Keane’s timely boost for Blues

THE Blues ticket office should be busy this week after yesterday’s eventful Championship game at Pride Park ended with a fourth away win for Roy Keane’s men.

A double over Derby gave Town their 16th point in their last eight games, which is automatic promotion form.

The three points lifted Ipswich to 13th in the table – their highest placing with any relegation thoughts now well dispelled.

With the ‘Early Bird’ season ticket saving scheme ending at the weekend, Town fans need to get a move on if hey are to take advantage.

And this display – and the six points over Easter – has seen levels of optimism rise considerably with respect to how far Keane can take Town next campaign.

There were times in the opening period when Ipswich passed the ball around with purpose and had the look of a team best suited to a much higher position in the table.

In fact they played as well as they have under the management of Keane.

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Derby came back into the match as you would expect from a side in a good run of form, and the final 10 minutes were full of incident with the home side losing their cool with manager Nigel Clough and midfielder Stephen Pearson sent off.

The Tractor Boys had the benefit of an early goal when Gareth McAuley fired home after the ball had gone loose following a Grant Leadbitter corner.

It was the central defender’s second goal in three days and his fifth of the season, and what Ipswich wanted after that was a second to give them a cushion.

They were in charge for the next half and hour or so but were unable to put the ball over the line again despite frustrating the home side – and their supporters.

And just before the interval the Rams would have levelled if it hadn’t been for the brilliance of Brian Murphy who produced the save of his season with a stunning tip over to deny a header from central defender Shaun Barker entering the net.

David Norris covered every blade of grass and McAuley was in splendid form at the back while Connor Wickham showed what all the fuss is about by doing a man’s job – and more.

Wickham gave his most mature display after coming on as a substitute on Saturday just three days after his 17th birthday, and he carried on the good work to give Ipswich an outlet when playing the ball forward.

And the Colchester-based youngster rarely lost a ball and used his physical presence to good effect.

His late goal was perfection itself, turning Jay McEveley near the half-way line and setting off for goal, before changing tack to go to his right and move Stephen Bywater across to create a gap at the near post that Wickham was never going to miss.

Before then Carlos Edwards put the seal on a lively 45 minute substitute display with a second Town goal from a Wickham cross – although it was a Rob Hulse header soon afterwards that raised the temperature that lead to the referee removing Clough and Pearson.

Norris and Grant Leadbitter gave just the type of gritty performance needed against tenacious opponents like Derby.

But Daryl Murphy struggled to find his best form after so many games in a short space of games since joining on loan from Sunderland and it was no major surprise when he was replaced at the interval.

He was joined in leaving the proceedings at half-time by Jaime Peters who took a hefty blow to the head not long before the break.

There were some tired looking players as the game progressed with the long season beginning to take it toll.

But the Blues kept fighting and there was certainly no lack of commitment or effort – and as much skill and poise shown as at any time since Keane’s arrival.

Town made two changes from the side that beat Reading 2-1 at Portman Road on Saturday with David Wright and David Healy dropping out.

In came Shane O’Connor to play at left back with Peters moving to right back. Wickham, after signing a professional Town contract that takes him up to the summer of 2012 on Saturday night, was also in the starting line-up and he partnered D Murphy up front.

Keane had opted for a five-man midfield against Swansea in the 0-0 draw the Liberty Stadium in the previous away match, but he opted for a more adventurous 4-4-2 formation against the Rams.

There was no place in the squad that left Suffolk on Sunday evening for Pablo Counago, Liam Rosenior and Owen Garvan with 17-year-old Clacton-based defender Tom Eastman registered last week and included on the bench for the first time after a number of impressive youth and reserve team displays.

Derby, who Town beat 1-0 Portman Road at the end of October to record their opening league victory of the season, were without the injured Dean Leacock while striker Hulse was left out of the team that beat Coventry 1-0 at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.

The Rams were unbeaten for five games going into this match and looking to move into a top half position, but on the day they were well beaten by a professionally and balanced Town display.

Ipswich fans were well represented as usual with over a 1,000 having made the less than three hour Bank Holiday trip to The Midlands. And they were chanting the praises of Keane from the time the players warmed up.

Clough was sent to the stand with the referee standing pointing for many seconds until Clough completely disappeared.

Within seconds Pearson was shown a red card for something he presumably said to the referee with Pride Park aflame with anger at the two dismissals and the referee under attack by all and sundry connected with the Rams.

This time last week stories were circulating that Keane was just one defeat away from the sack. These proved to be wide of the mark, and they certainly won’t be repeated this week with Keane confirming his popularity with the fans and his ability as a manager with a couple of quality Easter wins.

n TOWN have a re-arranged Combination game against Colchester United at their Playford Road training ground this afternoon with a 2pm kick-off. The game has been switched from being Colchester’s home game with the Blues expected to field a side mainly made up of youngsters.

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