Royle seal of approval as Big Joe backs current Ipswich Town side to replicate his top six achievements

Joe Royle

Joe Royle - Credit: Archant

Thirty points from the opening 20 league games represents Ipswich Town’s best start to a Championship campaign since Joe Royle guided a low-budget outfit to successive play-off finishes in 2004 and 2005. STUART WATSON caught up with the former Blues boss to discuss the similarities between then and now.

Darren Bent

Darren Bent - Credit: Jason Cairnduff

Joe Royle looks back on his time as Ipswich Town boss with mixed feelings.

Shefki Kuqi

Shefki Kuqi - Credit: Archant

The Liverpudlian fell in love with the area, the club and the fans, taking great pride in guiding the Blues to consecutive play-off semi-finals.

And yet there is also a huge amount of frustration at what could have been had it not been for the lack of transfer funds following a spell in administration.

“I didn’t have a shoestring budget, I had a nil budget and that ended up costing us dearly,” recalls Royle.


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“The club had just gone through administration and I was trying to build at the same time as selling. Matt Holland, Jamie Clapham, Darren Bent, Chris Makin and John McGreal all went, but we still made the play-offs twice.

“I wasn’t allowed to sign David Unsworth on a free ahead of one of those games against West Ham, I’m sure he would have made a difference. I had Ricardo Fuller lined up on loan at one point, Southampton were even going to pay a fair bit of his wages, but that didn’t happen either. What a signing he could have been, he’s still scoring goals in the Championship now.

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“Even looking back on my first season, in which we went from bottom to seventh, if I could have got a couple more loan players in then we might have done more.

“I look back with frustration at what we could have done with just a little bit of money, but also with great happiness because I loved the area and fell in love with Ipswich Town as a club.

“I had a great relationship with (chairman) David Sheepshanks, as well as board members like Richard Moore, John Kerr and Holly Bellingham. They were all Ipswich through and through.

“It was always one step forwards and two steps back though because of the need to sell players. In the end we ended up in mid-table and people started to grumble instead of seeing the bigger picture.”

The Blues ended up 15th in 2005/06, their lowest finish since 1966, and Royle left by mutual consent. No-one has been able to replicate his top six finishes in the years which have passed, with Jim Magilton, Roy Keane and Paul Jewell having all come and gone.

Two brief flirtations under Magilton aside, no-one has even come close.

All that could change this season though, with Mick McCarthy’s side drawing numerous comparisons with Royle’s class of ‘04 and ‘05.

Stylistically they are worlds apart, Royle’s team deploying a gung-ho ‘we’ll score more than you’ philosophy, while McCarthy’s approach is all about grinding out results through organisation and hard-work.

The fact that McCarthy has been able to produce a competitive side with barely a penny spent gives encouragement that Town could once again prove that money isn’t everything at this level.

Thirty points from the opening 20 league games is Town’s best start to a campaign since 2004/05, while six-games undefeated away was last achieved in 2003/04.

“Mick’s a good operator,” said Royle. “He’s come in and steadied the ship after what seems to have been years of turmoil.

“My team had a good front pairing in Shekfi Kuqi and Darren Bent. We were never short of goals and we played to that strength, trying to outscore teams rather than the ‘keep it tight’ approach that Mick’s employing.

“It’s a very ordinary Championship these days and I see no reason why this Ipswich side can’t get into the top six.”

ROYLE XI v MCCARTHY XI

KEEPER

Town have arguably never replaced KELVIN DAVIS with a keeper of the same quality. He was a virtual ever-present during the 03/04 and 04/05 seasons before the Blues were force to sell him to Southampton for £2m. Since then a string of keepers have come and gone, current custodian DEAN GERKEN the 19th in 12 seasons. The Bosman signing from Bristol City has really nailed down his place in the side of late with some impressive displays and has the potential to match Davis.

RIGHT-BACK

Dutchman FABIAN WILNIS was a cult hero among Blues fans, having scored against Manchester United in the opening game of the 00/01 Premiership season, criticised rivals Norwich City and shown loyalty for the best part of a decade. Like the position of goalkeeper, right-backs have come and gone over the years. At present it is centre-back LUKE CHAMBERS being asked to do a job there. A fantastic leader who rarely lets the side down, Chambers would certainly be more comfortable in the middle. Wilnis would be the pick in any composite XI.

CENTRE-BACKS

RICHARD NAYLOR, JASON DE VOS AND JOHN MCGREAL were the three centre-backs under Royle, each of them providing a solid platform of experience and leadership. McGreal’s departure to Burnley was a hammer blow in 2004, Canadian international De Vos led by example, while the no-nonsense Naylor – nicknamed ‘Bam Bam’ – could be thrown up front when the game required it. These days it is TOMMY SMITH and CHRISTOPHE BERRA at the heart of the Town defence. Smith may still only be 23 years old, but the homegrown defender has become one of the first names on the team sheet under McCarthy’s management. The physically imposing Berra is looking a shrewd acquisition, the former top-flight player producing some imperial displays. Just like back then, Ipswich’s defenders will chip in with goals from corners. Town are arguably just as strong in this area as they were back then.

LEFT-BACK

Academy graduate MATT RICHARDS was a solid if not spectacular player at left-back who put defence before attack. In AARON CRESSWELL the Blues have now got arguably the best left-back in the Championship, the 24-year-old’s crossing from open play and set-pieces a major part in the team’s weaponry. Town are undoubtedly stronger in this area as they were in the Royle era.

RIGHT-MIDFIELD

JERMAINE WRIGHT certainly didn’t disappoint after arriving as a replacement for Kieron Dyer. He may not have been as direct and pacey, but his work-rate endeared him to the fans and he promptly earned a move to Leeds in 2004. He was replaced by DARREN CURRIE, more of an out-and-out winger who made up for a lack of pace with a pin-point delivery. Town’s current choice of right-midfielders, PAUL ANDERSON and CARLOS EDWARDS certainly fall into the workmanlike category with much of their defensive work off the ball often overlooked.

CENTRE-MIDFIELD

Royle had the perfect mix of JIM MAGILTON’s creative genius and box-to-box energy alongside the tenacious break-up play of TOMMY MILLER, both of whom were regular contributors on the goal front. Town certainly lack someone who can unlock the door, in the way Magilton could, at present, with COLE SKUSE’s wide range of passing often coming in deep areas and LUKE HYAM better at winning the ball rather than making something happen with it.

LEFT-MIDFIELD

IAN WESTLAKE was a workmanlike presence on the wing with few able to match his fitness levels at that time. It’s much the same today as the hard-working duo of RYAN TUNNICLIFFE (who like Westlake can also play in the middle) and JAY TABB battle it out for the left-midfield role.

STRIKERS

This was undoubtedly the strongest part of Royle’s team. Teenager Darren Bent used his pace and finishing abilities to score 34 goals in the two play-off seasons, while flying Finn SHEFKI KUQI was the perfect foil with his power, aerial ability and outright energy. Royle once remarked that Kuqi would ‘chase an empty crisp packet across the pitch’. DAVID MCGOLDRICK may be a different type of striker to Bent, but his intelligent movement and quick feet has seen him rack up eight goals already this season. DARYL MURPHY and FRANK NOUBLE both possess Kuqi-like attributes; Murphy a great target man and threat from set-pieces and Nouble providing sheer nuisance value for defences.

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