Thrills, spills, but the wrong result

SO far as Ipswich Town was concerned the only thing wrong at Portman Road on Saturday was the result. The match provided gripping entertainment in a wonderful atmosphere.

SO far as Ipswich Town was concerned the only thing wrong at Portman Road on Saturday was the result. The match provided gripping entertainment in a wonderful atmosphere. Attackers led defenders a merry dance which accounted for the seven goals, writes Tony Garnett.

It was a thriller watched by the biggest crowd at the ground for more than 20 years. On that occasion 29,596 (only 93 more than on Saturday) saw Norwich City win 3-2 with an 88th-minute winner from Martin O'Neill.

While Forest can now feel almost sure of a play-off place, Wolverhampton's 0-0 draw with Rotherham at Molineux keeps Ipswich's hopes smouldering. They can be fanned into life once more with a victory at Coventry at the weekend.

Ipswich went ahead in the 14th minute when Tommy Miller blasted the loose ball into the net after Pablo Counago had two successive efforts blocked by Jim Brennan. The lead was deserved as Counago had pulled a shot across the face of goal seven minutes earlier when put through by Jim Magilton. In the 23rd minute, after narrow shaves at both ends, the penalty drama began. Marcus Bent played the ball to Counago who was brought down by Andy Reid.

Miller, taking a lengthy run-up, saw his shot saved by Darren Ward, who dived backwards to block the ball at the foot of his left-hand post.

Counago followed up in an effort to force the ball over the line. The Spaniard was booked for a foul on the keeper.

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In the meantime the assistant referee had informed Mr Webb on his buzzer that Ward was well off his line when the kick was taken. As no flag had been raised everyone was in the dark with the result that Marlon Harewood and Darren Huckerby were both booked for dissent.

The outcome was that Miller took the spot kick again. It was a battle of wits as to which side he aimed. He chose the same target area, Ward guessed the other way, and Ipswich were two up and seemingly on their way to victory.

John Thompson, who had taken over in midfield from Riccardo Scimeca who was unwell, scored in the 27th minute with a low 25-yard drive just inside Andy Marshall's left-hand post.

A couple of minutes later Harewood was through on the left after a long ball had been nodded on. His scuffed shot surprised Marshall who dived over the ball.

Ipswich were on the ropes. They conceded a third in the 33rd minute when Marshall blocked an angled drive from Harewood. Thompson was first to the rebound and his goalbound shot was deflected into the net by Richard Naylor. Forest boss Paul Hart was keen to credit Thompson with the goal but that seems improbable.

The next significant piece of action came in the time added on before the interval. Jan-Olav Hjelde, already booked, was pulled back by his shirt by Counago, who was also living dangerously with a yellow card.

The whistle had gone for a Forest free-kick before Hjelde retaliated by pushing Counago in the face. It was in many ways similar to the incident at Bradford City when Hermann Hreidarsson was sent off. Hjelde can consider himself fortunate.

In the second-half Ipswich rolled up their sleeves. Counago almost intercepted a back pass from Michael Dawson, but on the hour Magilton sent a glorious ball that split Dawson and Hjelde. Marcus Bent timed his run perfectly to avoid the offside flag and then steered his shot past Ward with all the assurance that one used to associate with Alan Brazil.

Now it was anybody's game. Ipswich were looking stronger and a fresh Martijn Reuser emerged from the bench in place of teenager Matt Richards.

The script did not work out as Ipswich fans hoped. There was a warning when Marshall blocked an effort from David Johnson. Then in the 72nd minute there was a real scare when Naylor went into a sliding tackle on Huckerby in the box. Penalties have been given for less, but Ipswich escaped.

Three minutes later Naylor brought down Johnson just outside the edge of the penalty area on the Forest left.

This time Ipswich were punished for poor marking. Reid knocked the ball into the middle and Harewood was free to head home from eight yards. Harewood is a vastly improved player from the raw youngster who had a spell on loan at Portman Road in 1999.

That ended the scoring. Forest had conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position a few minutes earlier but Reuser fired into the defensive wall.

Ipswich battled in vain as they searched for another equaliser. Reuser sent a volley against a defender's arm but there was no chance of a spot kick with the Forest player knowing very little about it. Magilton had a shot blocked, Matt Holland put a weak header into Ward's arms and Jermaine Wright sent a powerful 20-yard volley straight at the keeper. There was also a moment when Chris Makin knocked the ball wide when one had a strange feeling that he had been programmed not to shoot.

Ipswich had four forwards – Alun Armstrong had joined the raiders – in those desperate closing stages. But in the end it was Forest who completed a League double which might have been even more convincing had Reid not volleyed wide from a sharp break during Town's late rally.

When news came through late in the week that the dependable Thomas Gaardsoe had joined John McGreal and Mark Venus on the injured list, one had extra fears about the threat posed by Johnson, Huckerby and Harewood. The concern was justified.

Perhaps Reuser's flair down the left might have been utilised from the start in view of his good form at Gillingham the previous Saturday, but it's hard to be sure if it would have made any difference to the outcome. Ipswich were also beaten by the manager of the month jinx that strikes with such regularity.

Forest's present success shows how a club in desperate financial straits can rise again by showing faith in their youth policy and building a team spirit with a relatively small squad. Although 18 senior professionals provide cover for injury and competition for places, it can also mean that those overlooked for the starting line-up become unsettled. That is one way how dressing room spirit can quickly evaporate at clubs like Ipswich and Forest.

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