THE prospect of First Division play-off failure for a second season running will be hanging heavily over George Burley and his Ipswich team this morning as they prepare for Wednesday night's semi-final second leg at The Valley. Ipswich, in front of a boisterous Portman Road crowd, were unable to recover from Jamie Clapham's 12th-minute own goal, despite Charlton being reduced to 10 men in the closing stages after Danny Mills was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Defeat on the away goals rule by Sheffield United at the same stage last season took a heavy toll on Ipswich's form in the early part of this season. Their recent run, however, has been good enough to earn them a place in the play-offs again, but in Charlton they were up against formidable opponents who had not conceded a goal in seven matches.
Alan Curbishley's side, who two years ago were also beaten at the semi- final stage of the play-offs, were quickly into their stride, Mark Kinsella bringing the best out of Ipswich's England Under-21 goalkeeper Richard Wright in the first minute with a clever chip.
Ipswich initially struggled to justify their supporters' optimism and Charlton took full advantage of their hesitancy. Neil Heaney released Keith Jones down the left wing and the midfielder's penetrating low cross was turned in by the unfortunate Clapham, under pressure from Mark Bright.
Ipswich seemed stunned by the blow and took a few minutes to find their feet. Then it was Clapham who shook them out of their lethargy, with a rising drive from 20 yards which Sasa Ilic clutched in mid air. As the half wore on Ipswich came into the match more and more and only a desperate block by Eddie Youds stopped Mark Venus from equalising with a powerful strike following a corner.
After the break Ipswich attacked in numbers, but foundered repeatedly on the defensive rock of Youds, back on one of his former stamping grounds, and his able assistant Richard Rufus.
The game began to turn ugly when David Johnson clashed with Mills who appeared to hold the Ipswich striker down after a challenge. Both players were booked and before long the referee's notebook was out of his pocket more often than it was in as both sides began to lose their discipline.
Finally, Mills lost his cool completely and was shown a second yellow card after a wild lunge at full-back Mauricio Taricco who had himself just been booked.
Burley, commendably, was still upbeat after the performance: "We had an excellent result in the first leg last year and still ended up losing it," he said.
"If you look at our away form since Christmas it's been excellent so that's the type of thing we have to reproduce."
Goal: Clapham og (12) 0-1
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Wright; Taricco, Cundy, Venus, Clapham (Scowcroft, 67); Stockwell, Dyer, Holland, Petta (Uhlenbeek, 67); Johnson, Mathie. Substitutes not used: Sonner.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Ilic; Mills, Rufus, Youds, Bowen; Newton, Kinsella, K Jones (Brown, 84), Heaney (Barness, 75); Mendonca, Bright (S Jones, 65).
Referee: M Fletcher (Warley, W Midlands).
Bookings: Ipswich: Cundy, Venus, Johnson, Mathie, Taricco. Charlton: Heaney, Mills, Kinsella, S Jones. Sending-off: Charlton: Mills.
Man of the match: Youds.
Attendance: 21,681.Reuse content