The axe was wielded too late at Town

IF Roy Keane had been axed earlier, then Ipswich Town would have been in the thick of the promotion race by now.

IF Roy Keane had been axed earlier, then Ipswich Town would have been in the thick of the promotion race by now.

Under new boss Paul Jewell, improving Town have been showing promotion form.

They have been matching, point-for-point, the play-off chasers like Reading, Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Millwall.

In fact, in all these cases Town have actually cut the points gap between themselves and their more lofty rivals, since Jewell was appointed as Keane’s successor on January 10.

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So if Jewell had arrived a month or so earlier, then Town fans would almost certainly be relishing a play-off push during the last four weeks of this season.

The stats don’t lie. Keane’s last game in charge – a 1-0 defeat by Nottingham Forest on January 3 – had left woeful Town wallowing in 19th spot, a mere three points clear of the bottom three and a distant 11 points behind sixth-placed Watford.

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Fifteen games on, and following an impressive 2-1 win at play-off candidates Burnley last Saturday, Town are now 17 points above the relegation zone, and just eight points adrift of the top six.

Of course, at this time of the season eight points might just as well be 18 – it is too big a gap to close in just seven matches, especially as Town are still down in 15th spot, with eight clubs separating them from sixth-placed Reading. They can’t expect to overhaul so many clubs during the run-in.

But Jewell’s haul of 24 points from 15 games is an encouraging indicator for next season, especially if the ex-Bradford and Wigan boss can keep hold of Connor Wickham, and invest in key midfielder Jimmy Bullard.

Looking at the clubs vying for a play-off berth, Town have not lost ground on any of them.

Reading and Nottingham Forest were both nine points ahead of Town in the new year, now the gap is eight.

Eighth-placed Millwall were eight points above Town when Keane left, now the Lions are just five clear.

Watford were 11 points better off than Town before the Jewell era; now Malky Mackay’s men are just four ahead.

Similarly, Town have also cut the gap between themselves and high-flying Leeds and Swansea.

In fact, only the top three of QPR, Norwich and Cardiff have stretched their advantage over mid-table Ipswich during the last three months.

It follows, then, that if Jewell had started life as Town boss without such a big handicap, then he would be preparing his team for an onslaught on the play-offs by now.

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