Town's promotion dreams crushed again
CRUSHED Ipswich fans endured familiar agony last night as their dreams of Premiership football were cruelly ripped away once again. Thousands of fans turned out for the sell-out play off semi-final in the hope Town would avenge their defeat by West Ham at the same stage of the competition last year.
By Danielle Nuttall
CRUSHED Ipswich fans endured familiar agony last night as their dreams of Premiership football were cruelly ripped away once again.
Thousands of fans turned out for the sell-out play off semi-final in the hope Town would avenge their defeat by West Ham at the same stage of the competition last year.
But, despite a promising first half, hopes of victory faded just outside the hour mark when West Ham's Bobby Zamora scored the Hammers' first goal, following it up with a second in the 72nd minute.
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For Town fans, it was a devastating end to a season that had seen the club finish three places and 12 points ahead of their London opponents in the league.
Blues boss Joe Royle said: "We can have no complaints on the night. They were better than us in many areas of the pitch and their front two showed the extra quality at this level.
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"It's not time for recriminations though. I won't be criticising the players because they have been fantastic this season and nearly worked a soccer miracle.
"They have done brilliantly to get to third in the table and I only have good words to say about them this year.
"When you look at the team, we are a collection of a couple of senior professionals, a few free transfers and one buy, so they have been brilliant."
Royle added: "I am not going to say it's not disappointing. Of course it is - it hurts but we'll go away and have a break and see what works out over the summer in terms of who's going to be here and who isn't.
"We have been there all season and led the table for a long time, but it's not worked out for us.
"I would have taken the playoffs with both hands if it had been offered to us at the start of the season and to finish third and lose out there is a sense of injustice, but that's the way it is.
"The playoffs are a lottery, a cup competition. You have to take it as it is. I'm not a fan of them and would have held that same view if we had won through them, but now I will take a break and then start again."
The crushing loss continues Town's miserable run in the playoffs, with no other club tasting the bitter pill of defeat more times than the Blues in the annual four-team football lottery.
It was Town's seventh year in the play-offs, and the club has only been successful once before in its previous six attempts.
In 2000, they won promotion to the Premiership after successfully beating Bolton in a memorable semi-final before toppling Barnsley 4-2 in the Wembley final.
In last year's semi-final against West Ham, Ipswich entered the second leg with a 1-0 lead.
But the Hammers beat Town 2-0 in the return at Upton Park, propelling them into the play-off final at Cardiff.
The Blues were eager to reverse their fortunes last night - and pride was not the only thing at stake.
The financial prize of a return to Premiership football has been estimated to result in at least £20million a year, mostly through broadcasting deals.
Speaking after the final whistle last night, Town's chief executive Derek Bowden said: "It was an extremely disappointing night in front of a big crowd with everything to play for but we didn't get there.
"There was a £20 million pot of gold waiting for us if we had have been promoted but that is now something we will have to look at on another day.
"We have been planning a Championship budget for the past couple of months anyway, and a Premiership one too, but we will revert to the Championship one now.
"We will make a loss this season and we need to get to a break even next year. It means across the playing side that there will be less money to spend.
"Even so it doesn't mean that we will have to sell any players in the summer but we will see what occurs in the summer and we have three months to look at that.
"We have finished third. When were relegated we finished seventh then fifth now third. We finished 12 points ahead of West Ham but unfortunately we have lost a mini-cup final on the day."
And the pain was too much for many fans to bear last night as they left Portman Road for the final time this season, some wiping away tears, others just wondering where it had all gone wrong.
And, while West Ham toasted their second chance at Cardiff, Ipswich fans were once again left to curse the unfairness of the play-offs, and resign themselves to another year of Championship football.
But, as the Town faithful know only too well after years of painful playoff punishments, there's always next season.
n A spokesman for Suffolk police said there had been five arrests for public order offences during the evening, while ten fans were ejected from the ground.