Is something remarkable happening at Portman Road?

Despite an appalling start to the season, Ipswich Town's Roy Keane will not be joining the managerial dole queue anytime soon - and it's all thanks to the club's “special'' factor.

NO fewer than 14 league managers have lost their jobs so far this season - a rate of more than one a week. Despite an appalling start to the season, Ipswich Town's Roy Keane will not be joining the managerial dole queue anytime soon - and it's all thanks to the club's “special'' factor. TERRY HUNT reports.

Ipswich Town's players trudged from the pitch on Tuesday night after being “mugged'' in the final seconds by Watford.

Town had battered the visitors from start to finish, only to fall for a 94th minute sucker punch, which robbed them of their first win of the season at the 13th attempt. It was one of the most one-sided 1-1 draws in living memory.

It left Ipswich rock-bottom of the Championship, still without a league victory all season, and suffering the club's worst-ever start to a campaign.


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And yet, what was the sound ringing in the players' ears as they left the pitch? Applause. Yes, the vast majority of the near 20,000 crowd stood to applaud the team's efforts. Despite being stunned by Watford's late goal, the supporters recognised the terrific performance and non-stop endeavour from the players.

That moment summed up perfectly what is still different about Ipswich Town Football Club and its supporters. And the ringing endorsement is precisely why Roy Keane's job remains rock-solid safe.

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Ipswich Town, thank goodness, remains special.

Let's face it, how many other managers would still have their jobs after the kind of start Keane's team has made? So far, 14 league bosses have left their clubs this season - the majority of them unceremoniously sacked.

The first to go, memorably, was Bryan Gunn at Norwich City. That was on August 14, just a few days after the season had begun. The most recent was Gareth Southgate, who was relieved of his duties at Middlesbrough earlier this week after a 2-0 win and with his team fourth in the Championship.

But Ipswich is different. Always has been and, hopefully, always will be.

Keane still has the support of the men who matter at the club, owner Marcus Evans and chief executive Simon Clegg. After the Watford game, Clegg reiterated the fact that Keane remained their man.

But, even more important is the unique relationship between the club and its fans. Down the years, much has been made of Ipswich being a “family club.'' That's still true today, even in the cut-throat world of modern football, because it's the fans who create the “family.''

The supporters stick by the club through thick and thin. They see players come and go, but their devotion to the club never wavers. They welcome new managers and, crucially, they stick by them. They give them time to do their work. At many other clubs, I suspect, the first “Keane out'' chants would have started in the stands by now. Nervous chairmen might well have buckled and given Roy more time to walk the dogs.

But at Ipswich, that will not happen. Let's look back at Jim Magilton's three years as Town boss. In my opinion, Jim took us nowhere. The club was treading water, and it was time for change. When I said as much, in this newspaper, the response was fascinating.

Yes, there were lots of fans who agreed with my view. But there were just as many who were outraged - and told me as much, in no uncertain terms! Although Jim had been given three years to work his magic (excuse the pun), and hadn't really taken us anywhere, there were still thousands of Town fans prepared to stick by him.

They felt that it really wasn't the “Ipswich way'' to dispense with the services of a manager. Of course, history tells us as much. John Cobbold's patience with the young Bobby Robson has gone down as part of Ipswich Town folklore.

There are parallels between Keane and Robson's early days. Both were international players with big reputations, but both were rookie managers when they arrived at Portman Road.

Keane is still wet behind the ears in managerial terms. He's still learning. He's made some mistakes, and no doubt he'll make some more. But the vast majority of fans believe in him, and are prepared to give him time.

The applause ringing around Portman Road on Tuesday night proved that.

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