Football / FA Cup Fourth Round: Fireworks stay unlit in the box: Ipswich stifle romance

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER soporific Saturday when the celebrated magic of the FA Cup would not work. Much more of this deference to the Sabbath and the sponsors the FA is seeking for the old pot will have to be the Jewish Chronicle.

As in the third round, the integrity of the fourth was compromised at the whim of television - a century of tradition binned at the drop of our licence fee.

Norwich v Tottenham or Arsenal v Leeds might have saved the day, but football has sold its soul to the goggle box, and the two biggest ties were switched for the purveyors of hype and replay.

With Bolton Wanderers, the heroes of the third round, also removed from the Saturday schedule, along with last season's underdog finalists, Sunderland, the potential for thrills and spills was substantially reduced.

To add insult to injury, the draw for the fifth round was staged live on Sky last night, at a time when the distaff side will have been screaming for The Jewel on the Nile - patience well and truly exhausted by two hours of Match of the Day.

Live at 6.30? And for Sky's minuscule audience? He who pays the piper pays also for the tail to wag the dog.

The transistor crackle - 'And the first voice you will hear' - was all part of the Cup's mystique, but video really has killed the radio star. And much more of the game's tradition, besides. What was that about those who know the price of everything but the value of nothing?

In fairness, even with five prime ties pulled, Saturday was not without possibilities. Hartlepool had upset Crystal Palace, after all, so why not Sheffield United? Ditto Tranmere Rovers, who were confident of sending Ipswich the same way as Oldham. And for those with a preference for rank outsiders, what price Brighton at Manchester United or Crewe at home to Blackburn?

Potential sadly unfulfilled. Hartlepool, Brighton and Crewe all went out without so much as a goal between them, only the pride of Merseyside threatening an upset.

Liverpool and Everton had tumbled together in the third round for the first time in 42 years. Could little Tranmere uphold scouse honour? From the 17th minute, when Pat Nevin drove them ahead, until the 69th, when Jason Dozzell equalised, they seemed capable of doing so, but the longer the tie went on, the stronger Ipswich became and, by the end, no one was inclined to quibble with their 2-1 win.

Tranmere felt they had not done themselves justice, complaining that it had been impossible to assemble their normal passing game on a quagmire of a pitch, but their first-half play, in particular, was a credit to the First Division and, on this showing, they will not be out of place if they continue to cling to Newcastle's shirt tails and gain promotion to the highest level for the first time.

Tranmere replacing Everton in the Premier League. Now there's a thought for the 'Platinum Eight' elitists.

Strong, gusting winds and cloying mud did nothing for two teams inclined to pass rather than kick and chase, but the players applied themselves diligently in discouraging conditions to reward Prenton Park's biggest crowd of the season, 13,683, with an absorbing, and at times gripping, cup tie.

Tranmere went into it unbeaten at home by domestic opposition (their one defeat is by Cremonese in the Anglo-Italian Cup), but without the enduringly prolific John Aldridge, whose 19 goals had shot them into second place in the First Division.

Aldridge's suspension always had the look of an insurmountable handicap, and so it proved. There were enough bits and pieces bobbing around the Ipswich six-yard box for the old poacher to have had a field day. In his absence, too many chances went to waste for the want of a decisive finish.

John Morrisey, the son of a famous father, was lively enough on the right wing for Gavin Johnson to need assistance subduing him, and with Nevin twinkling on the left, the tie had all the makings, bar one. Aldridge's special expertise.

No matter. Tranmere scored early, and we were off and running. It was not the prettiest of goals, Ian Nolan's second bite at a cross from the left returning to the near post via Morrissey's header and John Wark's abortive clearance, but Nevin's thumping close range finish brought sweet order to chaos, and the noise might have been heard some six miles distant, at his old Goodison stamping ground.

Neat and thoughtful, with Neil McNab the wisest of old heads in midfield, Birkenhead's finest held their own without too much difficulty until half-time.

Ipswich, though, were waxing ever stronger, and the romantics among us were fearing the worst even before Eric Nixon prevented what looked like a certain goal with an all-consuming dive at Steve Whitton's feet.

The electronic advertising screen caught the mood, ditching its plug for the hotpot supper on 11 February in favour of the legend: 'Concentrate at all times and you will avoid accidents.' The perimeter clock gave a hand, too - the big one blowing (or was it pushed?) from 4.20 to 4.43 when the storm was at its height.

All to no avail. Tranmere lost their concentration, the referee kept his when it came to timekeeping, and Premier League power and persistence paid off.

Dozzell drove in a handsome equaliser from 15 yards and, with Tranmere tiring and Ipswich adapting better to the conditions, the outcome was inevitable.

Resolute defence, with Steve Vickers prominent, kept it all square until 13 minutes from time, when Nixon's rash rush from his area saw Chris Kiwomya shoot against a post, and Boncho Genchev nudge in his second goal in eight games in English football.

The first Bulgarian to play in the league looked a little apprehensive when a reporter approached him brandishing an umbrella, but yes, he was excited about the possibility of going to Wembley.

Sofia, so good Boncho. 'Sorry?'

Goals: Nevin (17) 1-0; Dozzell (69) 1-1; Genchev (77) 1-2.

Tranmere Rovers: Nixon; Higgins, Nolan, Irons, Mungall (Hughes, 85), Vickers, Morrissey, McNab, Malkin, Muir (Martindale, 72), Nevin.

Ipswich Town: Baker; Johnson, Thompson, Williams, Wark, Linighan, Yallop, Genchev (Whelan, 87), Whitton, Dozzell, Kiwomya. Subs not used: Bozinoski.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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