Play-off hopes truly dashed

IPSWICH Town's play-off hopes suffered a savage blow against plucky Rotherham United at Millmoor yesterday. Joe Royle's team appeared to be cruising to victory with a 31st-minute header from Pablo Counago.

IPSWICH Town's play-off hopes suffered a savage blow against plucky Rotherham United at Millmoor yesterday. Joe Royle's team appeared to be cruising to victory with a 31st-minute header from Pablo Counago. Then they lost their way as the Millers, with the breeze at their backs, rallied in the second half.

Two goals in the 85th and 87th minutes turned the match on its head. Both stemmed from long throws from Shaun Barker, who was very fortunate to be on the field.

It may sound like sour grapes but in the 54th minute Barker brought down Martijn Reuser in rugby fashion. It looked at though he was the last man but referee Brain Curson decided to show a yellow card.

The decision frustrated Ipswich players at the time. It became even more of a bone of contention when Barker's long throws, which were fired into the goalmouth like corner-kicks, led to both goals.

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The first came when Andy Marshall opted to punch but the ball flew only as far as John Mullin on the edge of the box. He lobbed the ball back and it sailed just under the bar.

It was a bitter blow for Town, who lost their way after the interval. The second goal came in much the same manner a couple of minutes later. The throw, assisted by the wind, came in from the Rotherham right once again.

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This time Marshall stayed on his line. This left Chris Swailes to have a free header which Marshall blocked. Mark Robins, the former Norwich striker, latched on to the rebound and knocked it into the net.

The visiting fans were deflated as well they might be because for 45 minutes Ipswich had given Rotherham a football lesson. How Town were only one goal ahead was amazing because they had produced some tremendous football on a bumpy pitch.

Ipswich's dominance was such that they won 10 corners to Rotherham's two but it's goals that matter and Town's luck was out when it came to finishing.

In the 11th minute Guy Branston fouled the elusive Counago 25 yards from goal in a central position. Jim Magilton curled his free-kick against the woodwork with Ian Gray way out of position.

Reuser was causing Rotherham problems, Marcus Bent was leading the line with zest while the livewire Counago looked a match-winner.

As Ipswich turned up the heat Tommy Miller had a shot blocked after Bent had nodded back a corner from Magilton. A goal was overdue when a great run by Miller led to Barker conceding a corner to stop Reuser.

The Dutchman's flag-kick was as accurate as ever for the unmarked Counago to head home from six yards.

The young Spaniard had his tail up and unleashed a 35-yard volley but it was straight at Gray.

Rotherham tend to be a negative sort of team who rely on the strength of defenders like Swailes and Martin McIntosh at the back with Branston always snapping at people's heels.

They are especially dangerous at dead-ball situations and, of course, when those long throws are hoisted in.

Ipswich looked a cast-iron bet for three points at the interval, but then it all turned sour.

In the 46th minute Counago found Reuser down the left. His cross passed just in front of Bent, who was frustrated with himself for failing to make contact.

Robins had an attempted scissor-kick blocked but the turning point came in the 54th minute when Barker hauled down Reuser. A red card looked a formality but was not shown.

This let-off seemed to give Rotherham heart although Ipswich continued to create chances with Bent heading wide from a corner by Magilton.

In the 63rd minute Marshall held an angled header from Alan Lee, a bustling Irish striker who was always a threat. Then Marshall saved again when a back-header by Fabian Wilnis let in Chris Sedgwick in the 69th minute.

A minute later Marshall excelled himself when Mullin played in Robins, whose rising drive was touched over the bar in spectacular fashion.

It was a splendid save. While Barker was propelling long throws from the right, Nick Daws was able to produce throws from the left that were only slightly less effective.

Rotherham introduced Darren Byfield in place of Sedgwick in the 75th minute and, while Ipswich launched the occasional raid, it seemed more important that they held firm at the back.

As it turned out, Rotherham doubled Ipswich for the season through sheer hard work, a physical approach, a fair share of luck and a lenient referee who was prepared to leave them with 11 men.

Hopes had been so high that Ipswich could overhaul Nottingham Forest or Wolves for a play-off place. Now it looks as though miracles will be needed.

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