Brown hands out the beatings

IPSWICH Town have been warned. Now they know just what to expect from Michael Brown when the Blades come to Portman Road for the crunch match in the promotion campaign on February 8.

IPSWICH Town have been warned. Now they know just what to expect from Michael Brown when the Blades come to Portman Road for the crunch match in the promotion campaign on February 8.

Brown, bombed out of Manchester City by Joe Royle, returned to haunt his former boss. The player celebrated his 26th birthday with two goals and a commanding all-round display. He confirmed the feeling that he is the most dangerous midfield player outside the Premiership.

Brown's strikes, with one from Phil Jagielka sandwiched in between, put Sheffield United three up in 61 minutes. Ipswich Town's FA Cup dreams looked to be in tatters even though they had enjoyed the greater possession.

Town's passing game struggled on a sticky surface but little did Ipswich's band of followers know that they were to experience a whole gamut of emotions before the final whistle in a tie that sprang to life in amazing fashion.

There was Ipswich frustration for an hour as three goals were conceded: Pablo Counago had missed a sitter and Marcus Bent been denied a clear-cut penalty after being brought down by Dutch goalkeeper Wilko de Vogt. Bent was running away from goal, but it was a similar incident to the penalty that cost Ipswich two points at Burnley in their last away game.

Royle has developed a habit of keeping his two trump cards, the teenage Darrens, up his sleeve while he banks on his more experienced men to soften up the opposition.

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Ambrose and the speedy Bent are exciting talents and their presence influenced a thrilling Ipswich burst that brought three goals in the space of four minutes to turn the tie on its head. It was sheer exhilaration for the travelling fans who now expected, with some justification, that their team would go on to a glorious victory.

Town nearly succeeded. Ambrose showed the quick-thinking that seems to come naturally to him. De Vogt left his penalty area to head clear. Ambrose picked up the loose ball 10 yards inside the United half and struck it towards the unguarded goal from 50 yards. De Vogt scrambled back to turn the ball aside with a full-length dive, colliding with the advertising boards in the process.

Then in the 89th minute Town's joy turned to despair. A throw on the Ipswich right seemed routine but a lapse in concentration in defence by Thomas Gaardsoe allowed the predatory substitute Paul Peschisolido to score from close range.

Royle could hardly believe the outcome. To make matters worse United manager Neil Warnock admitted he had not been over-concerned about the result as his team selection seemed to indicate. Even the Sheffield supporters seemed apathetic, only a meagre crowd of 12,757 turning out on what was traditionally one of the most exciting days of the English season.

Ipswich, though, would have welcomed any income a Cup run might have brought them. Now they have promotion as their only target. There are no diversions.

The league match with the Blades, when they will no doubt be at full strength, will give an indication as to whether Royle's men have what it takes to maintain a genuine promotion challenge. There seems no good reason why not.

It was a sorry opening 45 minutes for Ipswich. Brown opened the scoring with a low shot from well outside the penalty area, not particularly well struck, that scraped just inside the far post. Town keeper Andy Marshall seemed slow to react to the threat. To concede the opening goal in a Cup tie is always a severe blow.

On the half-hour a free-kick from Brown rebounded for a corner off Jim Magilton, who was having a rare off-day. Brown's flag-kick, taken from outside the designated zone, was touched over the bar by Marshall.

This led to another corner from the opposite flank taken by Wayne Quinn. Tommy Mooney back-headed against the bar. Phil Jagiekla was first to react to the rebound, drilling the ball into the net. Gaardsoe was the closest defender to Mooney, who was allowed far too much room. Mooney has been a thorn in Town's side already this season when he helped Stoke City to victory over Ipswich when on loan to the Potteries club.

Ipswich switched to 4-4-2 in the second-half with Ambrose taking over from Fabian Wilnis.

This meant a defensive reshuffle with Chris Makin at right-back, Gaardsoe and Matt Holland in central defence and Hermann Hreidarsson on the left. Ambrose took up a position wide on the left but soon became very much involved in central zones as well.

In the 57th minute Darren Bent was introduced in place of Magilton, who was starting to show his frustration after being caught in possession.

When United added their third and best goal in the 61st minute, the tie looked all over. Tommy Miller was booked for a foul on Brown. Quinn's free-kick was headed out by Holland, but only as far as Brown whose breathtaking rising right-foot volley from just outside the penalty area gave Marshall no chance.

It was a superb goal from a player in peak form but ironically it came within a minute of Ipswich's most memorable move of the match.

Darren Bent sped down the right-wing at pace that reminded me of Joe Broadfoot in full flight. He crossed for Ambrose who, uncharacteristically, fired over the bar from a great position so, when Brown scored Sheffield's third, Town fans could be forgiven for feeling that it was one of those days when nothing would go right. The Ipswich players, though, still had belief. It was Gaardsoe who revived hopes with a grand curling shot from just inside the penalty area. It was a reward for persistence after Hreidarsson held the ball in the penalty area before it fell perfectly for Gaardsoe.

Some may have felt at the time that it was no more than a consolation, but they did not take the Ipswich spirit into account. In the next raid Miller was brought down by Jagielka and Mr Gallagher this time pointed to the spot. Jagielka was booked but surely a penalty was punishment enough. Penalty king Miller, so confident under pressure, fired into the net to De Vogt's left.

Less than two minutes later the scores were level. It was a classic goal with Ambrose sending Darren Bent through the inside-right channel in pursuit of a penetrating through-ball.

Young Bent held off a tackle and slid the ball into the net from an angle. It was his 11th goal of the season and was brilliantly taken. Marcus Bent was booked for kicking the ball away in celebration, but long gone are the days when a pat on the back would suffice as recognition for a goalscorer.

Now Ipswich looked likely winners. Neither club relished the idea of a replay so both teams committed themselves to attack.

It was Sheffield, with the fresh legs of Peschisolido and Wayne Allison up front, who grabbed the late glory. Ipswich will not be at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the FA Cup final, but they could well appear there for a promotion play-off final, possibly against Sheffield United.

Saturday's tie provided some great memories of how Ipswich came back from a three-goal deficit but then had the heartbreak of losing at the very end. That is now history. Let's hope the story of the season will be a promotion triumph from an autumn position of little hope.

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