Aston Villa. .0
HEADY days, indeed, for East Anglian football. Norwich City top of the Premier League, and now Ipswich, their country cousins, through to the last eight of the Coca-Cola Cup last night, courtesy of Chris Kiwomya's 11th goal of the season.
Kiwomya, a handful as well as a mouthful, was again the major influence on a replay he had done more than anyone to earn, scoring twice in the first game, by way of celebration of his 23rd birthday.
Ipswich, unbeaten now for 10 matches, will be the favourites to progress from a quarter-final at home to Sheffield Wednesday, who are on the slide.
East Anglia's 'other' team, in contrast, are on the up and up. Norwich's pacemaking may be attracting more attention, but Ipswich, too, are doing rather better than might have been expected in their first season back in top company, and have crept up to sixth in the League, almost unnoticed.
Second versus sixth had all the makings but, as is so often the case, expectant travelling was more enjoyable than the arrival. A classic it was not. On a night when brass monkeys had the long johns out, the tie took an eternity to come anywhere near the boil.
Not that Ipswich, or their supporters, appeared to mind. 'If you all hate Norwich, clap your hands' is one of football's more unlikely chants, but the eastern outposts are a hotbed just now, and the Portman punters were in good voice throughout.
Dalian Atkinson's groin injury having again deprived Villa of one half of their prolific strikeforce, they needed the loss of his deputy, Cyrille Regis, after just 13 minutes, like 'big fat Ron', as his followers call the managerial Atkinson, needs a square meal.
Without Atkinson the player, Villa were flying on one engine. They still made most of the running, but penetrative progress was minimal.
Diligent defence, which has seen Ipswich lose fewer games than anyone in the Premier League, again served them well, and we were into the second half before either side looked like scoring. The first 45 minutes produced nothing of greater consequence than the weak, stooping header with which Earl Barrett met Steve Staunton's cross from the left.
The only other strike of note during that sterile first period saw Dean Saunders, sliding in at the far post, lift Kevin Richardson's through pass over the bar.
After 57 insipid minutes the goal the tie cried out for finally arrived. With precious little happening in open play, a set piece had always seemed the best bet to break the stalemate, and it was a familiar corner routine which did the trick.
Neil Thompson dropped the kick in short to the near post where Jason Dozzell's header was helped over the line by Kiwomya, whose predatory instincts had him ideally placed, at nudging range.
Kiwomya said: 'It's a move we practise a lot in training but usually I put them way over the bar. Tonight was my lucky night.'
Villa responded immediately, with a shot on the run from Saunders, and at last we had lift- off. Blessed relief. Suddenly, there was a welcome urgency about the match, and the last half-hour was real cup-tie stuff, unlike the powderpuff play which had preceded it.
Villa went for it in a big way, sending Paul McGrath up to lend his considerable weight to the attack, but Ipswich held firm.
'Not a fluent game,' Mick McGiven, their manager, said. 'We just edged it. Faith moves mountains.'
So now we know. Faith it is that has East Anglian football reborn.
Atkinson, visibly disappointed, declined to comment - his humour scarcely improved when Ipswich fans jeered him as a bad loser.
Ipswich Town: Baker; Whelan, N Thompson, Stockwell, Wark, Linighan, Johnson, Goddard (Williams, 81), Whitton, Dozzell, Kiwomya. Substitute not used: Genchev.
Aston Villa: Spink; Barrett, Staunton, Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton, Parker (Breitkreutz, 71), Saunders, Regis (Yorke, 13), Cox.
Referee: M James (Horsham).
In the Coca-Cola Cup tonight, Everton go to Stamford Bridge looking for another boost to their sorry season. Curiously, the Goodison men have managed to raise their game for the big matches this season - their five League wins have been against Blackburn, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Liverpool - but they come up against an in-form Chelsea side riding high in fourth place in the Premier Division. The winners play either Crystal Palace or Liverpool.
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