Football: Furlong diminishes Ipswich's hopes

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The Independent Online
Birmingham City 1 Ipswich Town 0

ON THE first weekend after Sir Alf Ramsey died, the football fates decreed that the two club sides England's World Cup winning manager was in charge of should meet.

Birmingham's victory, thanks to a Paul Furlong tap-in after an incredible run by Bryan Hughes, cemented their play-off place, which seems to be Ipswich's likely destination after looking for so long as if they were going to seize the second automatic promotion place in the First Division.

Ramsey's finest moment was at Wembley, and there is still every chance that these two sides could meet at the end of this month in the play-off final at the old stadium, in what would be a fitting tribute to Ramsey.

The home side were already guaranteed a play-off place thanks to results going their way over the weekend but if anything that knowledge, on a beautiful day, gave them a greater bite and aggression.

Yet after a first half which had been all about power and scant poise, no one at St Andrew's was prepared for the goal which broke the deadlock, 15 minutes into the second half. Although Furlong got the final touch, his tap-in was all down to the wondrous work of Hughes.

Jamie Scowcroft and Lee Bradbury clashed for a ball in the Birmingham half that ran loose to Hughes on the half-way line, and from there, right through to going round the goalkeeper inside the six-yard box, the midfielder bewitched the Ipswich defenders, going past three of them. Once round the goalkeeper, Richard Wright, he slightly scuffed his shot, and although it was going in Furlong made sure. That goal left Trevor Francis, the Birmingham manager, especially delighted with what he called "a disciplined performance but not outstanding".

It was the least Birmingham had deserved after being far more enterprising than Ipswich, who had started the day knowing a win would put them in second place and in the driving seat ahead of Bradford for automatic promotion. Yet the visitors, who have lost three of their last four games, are now stuttering to such an extent that it took them half an hour to get a shot on goal, but Martin Grainger was on hand to clear off the line from Scowcroft's far-post header.

It was Scowcroft who was causing Birmingham the greatest difficulty with his aerial presence and he nearly brought Ipswich level after 70 minutes with another headed effort that was also cleared off the line. But as Ipswich poured forward, they also began to tire and Francis put his fresh substitute strikers Dele Adebola and Peter Ndlovu against them. With 10 minutes left, Adebola should have made sure of the win, but he fell over when faced with an open goal and his weak shot was cleared.

George Burley, the Ipswich manager, who refused to rule out the possibility of still winning automatic promotion on Sunday, highlighted his side's biggest problem when he said: "We're lacking goals and that could be because of nerves."

Goal: Furlong (60) 1-0.

Birmingham City (3-5-2): Poole; Holdsworth, Johnson, Rowett; Grainger, Hyde (Purse, 90), McCarthy, Robinson, Hughes; Furlong (Adebola, 63), Bradbury (Ndlovu, 79)

Ipswich Town (3-5-2): Wright; Thetis (Stockwell, 61), Mowbray, Venus; Wilnis, Dyer, Holland, Clapham, Magilton; Johnson, Scowcroft. Substitutes not used: Naylor, Cundy.

Referee: R Pearson (Peterlee).

Booking: Birmingham: Hyde.

Man of the match: Hughes.

Attendance: 27,685.