Galleries: Brave Town lose at Arsenal as Carling Cup dream dies
IPSWICH Town’s brave bid to reach Wembley against all the odds was finally ended at Arsenal, but it was not without a terrific fight.
Nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg of this Carling Cup semi-final at Portman Road, courtesy of Tamas Priskin’s 78th-minute winner, Paul Jewell’s men kept the Gunners at bay for a wonderful first hour in front of a full house at the impressive Emirates.
Town’s 9,000 away fans even began to believe that their side could indeed spring a major surprise.
But two goals in a four-minutes spell, from Nicklas Bendtner and Laurent Koscielny on 61 and 64 minutes, finally turned this cup tie around.
Cesc Fabregas added a third to make sure that Arsenal will be at Wembley, to face either West Ham or Birmingham in the final.
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But Town did themselves, and their fans, proud.
Town’s resistance was finally broken by Bendtner’s quality finish on 61 minutes. The impressive Jack Wilshere obliged with an accurate cross-field ball, and Bendtner cut inside Carlos Edwards before beating Marton Fulop with a right-footed shot from the edge of the box.
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There was hardly time to catch breath before the Gunners stole the aggregate lead with defender Koscielny’s bullet header, from Andrey Arshavin’s corner.
Fulop was in no-man’s land, having tried and failed to intercept the corner.
And Town’s distant hopes were finally killed off by Fabregas, the man who had likened Town’s tactics in the first leg to that of a rugby team.
The Spaniard predictably had the last laugh by running onto Arshavin’s pass and neatly sliding the ball beyond the despairing Fulop from close in.
There was no way back for Town, but it was still a thrilling Cup run. Now the business of climbing well clear of the Championship relegation zone will take centre stage.
Jewell made just one change to the side that recorded only their second league win in 11 league games, against Doncaster on Saturday.
Winger Lee Martin was cup-tied, so in came Mark Kennedy to operate in a holding role in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
And there was a show of bravado straight from the kick-off, on the part of the visitors.
Grant Leadbitter accepted the first pass and then tried his luck with an opportunist strike from just inside his own half, the effort sailing just wide of the Gunners goal.
Arsenal threatened first on six minutes.
Right-back Bacary Sagna curled over a cross from the edge of the box and Robin Van Persie, fresh from a hat-trick against Wigan last weekend, volleyed crisply but off target.
The Premier League side had appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Mark Halsey in the 10th minute.
Gareth McAuley did give Fabregas the slightest of pushes, but the midfielder made a meal of the challenge and fell dramatically to the ground.
Town were certainly not over-awed by the occasion during the opening 20 minutes.
Leadbitter pumped a deep free-kick into the penalty areas, where McAuley leant back to balloon a header narrowly over the bar.
Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny had ventured off his line to meet that free-kick, and not only did he fail to intercept Leadbitter’s cross, but he also collided head-on with his team-mate Sagna.
The full-back suffered a head wound and could not continue, forcing an early change with Emmanuel Eboue on as a 17th minute substitute.
The Gunners finally began to turn the screw around the mid-point of the first period, but without breaking the deadlock.
Fabregas scampered onto Van Persie’s through ball and drilled in a low angled drive that Fulop smothered low to his left.
But the Hungarian was grateful for the intervention of his cross-bar in the 23rd minute. Van Persie steamed in to meet Nicklas Bendtner’s teasing cross, but he could not keep his header down from just four yards out and the ball thudded back off the bar.
Fulop was in the spotlight again, on the half-hour mark. The big man dropped a free-kick, on the edge of his six-yard box, but Delaney saved his blushes by superbly blocking the follow-up shot by Bendtner at point-blank range.
Fabregas missed a sitter on 34 minutes. The Gunners skipper ghosted onto Jack Wilshere’s exquisite through ball and looked certain to squeeze home his shot, with just the onrushing Fulop to beat. But he pulled his effort agonisingly wide of the far post.
Although Town did not create any more worthwhile chances before half-time, it was not just a case of Arsenal being encamped in the visitors’ half.
The likes of Delaney and Edwards were not afraid to run with the ball, from deep in their own half, and one particular highlight was Edwards’ selling Denilson a slick dummy.
Van Persie had a clear sight of goal in the 45th minute, but the Dutchman was superbly tackled by the lunging Darren O’Dea when on the point of shooting.
Town started the second-half at full throttle, trying to catch Arsenal off guard, and it almost worked.
A 47th minute corner caused panic in the home box, with Celtic loanee Darren O’Dea unlucky not to hit the target with his snap shot. The ball fizzed across the face of goal and wide.
But Arsenal weathered that storm and normal service resumed. Two goals inside three minutes from Bendtner and Kossielny finally broke Town’s hearts.
Jason Scotland replaced Priskin, in between these two goals, and the ex-Wigan hot-shot squandered a chance to level the aggregate on 70 minutes.
He burst onto Colin Healy’s pass, only to fire his shot straight at Szczesny.
Fabregas’ 77th minute strike put Arsenal 3-1 up on aggregate, and effectively out of sight.