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Two of the biggest names in the Championship square up to each other this weekend – and it's the tough guy who's on the ropes, says Joe Brewin...
You'd find it difficult to picture Sven-Goran Eriksson leaping out of his chair in delight when he got the call from Leicester inviting him to be their new manager. In truth, you'd be hard pushed to think of any scenario where that might happen.
But sure enough Eriksson rocked up at the Walkers in October after Paulo Sousa's dismal reign in the East Midlands was ended prematurely, the Swede taking a leap into the glamorous world of the Championship.
Eleven matches later, with just three defeats, the Foxes have hauled themselves off the bottom of the table into the joyous position of mid-table obscurity. But of course in the Championship, mid-table obscurity means a viable crack at the play-offs.
On Saturday evening Eriksson's side travel to Ipswich for a match which ultimately could see the final nail hammered into the coffin of Town manager Roy Keane. Naturally, Eriksson will be all too happy to help complete the task.
Ipswich's drastic slide down the table has been cause by a horrifying six defeats on the spin, a run of form which has seen the Suffolk outfit drop from promotion hope to lower-table discomfort. Keane acknowledges he is walking a narrow tightrope at Portman Road, but just how long will ambitious owner Marcus Evans hold on for success? The feared vote of confidence has been and gone, with Ipswich still floundering in search of their elusive victory.
The Irishman has this week admitted he has been far too lenient on some of his squad members this year, a surprising confession given the well-documented tenacity of his successful playing days. "I need to be a bit more ruthless. I think I've been too good to a lot of players," he said, presumably to a nervous shuffling of boots behind him. "We've got to hang in there until January, try and stop this run, move one or two in, move one or two out."
A new striker appears top priority when January arrives after just three goals in their last six Championship fixtures, but quite whether it is Keane who is allowed to spend the club's money remains the burning question. Defeat on Saturday seems unthinkable if his bid to restore Portman Road to glory is to be achieved.
For visitors Leicester, the clash is a valuable opportunity not only to push closer to the coveted play-off places, but to improve the gloomy away form which has so far threatened to derail any kind of promotion bid. Eriksson has overseen both of the team's away victories during his turnaround at the Walkers, but successive defeats at Bristol City and Watford have undone promising work at home in recent times.
The club's Thai owners have already asserted their ambitions for the season ahead, with promotion, in their own words, imperative. Aspirations of a Premier League place next season are still a distant pipe dream, but the backing given to Eriksson thus far has given Foxes fans more than enough hope for a competitive campaign.
The loan market has certainly proved kind to Leicester, with no fewer than five Premier League players arriving on short-term deals with points to prove since the Swede's arrival. Curtis Davies from Aston Villa is perhaps the pick of the bunch, but the vital contributions of young Tottenham and Manchester City full-backs Kyle Naughton and Greg Cunningham have helped shore up a defence embarrassingly generous under Sousa. With Wigan's Chris Kirkland also joining the party this week, Eriksson's first-choice backline could potentially compromise entirely of loanees on Saturday. But that's another issue for another day.
Unsurprisingly Eriksson has attempted to lure bigger fish to the Walkers than those already caught in the net. Roque Santa Cruz, Robbie Keane and, naturally, David Beckham have all politely declined loan moves to join the play-off push. One can only imagine how short the latter phone conversation was.
Pundits have touted the Foxes as serious promotion contenders despite a woeful opening to the season, with ammunition to back these claims easy to find. Talk of 'going for it in January' when the window re-opens has been commonplace, but rest assured, they already are.
If history is anything to go by, however, Leicester may not be laughing all the way back to the East Midlands after Saturday's trip to Portman Road. The Foxes have won one only one of their last 14 league visits to Suffolk, losing nine of them. Daunting?
Eriksson's side were relentless in their second-half showing against Doncaster last weekend (in a crushing 5-1 victory), and against an Ipswich side in such poor form the Foxes will be looking to condemn Keane to his seventh defeat on the bounce.
There isn't much room for many more questions at Portman Road, and another loss this weekend may just see some of them answered with the harsh sound of the exit door.
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