Not the time for Blues to lose nerve

SO, Ipswich Town have suffered the worst start to a season in the club's history, and are only being kept off the bottom of the Championship table by the utter hopelessness of Plymouth Argyle. The alarm bells are ringing, but is it time to panic?

SO, Ipswich Town have suffered the worst start to a season in the club's history, and are only being kept off the bottom of the Championship table by the utter hopelessness of Plymouth Argyle.

The alarm bells are ringing, but is it time to panic? TERRY HUNT says we should learn from history.

Cast your mind back almost 40 years. To the evening of Tuesday, September 7, 1971, to be precise. A crowd of 28,143 packed into Portman Road to watch Ipswich Town take on star-studded Manchester United in the second round of the League Cup.

The vast majority of those fans went home in disgruntled mood, after watching Town taken apart by a United team inspired by the little Irish genius by the name of George Best. Ipswich lost 3-1, with Best scoring two.

When crowd favourite Mick Hill was substituted late in the game, to be replaced by Irish striker Bryan Hamilton, some supporters had had enough. A chant of “Robson out'' began and spread to several sections of the crowd.

The reaction wasn't provoked solely by the events on the pitch that evening. Under Robson, Town fans had endured two pretty miserable seasons, narrowly staving off relegation from the First Division on both occasions.

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They had also started the 1971-72 season poorly, with only one win in the first seven league games. To be fair, four of the matches had been drawn. But Town fans didn't like what they saw - a shot-shy attack and a leaky defence.

Robson had arrived at Portman Road in January 1969, so by September 1971 he had had nearly three years to build a team. The fans' patience was running thin, and I suspect that many chairmen would have bowed to the pressure and sacked Robson the next morning.

Instead, the young manager received an apology from Old Etonian chairman “Mr. John'' Cobbold, and within 48 hours was allowed to go out and buy a commanding central defender in Allan Hunter, reputedly for what was then a club record fee.

The rest, as they say, is history. Hunter was the first building block in what was to become Robson's first great Ipswich side. They rallied to finish 13th in 1971-72, and the following season, as the likes of Kevin Beattie emerged, the glory years began.

All these years later, with the benefit of four decades-worth of hindsight, Cobbold's decision was an act of genius. But at the time, it was a gamble, and one which would not have gone down well with a significant number of Town supporters.

Fast forward to 2009. Here we are, struggling at the beginning of a season. Struggling very badly, admittedly: no wins in the first nine league games is unprecedented in Town's long history.

The fans are restless, disappointed and worried. I suspect that a few more winless games will produce the first smatterings of “Keane out'' chants at Portman Road.

The parallels between September 1971 and September 2009 are many. Ipswich have started the season poorly, the manager is under pressure, and there are weaknesses all over the team: goal shy, sieve-like at the back, and lacking confidence.

Back then and now, Ipswich have just been humiliated by a vastly superior team - Manchester Utd then, Newcastle last weekend. Men and against boys is a phrase which is equally applicable to both matches.

But, just as in 1971, now is not the time to panic. Now is the time for calm heads and clear decision-making. Now is the time for deciding priorities.

All those years ago, Bobby Robson and John Cobbold decided their number one priority was to shore up the leaky defence. So they went out and bought Allan Hunter, who became the best centre-half in Britain.

I would argue that a new, commanding centre-half should be the first priority for Roy Keane and owner/chairman Marcus Evans. Let's sort out one problem at a time, just as we did then.

It is time to stand by Keane. Any talk of changing the manager - which already exists on fans' websites - is palpable nonsense. Keane has had just nine league games this season. Yes, he's made mistakes - many fans think Owen Garvan, David Wright, and, yes, the departed Jordan Rhodes should be in the team. Some of Keane's signings look questionable, to say the least.

I suspect that, certainly in the case of Garvan and Wright, Keane might need to eat a public slice of humble pie, and restore both to the first team. Sadly, it's too late in the case of Rhodes.

Let's dismiss stupid talk of Keane going. What would that achieve? Utter chaos is the answer, as it is always is with clubs who change their managers at the first sign of a crisis.

Let's not forget, even the great Bobby Robson wasn't perfect in his early days. He certainly wasn't flavour of the month with certain players, notably stalwart skipper Bill Baxter and defender Tommy Carroll. He made his own mistakes.

But the board stuck by him, and he is now revered for his achievements at Portman Road and beyond.

That's because, all those years ago, John Cobbold and the Town board gave him a chance: just as Marcus Evans, and chief executive Simon Clegg are absolutely right to stick by Roy Keane right now.

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