since 1878

Gillingham (1) 1 - 3 (1) Ipswich Town

Nationwide League Division One 2002-03

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Referee: DR Crick

Manager: Andy Hessenthaler

Priestfield Stadium 15:00

Attendance: 8,508

Manager: Joe Royle

Match Number: 3001


 Smith (28)
 Pablo Counago (32)
 Pablo Counago (73)
 Marcus Bent (78)


SaundersPerpetuini (27)
WallaceIpoua (70)


 Tommy Miller (58)





Leon Johnson








Tommy Johnson








Match Report

Ipswich live in hope

Ipswich, who were facing relegation earlier in the season and have been selling off players faster than Leeds United in a bid to make inroads on a crippling £70 million debt, have no right to be even knocking on the door of the Division One play-offs.

But under Joe Royle, a manager Ipswich fans wanted out before he had even taken over the reins, they have produced a stealthy run that gives them more than an outside chance of stealing one of the playoff places.

This impressive win, their third in four matches, sends them into the final six matches with a wind in their sails and hoping that Wolves, who collapsed so dramatically last season, will again react badly when feeling the breath of hot challengers on their necks.

If the recent sale of Hermann Hreidarsson, with more in the shop window, had dented the spirit of the Ipswich players, it certainly did not show in a performance full of swagger and skill.

Royle, who has lost only two of 20 games in charge, said: "I told the players beforehand not to get muddled up in the politics. Given the crumbling pitch, we passed the ball well. The play-offs are wide open so we've just got to keep going."

Gillingham player-manager Andy Hessenthaler has also performed wondrous feats with his men of Kent. And he had dared to dream of delivering the greatest miracle of all - Premiership football on the Medway.

To achieve big things, you need first to think big, which is why Hessenthaler did a mini-Arsene Wenger last week by challenging his side to stay unbeaten until the end of the season in a bid to claim a play-off place. But he was left with as much oeuf on his chin as the master of Highbury and his team are surely now out of the race.

This was basically a play-off for a play-off spot, since Ipswich's rivals Norwich are the only other side with an outside chance of catching the four clubs puffing in the slipstream of the runaway front two, Portsmouth and Leicester.

Ipswich's early fine football was commendable on a pitch so heavily sanded that it would have been acceptable only to beach ponies or Chelsea players. But it failed to produce any tangible reward, Pablo Counago heading Matt Richards cross over the bar and substitute Martijn Reuser striking it with a free kick from the edge of the box.

Gillingham, unbeaten in 10 league games at home since November, finally remembered why they have such a fine record at the Priestfield Stadium and stole the lead in the 28th minute, Paul Smith following up after Andy Marshall had made a marvellous save from Chris Hope's header.

Ipswich provided a response within five minutes when Counago, whether through cunning or incompetence, dummied to flick on Tommy Miller's shot, which fooled goalkeeper Vince Bartram and led to it rolling into the far corner.

Incompetence was responsible a few minutes later, when Counago, with a clear sight of goal and under no pressure, somehow fired it past the far post.

Counago finally got the ball in the net with a close range effort 15 minutes from time. The second goal was always going to be vital but Marcus Bent made absolutely sure for Ipswich with a fine third.

Both these teams are a credit to their Division, even if neither wishes to remain there. But Ipswich seem better-equipped to survive in the Premiership, given their experience there.

Jermaine Wright, Richard Naylor, Chris Makin and Miller would all relish taking on the top players in the Premiership again. But given Ipswich's financial plight, one fears they may be playing there for other clubs next season if Ipswich do not make it all the way.

Poor Hessenthaler, suffering from a leg injury, could only sit and suffer on the sidelines as his dreams disappeared into the Medway fog. But he will be dreaming again next season.

Roy Collins (Daily Telegraph)

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