It's not time for Joe to go

HAS Joe Royle lost the plot? This is the question even the most loyal Ipswich Town supporter finds himself asking today.Most of the noisy small minority who populate internet message boards appear to have their knives out, but they have short memories.

By Elvin King

HAS Joe Royle lost the plot? This is the question even the most loyal Ipswich Town supporter finds himself asking today.

Most of the noisy small minority who populate internet message boards appear to have their knives out, but they have short memories.

A considerable majority are still Royle-ists, but seven games without a win is severely tested their patience.

For the third game running Town gave a shabby performance in this home defeat by relegation-haunted Brighton, and the defeat has probably sentenced the Tractor Boys to a bottom half finish in the Championship - their worst campaign since 1991.

Saturday's showing may have been marginally better than the defeats against Luton and Stoke - both teams beaten at home on Saturday incidentally - but it was still a long way short of Premiership standard.

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On the evidence of the last three weeks Royle has much work to do to turn the current malaise into something fans can be proud of.

Chairman David Sheepshanks has hinted that Royle has next season to make things happen and that if he does not come up with the goods by the middle of autumn his position may be on the line.

For the first time Royle's departure from Portman Road - before his contract ends in the summer of 2007 - has been openly discussed.

So where does the 57-year-old stand?

Has he lost his drive, his appetite or the magic wand that saw him perform so well in his first three years at Ipswich?

Of course not.

Take heart weary Town fans.

This afternoon's match at Watford might not bring any comfort, but the future is bright.

Ever since any realistic chance of the play-offs was blown away, Town's form has dipped alarmingly and games have become a chore.

Holes have appeared at the back, the midfield has neither helped guard the back line nor service the strikers, and a goal threat has been virtually non-existent.

But there has to be a but - and now is the time to back the manager as the then chairman John Cobbold did when Bobby Robson was being pilloried by Town fans in 1971.

Royle's players are battle scared and battle weary, and after all the injury trauma the club has endured over the last nine months many are worn out.

The well-documented loss of three proved goalscorers in the summer and an injury jinx that refused to go away has taken its toll on all concerned - Royle included.

But with a few weeks to refresh in the Mediterranean sun and the invigoration a new season brings Town have got it all in place to make a rapid take-off next August.

Thanks to the loyalty of their fans in renewing season tickets the Academy promise will be allowed to blossom and with a couple of additions the fighting force will be good enough to march up the table.

Players who at the moment look stale and flat will turn into vibrant warriors once this season of one curse after another disappears into the history book in a chapter entitled - 'One season in 15 to quickly forget.'

The bright spots on Saturday in front of another encouraging attendance was the right-back form of Chris Casement after the interval, the impressive return of goalscorer Nicky Forster and the confirmation of the potential of Danny Haynes.

Forster, out for the vast majority of the campaign, could still end up as leading scorer being just behind Sam Parkin's and Jimmy Juan's five apiece.

A fit Forster can be such an asset as he proved for the last 30 minutes on Saturday, and Town will keep their fingers crossed that he remains injury-free in 2006/07.

Alan Lee, fitter than for some time, battled well but failed to get any shots in that bothered Wayne Henderson.

Darren Currie also helped make Forster's late goal but otherwise was not at his best, while someone was to blame for Colin Kazim-Richards' ability to get behind the Town defence on the Brighton right side.

Scott Barron needed help in that department, but it did not materialise all game, with Owen Garvan and Jimmy Juan showing clear signs of fatigue in midfield and Matt Richards having one of those days when quite a lot went wrong.

Brighton needed the points to save themselves from Easter Saturday relegation.

It may have been a bore of a game for Town supporters with boos ringing out at the completion of the second goal and at the full time whistle.

For Seagulls fans however it was a rare away day to savour and the way Kazim-Richards and Gifton Noel-Williams worked up front it was a win they fully deserved.

Ipswich were handicapped somewhat when Richard Naylor went off with concussion after a kick on the head, but Casement's sound show and Fabian Wilnis' adaptability countered Naylor's absence.

Town made two changes from the side that played so poorly and lost 4-1 at home to Stoke with Barron and Haynes coming in for Casement and Bowditch.

There was no place on the bench for Spanish defender Sito Castro in a match where Brighton could easily have been ahead before their opener in first half stoppage time.

Haynes had an effort cleared off the line by Paul McShane before Kazim-Richards struck the far post in a prelude to Joel Lynch scoring his first senior goal for the Seagulls.

While there is a genuine fear that Ipswich supporters will have to endure more April purgatory - next season will be much brighter. It will pay to remain a Royle-ist.