Exit interview: Keane felt like the icing on Town’s cake but will now play the waiting game once again
- Credit: Archant
Striker Will Keane is set to leave Ipswich Town when his contract expires later this month. ANDY WARREN looks back at his second spell at Portman Road.
This is the second summer in a row where we’re talking about Will Keane’s Ipswich Town exit.
The first came following a loan spell at the end of a disastrous 2018/19 season for Ipswich. It’s difficult to describe Keane’s temporary spell as ‘a success’ given the failings of the team, but the striker did show enough to leave plenty wanting more.
There was a feeling the cost of bringing Keane back to Suffolk full-time would perhaps be prohibitive but, potentially helped by the fact the striker spent the summer rehabbing following hamstring surgery, a one-year deal was done and his signing announced on August 20. It felt like something of a coup, like Keane was the icing on the cake, given the fact James Norwood and Kayden Jackson had hit if off so quickly at the start of the campaign.
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He offered something different, a touch of class and, given his chequered injury record, crucially wasn’t being relied upon to play every week or shoulder the responsibility in the final third. In many ways this was a free hit.
That free hit took a little while to get rolling, as he took a month to reach the field as he continued his journey back to fitness, but from there he stayed injury-free and ultimately made 29 appearances in all competitions. That’s the most he’s managed in a single season throughout his career.
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He scored six times, three in the league, including goals in back-to-back draws at Coventry and three strikes in four games over Christmas.
But when football was halted in the middle of March he was on a run of 11 games without a goal and missed Town’s last match, at home to Coventry on March 7, with a minor groin injury.
That could be where his Ipswich story ends, given his contract expires in less than a month and the club have opted not to offer a new one, though general manager Lee O’Neill has stated his situation is one which could be revisited in the future.
What went well
Keane has looked at his best when Ipswich Town have looked at their best – there’s no coincidence there.
In terms of his performance levels you have to look at the two draws at Coventry in December, when Keane was utilised as a lone striker on both occasions and found the net in each of the two games against the likely League One champions.
Ipswich were slick on those days, with Keane heavily involved as he got on the ball, held it up well and brought the Blues’ midfielders and wide players into the game as Lambert’s men attacked as a unit. They should have scored more and it was Keane who was making them tick. Sadly we didn’t see this from the Blues often enough.
Those were his peak performances during the campaign but there were flashes of all of those attributes whenever he took the field. Another notable display came in the 4-1 victory over Burton in February (which feels like a lifetime ago, but Ipswich have only played four games since). He had a hand in three of the Blues’ four goals and created chances for others throughout. An excellent display.
These are the games which best highlight Keane’s strengths, though there are plenty of moments where his ability to bring others into the game and use his vision to make space for himself and his team proved useful to the Blues.
Areas to improve
And that’s where Keane can sometimes fall down. Those ‘moments’ mentioned above happened in each and every one of his outings for Ipswich but certainly didn’t always amount to Town goals and didn’t occur often enough.
While few will argue that Keane’s technical ability doesn’t outshine that of Norwood and Jackson, the latter two play with higher levels of intensity and cover more ground during games than the former Hull man does.
There was a sense he wasn’t always used correctly, too. The two previously-mentioned games at Coventry are examples of Keane performing well as a lone striker, but there are plenty of others where he looked significantly less effective. Ipswich played with the ball on the deck in those matches at St Andrew’s but, in so many others, Keane was left isolated and needing to deal with a host of long balls fired in at head height. That is certainly not his game and, despite his height, he is a long way from being a traditional target man.
Keane averages just a single shot, either on or off target, per game, with both Jackson (1.8) and Norwood (3.1) averaging significantly higher. Jon Nolan and Luke Garbutt also average more.
As a striker, Keane is rightly judged on his goal tally. The six he scored in 29 appearances is the most he has managed in a single season throughout his career and that’s where many of the concerns lie.
What the future holds
Clearly this is a worrying time for any professional footballer to be without a club, with more than a thousand players coming to the end of their deals in just a few weeks.
As things stand, Keane will be a free agent from June 30 meaning he will be searching for a new club for a second summer in a row.
He had to be patient in his search for a club last summer and, while circumstances this time around are of course completely different, it’s likely Keane will need to be patient once again.
It’s certainly not impossible that he will return to the Blues for what would (technically) be a third spell. Lambert is a known fan and the former Manchester United man has certainly shown himself to be the most technically-gifted of the Ipswich strikers. If he is to return it won’t be until there is a much clearer picture of what the 2020/21 season might look like for Town.
But it may just be that he and Ipswich go in a different direction. Keane has stated a desire to return to playing in the Championship at least but, as he contemplates searching for a new club, it remains to be seen whether his campaign with the Blues has been enough to peak interest higher up the food chain or whether he will need to continue to rebuild his career in the third tier.
Keane’s career has been stop-start ever since he left Manchester United in 2016, with injury admittedly playing a big role in that in the past, and it’s going to be so again this summer.