THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Tractor Boys two points off play-offs

icon tractors14 April ~ Blackburn's Jordan Rhodes is one of the current breed of 20-something footballers – Theo Walcott is another – who always comes across as a very polite young man. Even in the immediate post-match interview, caked in mud and sweat, it's all shy smiles and modesty. Fans of Rhodes's first club, Ipswich, appeared to see a different side to his nature at Portman Road earlier this season when, having equalised for Rovers, he set off on a manic, aggressive, corner-flag-assaulting goal celebration. If it wasn't quite in the league of Temuri Ketsbaia smashing up a hoarding, it was certainly out of character.

I can't be doing with the trend for pious refusal to celebrate goals against former teams, so was secretly satisfied to see Rhodes enjoying the moment against the club that sold him to Huddersfield for just £350,000 in 2009. Other Ipswich fans were upset at the ferocity of his response, though it's likely that the root of their frustration was that Rhodes had been let go so cheaply from Portman Road – particularly when his next transfer fee was in the region of £8 million, for which Blackburn have been rewarded with 22 goals so far this season.

The decision to sell Rhodes has become a symbol of the malaise that's afflicted Ipswich over the last few years. Comfortably the Championship's longest-serving club, having racked up 12 years in the second tier, Town's recent history has been one of relentless frustration and mediocrity, with managers such as Roy Keane and Paul Jewell failing to build any useful, coherent or particularly entertaining sides, while Rhodes has cheerily gone around scoring shedloads of goals for others.

It's only this season that Portman Road has started to feel, if not exactly ecstatic with excitement, then perhaps a place where one might dare to exercise some hope. The steady progress shown under Mick McCarthy – and the fact that he wasn't tempted back to Ireland earlier in the season – are the basis for this cautious optimism. Seven points from the last three games have taken McCarthy's solid but unspectacular side to within two points of the top six – the first time since 2008 that Town have gone into April with anything other than survival to play for.

While Blackburn may have craved some stability after recent seasons' turmoil, their fans were no doubt hoping to be somewhat higher than the middling position that they've nestled into. As Ipswich can testify, once you get stuck in the Championship, mid-table can be a difficult place to get out of.

The coming week will test Ipswich's top six credentials – the game at Ewood Park is followed by a trip to another of Jordan Rhodes's former employers, Huddersfield. If McCarthy's side can emerge from those games with their play-off ambitions intact, Town fans might start thinking more about the future, and less about Rhodes as a reminder of past failures. Whatever the rest of the season holds, that really would be progress. Gavin Barber

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