Tony set for quick Portman Road return

WHEN Tony Mowbray trotted off the Portman Road pitch during Richard Naylor's testimonial last month, little did he, or anyone else, realise that he would be returning so soon as manager of West Brom.

By Derek Davis

WHEN Tony Mowbray trotted off the Portman Road pitch during Richard Naylor's testimonial last month, little did he, or anyone else, realise that he would be returning so soon as manager of West Brom.

Although the finer details have to be finalised and the appointment made official, it seems nailed on that Mogga will be the Baggies boss today.

No doubt he will receive a warm welcome from the Blues' faithful, as befits a man who gave such sterling service to the club and scored in the play-off final.

But, at the same time, Town fans will be wondering why, just five months after rejecting the chance to manage Ipswich, he has chosen one of their Championship rivals.

Speaking to the EADT last month, Mowbray reiterated that he felt, even though it had been two years since he left Portman Road as a coach, it was too early to return as manager.

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Mowbray had been knocked back for the manager's job in 2002, when Ipswich felt he was not experienced enough, and chose Joe Royle for his fire-fighting ability and record for gaining promotion.

Although David Sheepshanks asked permission from Hibernian to speak to Mowbray, along with a raft of other clubs about their managers, the former Celtic and Middlesbrough star declined an interview and Ipswich eventually went for the unproven Jim Magilton.

Despite his seemingly unswerving loyalty to Hibs, Mowbray has never hidden his desire to manage in the Premiership.

So, who could blame him for waiting for a better opportunity to come along than Ipswich, who finished so badly last season they broke a 40-year-old record of lowliness?

On the other hand, West Brom are fresh from the Premiership after a two-year stint in the top flight.

While the Blues are around £30m in debt and don't own their ground, the Baggies have turned around a £30,000-a-week loss through a share issue, dabbling in the transfer market and being in the Premiership three years out of the past four and have parachute money following relegation last season.

Although Mowbray has shown at Easter Road that he can work within tight financial constraints, having considerably more than the £5m wage budget that Ipswich now have will be a factor in his thinking about joining West Brom.

Potential-wise, Albion appear in a stronger position than Ipswich to bounce back into the Premiership within the next 19 months but, if they didn't make it, then they would still be in a reasonable financial position - although expectations are greater and Mowbray would probably be gone by then if they failed.

Ipswich have geared everything to promotion within the same time period but failure, after restructuring the debt and putting everything into success in this period, could be catastrophic for the Blues as a club.

Working for Jeremy Peace has its pitfalls too, as Gary Megson and Bryan Robson have discovered, with both leaving after falling out with the chairman - not known for his patience.

Mowbray is a master diplomat, as well as an outstanding coach, and can pick his way through the managerial minefield with great dexterity and his style of football will please the fans.

When the 42-year-old went to Hibernian, Scottish football did not know what to expect and scoffed when he said from the outset that his side would play attractive football. They did, and did it successfully, finishing third in his first season and taking them into Europe.

And, when money did come in from the sale of Gary O'Connor to Lokomotiv Moscow, he insisted it went to building a training ground - a legacy that will cement his status at Easter Road.

Putting in the right foundations will be important to Mowbray and, at Ipswich, the Academy is already well-established and the Town way ingrained but, at the Hawthorns, he will have more scope to put in his own ideas and latitude to make changes without worrying about sentiment or previous associations.

At the moment, two points and five places separate the clubs but if Ipswich can take advantage of the upheaval that has surrounded West Brom over the past couple of weeks they could go above them - but for how long?

It will also take a while before Mowbray can stamp his authority and style of football on Albion but he will be confident of at least a play-off place this year, while Ipswich have yet to find any real consistency and are difficult to predict.

In weighing up the option of being in charge of West Brom or Ipswich, in terms of potential to succeed in getting back to the Premiership the harsh reality is that the Baggies are a better bet.

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