Magical League Cup run under Roy Keane and beyond – Carl Marston’s Travels with Town
- Credit: Archant
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 124 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he recalls Town’s fine League Cup run of 2010-11, which ended with a trip to the Emirates
On the eve of this weekend’s opening day clash, an EFL first round tie at home to Bristol Rovers, I thought it apt to start on a positive note by recalling a terrific run in the competition from a decade ago, when I was following the ups and (many) downs of the Roy Keane era.
That League Cup run of 2010-11 went all the way to the semi-finals and a dream draw against Premier League giants Arsenal.
It just shows what can happen, with a bit of self-belief, momentum and some good fortune.
So although a glamorous semi-final, against big guns from the top-flight, might seem a million miles away going into a first round tie against unfashionable Rovers this weekend, that was the same feeling that Town had when beginning their cup campaign with a trip to Devon to take on minnows Exeter City in the autumn of 2010.
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Keane’s men had floundered in the Championship, failing to live up to their much-hyped potential as promotion contenders.
Instead, all the excitement was reserved for the League Cup, with Keane at least having the consolation of guiding his side through to the last four before he was axed.
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Just five days after Keane’s dismissal, Town’s League Cup heroics continued with a thrilling 1-0 win over Arsenal in the first leg, played in front of a bumper Portman Road crowd of 29,146. It was bedlam when Hungarian striker Tamas Priskin scored the winner with 12 minutes left.
And so the bandwagon rolled into North London, and a mouth-watering second leg tie.
New boss Paul Jewell had been in the stands for the first leg, with Ian McParland completing his caretaker duties, but Jewell was in the Emirates’ away dug-out for a rip-roaring second leg.
And for an hour, it looked as though Town might cause a major upset by holding Arsene Wenger’s Gunners to 0-0. Town fans could be forgiven for dreaming of Wembley.
Alas, Arsenal then scored twice in three second-half minutes via Nicklas Bendtner and Laurent Koscielny to turn the tie on its head, Cesc Fabregas adding a third to seal a 3-0 win and a 3-1 aggregate success.
The dream was over, but it was still a great night for Town, and their big travelling support of 9,000 fans, and it was especially satisfying to have kept previously free-scoring Arsenal at bay for 151 minutes of the tie.
It is also easy to forget the hard work that was put in, to reach that far in the competition. From small beginnings come great things – which brings me back to that long midweek jaunt to Exeter City on August 10, 2010.
It happened to be the occasion of Keane’s 39th birthday, but his Town side made heavy weather of seeing off the Grecians.
In the end, a brace from David Norris goals, the second in extra time, saw Town stumble through to the second round by a 3-2 score-line.
Certainly, a semi-final date with Arsenal, five months down the line, had looked unlikely when Ryan Harley had fired Exeter into a 1-0 lead at St James Park. Harley’s second goal, a 25-yarder, dragged Town into extra-time.
At least Keane could force a smile on his birthday. “We’ve got some good young players coming through and they had a good test tonight and came through it,” enthused the Irishman.
And so Town’s long-distance travelling continued with a second round date in Cheshire, two weeks later, to take on Dario Gradi’s Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road.
Again Town did it the hard way, in unconvincing fashion, lurching through in extra-time via David Norris’ volley in a 1-0 win.
“We just want a home draw because it’s been tough for us with extra time again,” said a relieved Keane that night.
Naturally, he didn’t get his wish – Town were drawn away to Millwall in round three.
A third away tie on the trot, and a third away win, though this time achieved by not having to resort to extra-time. Instead, first-half goals from Priskin and Gareth McAuley saw Town win through 2-1 at the New Den.
Finally, Town’s reward was a home tie, against a Northampton Town side down in 91st position in the Football League. The Cobblers had beaten a young Liverpool side in the previous round, and they took the lead against Town through Liam Davis’ stunner before goals from Carlos Edwards, Damien Delaney and Priskin sealed a 3-1 win and a quarter-final home tie against West Brom.
Grant Leadbitter’s second-half penalty saw off the Premier League Baggies 1-0, to book Town a semi-final tie against Arsenal.
Keane never got to take his side to the Emirates – he was axed after a home defeat to Nottingham Forest on January 3 - but Town fans will never forget the League Cup run of 2010-11.