Football: Burley's boys man enough to finish the job

Sheffield United 1 Ipswich Town 1
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Having shown their mettle in the city of steel, George Burley's boys have the glint of Wembley in their eyes. Not since 1978, and the uncharitable 5-0 beating Burley and his Ipswich team-mates suffered against Nottingham Forest, have the football folk of Suffolk descended on the national mecca. But the coach companies will now be on standby for a mass exodus on 26 May.

Though he made all the right noises, such as the job not being over yet, Burley could not hide his contentment at taking Sheffield United back to Portman Road on level terms with a place in the First Division play- off final at stake.

In the last six months only Bolton have won on East Anglia's one-time European stage. And the Blades were sliced apart there in March: 1-0 down after 19 seconds and 3-1 after 90 minutes.

Ipswich, moreover, take a seven-game unbeaten run into Wednesday night's return leg. Despite threatening on the break in the opening half-an-hour at Bramall Lane they could have been on Wembley Way's slippery slope by half-time.

The rapier-sharp turn and finish by Jan Age Fjortoft in the 41st minute ought to have been followed by a penalty when Norway's flashing Blade was clearly felled by Geraint Williams. The Ipswich midfielder, a son of Treorchy, heard a male (and female) voice choir of some 17,000 screaming for justice. But Roy Pearson, the black-shirted conductor, turned a deaf ear.

A lesser side might have buckled anyway. Instead, Ipswich buckled down with a reshaped formation and were rewarded for their enterprise with Mick Stockwell's equaliser.

With seven home-grown players and even a Dutchman - though Gus Uhlenbeek may not quite be in the Thijssen or Muhren class - Burley's Ipswich have a bit of a Bobby Robson look about them.

"When you look at the age of the players," Burley said, "and think how much money other clubs have spent trying to get to the Premiership, I think my lads have done magnificently well. We've sold players and we've got a young team that's going to get better and better. Wembley would be great for them."

Jamie Scowcroft, the new leader of the England Under-21 forward line, was not the only bright young thing in Burley's boys' brigade of a team. Richard Wright, England's Under-21 keeper at 19, was an assured last line for Ipswich. And 18-year-old Kieron Dyer, making only his fourth senior start, was a promising creative source wide on the left in midfield.

Dyer was born in 1978 - after Town's two trips to the twin towers that year, but he will be there a fortnight today, unless Blades manager Howard Kendall can find a way to upset both the odds and the form book.

Goals: Fjortoft (41) 1-0; Stockwell (77) 1-1.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Ward, Holdsworth, Tiler, Nilsen; White (Short, 84), Henry, Hutchison, Whitehouse; Kachuro (Taylor, 75), Fjortoft. Substitute not used: Tracey (gk).

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Wright; Uhlenbeek, Swailes, Vaughan, Taricco; Stockwell, Sedgley, Williams, Dyer; Scowcroft, Gregory (Gudmundsson, 57). Substitutes not used: Mason, Forrest (gk).

Referee: R Pearson (Peterlee). Bookings: United: Ward, Kelly, Whitehouse; Ipswich: Williams, Scowcroft, Taricco.

Man of the match: Fjortoft. Attendance: 22,312.