Brave Ipswich rely on the Wright stuff

Blackburn Rovers 0 Ipswich Town 1 (after extra time)
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The Independent Online

Blackburn Rovers 0 Ipswich Town 1 (after extra time)

Paul Mason, one of Ipswich Town's substitutes, plundered the goal five minutes from the end of extra time which settled the issue, but this will go down in Suffolk folklore as the night an 18-year-old third-choice goalkeeper sabotaged the FA Cup aspirations of the reigning League champions, Alan Shearer and all.

Shearer had scored in every previous domestic home game this season, 20 of his total of 26 goals, and he had the opportunities to sustain his sequence last night, particularly in the fraught final half-hour. Kevin Gallacher, too, might have claimed a late breakthrough, and long before the overtime drama Mike Newell was presented with an excellent chance.

Instead, one by one they were repelled, athletically and consummately, by Richard Wright, an England youth international suggesting he might one day be challenging Tim Flowers and company for senior recognition. Wright, in the side because Craig Forrest is on international duty with Canada and Clive Baker is injured, was utterly undaunted by the occasion and the opposition.

His reflexes ultimately stood between Blackburn and their last chance of a trophy this season, but in front of him were three more stoic heroes - the central defensive corps of John Wark, at 38 still a magnificent warrior; Tony Mowbray, grasping the opportunity to build a new life; and Claus Thomsen, revelling in his fresh role.

Blackburn, by contrast, were as erratic at the back as they were in attack. In their anxiety to force a way through by sheer weight of numbers they became ever more vulnerable to the counter. Three times they were fortunate that Alex Mathie, Ipswich's top scorer, had apparently forgotten the route that has seemed so simple to him in the First Division.

When Wright was beaten by Shearer in the first half, the referee, David Elleray, indicated a pushing infringement, and late in normal time the England centre-forward's free kick smacked against his cross bar.

It was left to Mason, ably supported by Mathie and the other substitute, Neil Gregory, to beat the other redoubtable keeper, Flowers, with the only goal in three and a half hours of this tie. Mathie provided the left wing surge and cross, Gregory the lay off, and Mason the confident finish to secure a fourth-round meeting with Walsall.

Ipswich's manager, George Burley, said: "I've already said Richard Wright is going to be a world-class keeper and he has shown tonight how good he is. It is going to be difficult for me to leave him out.

"We played to a plan and it worked. We've come to the League champions, with worldclass players, and performed brilliantly.

"The three men at the back were tremendous. Warky's 38, and look at him still, Mowbray is a real captain and Thomsen can be a top central defender."

Blackburn, humiliated in Europe, out of the Coca-Cola Cup, and now eliminated from the FA Cup, must now aspire to a late challenge for a Uefa Cup place. However, Shearer's barren night emphasises their dependence on his scoring prowess, and elsewhere they have little by way of inspiration.

Their manager, Ray Harford, said: "We made mistakes late in the game but lifted their spirits and gave them a bit of a taste for it."

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Hendry, Coleman, Kenna; Ripley, Batty (Sherwood, 107), Bohinen, Gallacher; Newell (McKinlay, 72), Shearer. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Ipswich Town (3-5-2): Wright; Wark, Mowbray, Thomsen; Uhlenbeek, Milton (Mason, 67), Williams, Sedgley, Vaughan; Mathie, Marshall (Gregory, 102). Substitute not used: Tanner.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).