Pim and 'mentor' aim to shore up defence

IPSWICH Town's past success has been built on strong central defensive partnerships.

Elvin King

IPSWICH Town's past success has been built on strong central defensive partnerships.

Can the current Gareth McAuley/Pim Balkestein pairing form the basis of glory under the management of Roy Keane?

The duo are still some way from convincing most Blues fans that they will, but the Dutch youngster insists that he has learned so much from his Republic of Ireland international team mate that better times are ahead.

In the days before four-man backlines, skipper Andy Nelson had help from 'half-backs' Billy Baxter and John Elsworthy in giving Ipswich the defensive security they needed to win successive Second and First Division titles under Sir Alf Ramsey's management in 1961 and 1962.

Then it was Allan Hunter and Kevin Beattie providing the rock-like security Town needed at the back to win the 1977/78 FA Cup, and Russell Osman and Terry Butcher were key players in the 1980/81 UEFA Cup triumph.

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McAuley and the left-footed Balkestein offer a good balance, although Alex Bruce and Tommy Smith are waiting in the wings to step in at the heart of the defence if there is any need for change.

Keane has opted for McAuley and Balkestein in the three Championship games so far this season, and he is expected to keep faith with them at West Brom tomorrow (kick-off 5.20pm).

“Gareth has become my mentor,” said 22-year-old Balkestein.

“Last season when I first arrived in England I was not very strong in the air. I watched what Gareth was doing and followed suit, training myself to do it.

“I think I am a much better player than when I joined Ipswich, and Gareth's influence has a great deal to do with that.

“I am able to make my physical presence felt as well, and this is also down in some way to Gareth.”

Balkestein made 23 appearances last season after signing from Dutch club Heerenveen in June 2008, and he says that his confidence has been given a boost by figuring in the starting line-up of every Town league game under Keane.

Like the rest of his team mates he is fully aware of the need to put points on the board at the Hawthorns tomorrow.

“We must not be afraid,” he said. “We are a good team as well and must fight to get a good result.

“To get where we want to be we have to beat the fancied teams like West Brom, Newcastle and Middlesbrough.”

Balkestein is delighted to have a man of Keane's stature in charge at Portman Road, and that it is up to the players to respond to him.

“Our manager is a big man,” said the defender, who had a header cleared off the line at Coventry and is still waiting for his first competitive Town first-team goal.

“We have to show that we are happy to have him at the club. Training is great every day and we are a really fit side.

“There is still plenty of time for us to show what we are capable of this season.

“The club is heading in the right direction and there's a nice mix of young and old.

“We did really well in the home game against Spanish side Real Valladolid to have already proved what a successful team we can be.

“We need to go ahead in a game, and when we do I think will be able to extend our advantage.”

Keane is happy with Balkestein's performances saying: “Pim has been no problem since I came to the club, and has done fairly well for us.”