With Jimmy Bullard out of form and six defeats in a row the Tractor Boys are perched precariously above the Championship relegation zone
After beating Portsmouth on 18 October Ipswich Town sat sixth in the Championship table, a solitary point behind second-placed West Ham. Six defeats, 18 goals conceded later they are kept out of the bottom three on goal difference. Bristol City, rock bottom and 14 points behind them in mid-October, on Tuesday night leapt over the Tractor Boys with a draw at Watford, while Paul Jewell's side were on the receiving end of a 4-0 walloping at Burnley.
"We've gone from being a decent side a few weeks ago to one that can't win a tackle," said Jewell afterwards. "It's not good enough and I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed to walk past our fans after a woeful performance like that." He wasn't much cheerier when asked whether he was considering quitting: "I don't want to walk away from it but what I want to do is do the best for Ipswich Town because it's a wonderful football club. I'm proud as punch to be manager of Ipswich and I felt physically sick watching that."
Ipswich, then, are close to coming full circle. When Jewell took over from Keane in January the side were slipping steadily towards relegation, only for the new manager to drag a Jimmy Bullard-inspired Town back up the table. Since making his move a permanent one in the summer, however, Bullard's form has dropped off, the side look devoid of inspiration and they are looser at the back than a beagle after a feast of laxative-laced Pedigree Chum.
Jewell has, for now at least, the backing of his board. "We're all devastated, this is a really poor run of games that we're on at the moment," said the club's chief executive Simon Clegg. "But let's not forget we had a good run only about five weeks ago. I am convinced we've got the right players to turn this around. And if anyone can do it, Paul Jewell can. I've still got a lot of confidence in Paul Jewell. I think he's a top manager."
Managers tend to get a bit more time if the profile of their squad is young and thrusting. Jewell's predilection for older hands – Nathan Ellington, Ivar Ingimarsson, Lee Bowyer and Michael Chopra (now 27) have all come into the club in the past 12 months – counts against him. The three games remaining before Christmas could well decide his fate. They are all winnable and therefore any failure to do so weighs all the heavier. Watford – 18th, durable, inconsistent – visit Portman Road on Saturday before a tea-time date at Barnsley – strong in Yorkshire derbies, flaky otherwise – a week later and a home fixture against Derby, who, having won once in 11 and lost five on the bounce, are in a similarly sorry state, before the presents go under the tree. Three more defeats and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jewell unwrapping a P45.
Nothing must irritate under-pressure incumbents more than a rival club wielding the axe and reaping the benefits. Bristol City are certainly doing just that having dispensed with Keith Millen and brought in Derek McInnes. The Robins battled back from 2-0 down at Watford on Tuesday to secure a point – courtesy of a Scott Loach howler – that takes them out of the bottom three for the first time since mid-September.
Of greater comfort to Jewell will be the ongoing issues at Steve Cotterill's Nottingham Forest – hammered 4-0 by Leeds at the City Ground – and Dean Saunder's Doncaster, who remain bottom after a 3-2 defeat at Millwall. Coventry, the only side in the bottom three not to have changed managers this season and on an eight-game winless streak, face Portsmouth (who have) on Saturday.