Football / Premiership Relegation Focus: Close encounter of the bored kind

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Ipswich Town. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

FOR Ipswich supporters it must have come as a shock. When you have watched your team bore the rest of the Premiership to sleep for nine months, excitement is just about the last thing you expect. For five minutes they got it.

Of course it had nothing to do with what was going on at Ewood Park as Ipswich were going through their full repertoire - dull to tedious. Elsewhere, not for the first time in their matches this season, was where the action was, and so was the attention.

First the news of Graham Stuart's winner came through from Goodison and a low groan emanated from the 1,500 insomniacs who had travelled from East Anglia. Those who had lived by the bored appeared about to perish by it.

The Blackburn fans, clearly as fed up with the pedestrian fare coming from the visitors as most other hosts this season, taunted them with chants of 'Everton' but had barely got used to the unfamiliar syllables when Sheffield United's demise was broadcast from a thousand transistor radios.

The Ipswich players, who had stirred out of their stupor for the five minutes they appeared to be relegated, settled into their negative norm and played out injury time with the nervy air of men who

expected the worst at any moment. When the blade fell on the Blades 200 miles away they celebrated like they had won at Wembley.

'I was nervous,' their manager Mick McGivern, whose idea of adventure is probably having two lumps of sugar in his cocoa instead of one, said, 'but I didn't show it. You have to keep control in these situations. We knew what was going on at other grounds because of the reactions of the supporters.'

Ipswich's control of the match was nearly as complete as their manager's grip on his emotions. They came to Lancashire to stifle the home team and succeeded just as they had against Manchester United and Leeds. As a result Blackburn had fewer winning opportunities than a Conservative council candidate and the closest they came to scoring came when Colin Hendry's shot was cleared off the line by Mick Stockwell.

Ipswich had their chances, Ian Marshall being blocked by Tim Flowers when he had eluded the home back four and Chris Kiwomya hooking over from seven yards although they never quite shook off the appearance of a shot- shy team who have scored only 14 goals on their travels.

Their fate lay in the hands of Sheffield United, Oldham and their own David Linighan. They might have conceded a penalty when the ball struck the Ipswich captain's arm in an aerial challenge, although the referee's opinion that the contact was accidental was probably borne out by television evidence.

In the flurry of arms and heads Mr Lloyd could have thought differently, however. In such moments it is the the survival of the luckiest rather than the fittest that counts. And the most boring.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; May, Moran (Makel, 52), Hendry, Le Saux; Berg, Sherwood, Atkins, Wilcox; Pearce (Wright, 68), Shearer. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Forrest; Stockwell, Wark, Linighan, Thompson; Palmer (Genchev, 85), Williams, Milton, Mason; Marshall, Kiwomya. Substitutes not used: Yallop, Baker (gk).

Referee: J Lloyd (Wrexham).

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