Football: Kuqi crowns Royle show of togetherness

Sheffield United 0 Ipswich Town 2
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The Independent Online
THE IPSWICH TOWN players celebrated victory at Bramall Lane by performing swan dives in front of the away supporters. There may have been no bare chests in evidence but it still brought to mind Chelsea's reaction to winning at Blackburn Rovers last Wednesday. Like Chelsea, Ipswich had just cemented their position at the top of the table with a hard-fought away win. Like Chelsea, their nearest rivals - in this case Wigan Athletic - had just dropped points. And like Chelsea, their advantage at the top of the League is beginning to look insurmountable. With 15 games to go, Wigan and Sunderland now trail by five points.

Joe Royle, the Ipswich manager, may not yet, like Jose Mourinho, his Chelsea equivalent, have calculated precisely how many points are needed to guarantee the title but he has engendered a similar sense of togetherness within his players.

They came into Saturday's game fresh from a break in Tenerife. "Chelsea haven't invented team spirit," said Royle. "We've just been away together as a team and the players have great respect for each other. They play for their team-mates. We're confident about our chances - but not overly so. But we knew this was a big result because this is never an easy place to come. The players knew it as well and that's why they were celebrating afterwards."

As Royle acknowledged, this was not a typical Ipswich performance. The philosophy of the division's top scorers - 58 goals in their 31 games - is simply to score more times than their opponents. "Today I saw a part of our game I haven't seen too often. We haven't had many clean sheets but this was different," he said. "It wasn't our greatest performance but we coped well with the aerial bombardment."

Sheffield United began both halves strongly only for Ipswich to score against the run of play. A debut goal from David Unsworth on his first League game outside the top division was supplemented by a second-half strike from Shefki Kuqi.

This was a third successive League defeat for United, a run that has seen them slip out of the play-off places. Fortunately for these FA Cup specialists, their next game is a fourth round replay against West Ham United, with Arsenal awaiting the winners. "Knowing us, we'll probably end up getting to the final and that will continue to distract us in the League," Neil Warnock, the Sheffield United manager, said.

Goals: Unsworth (20) 0-1; Kuqi (61) 0-2.

Sheffield United (3-4-1-2): Kenny; Bromby, Cullip, Morgan; Geary (Quinn, 67), Montgomery (Liddell, 67), Jagielka, Harley; Tonge; Gray, Cadamarteri (Ward, 75). Substitutes not used: Thirlwell, Shaw.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis, De Vos, Naylor, Unsworth; Miller, Magilton, Westlake, Currie (Horlock, 52); Bent (Bowditch, 88), Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Richards, Karbassiyoon.

Referee: R Beeby (Northants).

Man of the match: Kuqi.

Attendance: 20,680.