brolly, Steve McClaren is in the frame to replace Keane.

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Touchline Views

This is a football blog by Ian Walsh, covering all aspects of the game - from the Premier League and La Liga to the slightly mental football stories we all love.

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