On this day in Ipswich Town’s history: maestro Mason tops the charts for Burley’s boys
- Credit: Archant
In this daily feature, we take a look at what happened on this day in Ipswich Town’s history, selecting one particular year, this time from 24 years ago when Town were stuttering on their way to an end-of-season appearance in the play-off
Paul Mason, a very gifted and talented wide midfielder, was often under-rated during his under-stated career, but he gave terrific service to Aberdeen and later Ipswich, none more so than during the 1996-97 season.
In fact, Mason finished that season, the second full one of George Burley’s tenure on the Portman Road hot-seat, as the club’s leading scorer on 15 goals, 14 of them in the league.
Liverpool-born Mason’s regular goal contributions, in addition to his silky touches and precision passes, were a big reason why Town recovered from a very sluggish start to finish fourth in the First Division (second tier), and so be involved in the play-offs.
Back on September 7, 1996, exactly 24 years ago, Mason scored the second of his 15 goals (14 in the league) for the season on an otherwise disappointing afternoon for Town, who suffered a 3-1 home defeat at Portman Road in front of only a modest crowd of 10,661.
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It was Town’s second defeat in their first five matches – they lost 1-0 at Manchester City on the opening day – and just one win in their first six seemed to suggest a winter of struggle lay ahead.
However, Town turned it around, although being doubled by lowly Huddersfield – they went on to lose 2-0 in West Yorkshire in late December – hindered their chances of automatic promotion.
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The game back at Portman Road was very unfortunate, because an injury Richard Wright after just 14 minutes saw Town have to play the rest of the match without a specialist keeper. Instead, striker Neil Gregory was introduced off the bench.
It was still 0-0 at half-time, before Huddersfield scored three goals early in the second half through a brace by Andy Paton and one from Marcus Stewart, who was sign for Town from the Terriers for £2.5million in 2000. Mason’s consolation goal arrived in the 76th minute.
In the end, there was no catching Bolton Wanderers, who romped to the title and promotion with 98 points and 100 goals, finishing 18 points clear of runners-up Barnsley, who secured top-flight status for the first time in their history.
Mason had spent five years at Aberdeen, after having resurrected his career in the Netherlands with FC Groningen – in his younger days he was held back by his small physique, and then a serious leg break – before signing for Town in 1993.
I always saw him as one of the old-fashioned type of footballers, more finesse than power, more class than strength. In all, he scored 36 goals in 112 outing for Town.
Support was not great during this period of Town’s history. In fact, the lowest gate of the 1996-97 season was a mere 7,086 for the visit of Swindon Town for a midweek clash in November.
Yet Town did make the play-offs, and were unlucky to exit in the semi-finals on the away goals rule. Having drawn 1-1 at Bramall Lane, they were held to a 2-2 draw by Sheffield United in the home leg. But it was Crystal Palace who won the play-off final.
TOWN team v Huddersfield in 1996: Wright (sub N Gregory, 14), Sedgley, Vaughan (sub Milton, 75), Thomsen, Taricco, Mason, Sonner, Williams, Stockwell, Mathie, Scowcroft. Unused sub: Uhlenbeek.