Magilton the red-hot favourite

IPSWICH Town's will-he-won't-he managerial saga is almost over.The exhaustive search for Joe Royle's replacement will end on Monday when the new man is unveiled.

By Mel Henderson

IPSWICH Town's will-he-won't-he managerial saga is almost over.

The exhaustive search for Joe Royle's replacement will end on Monday when the new man is unveiled.

And unless the club spring an almighty shock, unearthing a brand new candidate who completely overwhelms the board of directors between now and then, the new boss will be ex-skipper Jim Magilton.

Just a few weeks ago the 37-year-old midfielder said an emotional goodbye to an appreciative Portman Road crowd after a playing career spanning seven years, 315 appearances and 21 goals.

A tearful Magilton, overcome by the fans' farewell, admitted he would love to come back one day as manager, little realising the opportunity would present itself so quickly.

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Royle's unexpected exit on May 11 changed all that, although a coy Magilton almost laughed off suggestions that he was a candidate for the job.

But from being a rank outsider then, to the extent that bookmakers even left him off their initial list, the ebullient Ulsterman is now a red-hot favourite for the role.

Dozens of other would-be managers have come and gone as the club have left no stone unturned in their quest.

But each time a new candidate emerged, and was either declined or was dismissed, the Ipswich directors clearly warmed to the prospect of Magilton taking charge of team affairs.

For all the fans who will welcome the appointment, others will have reservations about a member of last season's under-performing side becoming boss.

Huge gamble or inspired choice? Only time - and, more importantly, results - will determine whether or not Magilton is the right man for the job.

No matter who replaced Royle, however, it was always going to be a massive task to transform a team that slumped to Town's worst league finish in 40 years.

Mitigating circumstances - an unprecedented injury list, refereeing decisions and sheer bad luck - or not, Sheepshanks & Co decided it wasn't good enough and to do something about it.

By handing the reins to Magilton, who will be joined by Bryan Klug as first team coach, they are leading the club into a brand new era.

Magilton accepts there will be only a modest budget with which to reinforce a squad all the weaker for his own absence, a factor that may have led to other candidates dropping out of contention.

But he also relishes the challenge and can be fully relied upon to give it his all, while in Klug he will have one of the country's best qualified and highly respected coaches.

Klug is steeped in the Ipswich tradition and it will be to his, and the team's, advantage that he has worked at such close quarters with so many members of the current squad who graduated from his well-run academy.

n Derby today ended their own search for a new manager when they agreed a compensation package with Preston for Billy Davies.

This move will lead to speculation that ex-Ipswich manager Joe Royle, whose family home is in the north west, will replace Davies at Deepdale.