Town spoil Earnshaw's day

IPSWICH Town gatecrashed the Robert Earnshaw party to leapfrog hosts Cardiff City, thanks chiefly to a blistering first-half display at Ninian Park on Saturday, writes Carl Marston.

IPSWICH Town gatecrashed the Robert Earnshaw party to leapfrog hosts Cardiff City, thanks chiefly to a blistering first-half display at Ninian Park on Saturday, writes Carl Marston.

It was billed as the day when Welsh wizard Earnshaw would score his 100th goal for Cardiff, to cement the Bluebirds position in the Division One play-off zone.

One half of the equation worked to plan. Front-runner Earnshaw, the beneficiary of a rather dubious looking penalty, tucked away the spot- kick to clock up his century of goals in a City shirt.

But the celebrations were rather lost in the backdrop of an impressive Ipswich display. His landmark goal could not prevent his side from tumbling to their first defeat in nine outings.

Town were inspirational in the first half. Not even the loss of their skipper and major playmaker Jim Magilton, to a nasty foot injury, could prevent Joe Royle's men from registering a two-goal lead at the break. Tommy Miller, within a minute of his appearance as a substitute for the hobbling Magilton, buried a 28th minute penalty to nudge the visitors ahead. Miller had also had a hand in earning the spot-kick.

Defender Georges Santos stuck out a boot to prod home Jermaine Wright's corner in the 33rd minute, and Town could have added to their tally before the break.

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The biggest worry confronting Town supporters, at half-time, was whether the back-up generator would kick-in to operate the floodlights as the gloom descended on south Wales. A power failure had caused the floodlights to flicker out, midway through the first half, followed by the rather disturbing sight of smoke billowing from behind one corner of the stadium.

Manager Royle admitted that he too was worried about the potential black-out. To deny Ipswich a victory through floodlight failure would have been cruel in the extreme.

Fortunately, the back-up generator did its job, but Ipswich still had a battle on their hands to protect their lead in a frantic second half.

Earnshaw's moment arrived on 58 minutes. Referee Mr Hall awarded a penalty, for a push by Richard Naylor on City skipper Tony Vidmar, as Richard Langley floated a free kick into the danger zone.

It was one of those instances when very few people in the ground had a clue as to why the penalty was given (if anything, Vidmar appeared to run straight into Naylor).

No matter. Earnshaw gleefully tucked away his 16th league goal of the season, and his 21st in all competitions. More significantly, it was goal No. 100 for a player who came up through the youth ranks at Ninian Park. The celebrations were muted. Cardiff were still 2-1 down, and Ipswich kept their composure to ride the storm, bolstered by some strong defending from the commanding Santos.

Chris Bart-Williams, who enjoyed one of his best games in a Town shirt, gave his side breathing space by cracking home a glorious third goal in the 81st minute.

A corner by Ian Westlake was only half-punched away by keeper Neil Alexander, and Bart-Williams took full advantage. The Charlton loanee cut inside defender Vidmar before firing a shot into the roof of the net, with Alexander hopelessly out of position.

It was Bart-Williams's second goal for Ipswich, following a first in the 6-1 win over Burnley in mid-October.

Any hopes of the visitors coasting to victory were ended by Cardiff reducing the arrears in the 86th minute. Vidmar headed on John Robinson's corner and target man Peter Thorne nodded home from close range to set up a nerve-wracking finale.

Yet keeper Kelvin Davis was not unduly worried. Julian Gray blazed wide from 25 yards out in the 87th minute, and skipper Vidmar did likewise a few seconds later.

Former Stoke striker Thorne attempted a replica of his goal when heading Willie Boland's corner over the bar in stoppage time. The ball sailed into the crowd, and with it went Cardiff's hopes of rescuing a point.

The result has elevated Town into fourth position, a notable achieve-ment when considered that they were bottom of Division One at the start of September.

Royle insisted that the result was more important than the perform-ance, but he must have been very encouraged by the crispness of his side's passing in the first half. The pace and movement off the ball was excellent, to such an extent that Cardiff struggled to even gain possession at times.

Santos may have edged the man-of-the-match accolade, but there were no shortage of contenders, not least the midfield pair of Bart-Williams and Wright, and the contribution of youngsters Matt Richards and Westlake down the left flank.

Ipswich earned three corners inside the first 10 minutes, and six inside the first 20, a fair reflection of their early dominance.

Shefki Kuqi, who signed a permanent contract from Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the week, had chances to break the deadlock. The Finnish striker fired wildly over the bar on 12 minutes, following a free kick pumped forward by Davis, and was off target again from closer range after doing well to win the ball inside the penalty area.

Magilton had been pulling the strings in midfield, until Gray ploughed into him with a late tackle in the 20th minute. Gray was booked, and although Magilton tried to run off the injury, he was replaced seven minutes later by Miller.

The blow of losing Magilton was quickly eased. Substitute Miller exchanged a one-two with Kuqi, before sliding a ball through for the onrushing Westlake.

He was crudely brought down by Mark Bonner, and Miller made no mistake from the penalty spot. It was his fourth goal of the season, and his third in his last four appearances.

Five minutes later and Frenchman Santos lost his marker to volley home Wright's corner, putting Town firmly in the driving seat. It was a position that they refused to relinquish.

Cardiff, who did not record a shot on target in the first half, woke up in the second. But by then, Ipswich had already built the foundations for victory.

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