Football: Wilkinson's sword falls on Ipswich

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The Independent Online
Ipswich Town . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Middlesbrough. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

THE SIDE which really needed to win at Portman Road last night did so. Having succumbed three days earlier to a Leeds side getting jittery about the prospect of relegation, Ipswich went under once again to a team hanging even more perilously at the bottom end of the table.

Fear was the spur for Middlesbrough as they hung on to the lead Paul Wilkinson gave them shortly before half-time with a simple headed goal. Their first away win in five months leaves them in the relegation area, but only because of an inferior goal difference to Everton.

Ipswich, who left the field to boos after what their manager, Mick McGiven, described as their worst home performance of the season, must focus their energies again for this Saturday's home FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, which now looks like their only available route to success.

A thigh strain sustained by Chris Kiwomya added him to an injury list which already includes Gavin Johnson and their influential midfielder, Jason Dozzell. They are hoping that all will turn out well in three days' time.

For Middlesbrough's manager, Lennie Lawrence, who guided Charlton to safety on so many occasions in the 1980s, it will be enough of a success simply to survive in the Premier League. 'We are not getting carried away, but this was a big step forward,' he said. 'The patient may be ill, but he's not dead yet.'

Was this, someone asked, his biggest test as a manager? '1983 with Charlton. A transfer embargo, no players and about to get liquidated at any time. That was pressure,' he replied.

The Teessiders began with understandable diffidence, and two straightforward hoicks upfield proved enough to unsettle their defence within the first 10 minutes. First Neil Thompson's up and under hung in the air just too long for Mike Stockwell, who scurried like a mouse through an attempted offside trap but then had to hook the ball hurriedly over the advancing Ian Ironside on the edge of the box, and it carried well over the bar. Ironside did his duty again two minutes later when Boncho Genchev took advantage of Derek Whyte's slip to reach another long ball.

It was not until the 27th minute that the crowd got its first glimpse of the kind of football for which Ipswich are renowned - and frustratingly for the bulk of the spectators it came from Middlesbrough. Chris Kamara and Whyte moved the ball fluently through midfield to John Hendrie on the right wing, and his swift low cross was met by the visitors' top scorer, Wilkinson, whose shot on the turn was tipped over the bar by Clive Baker at full stretch.

That was a warning. Ipswich failed to heed it. Ten minutes before the break, a free-kick from Tommy Wright just outside the Ipswich penalty area on Middlesbrough's left wing carried straightforwardly to the obvious target of Wilkinson's dark head. Rising above a not very good challenge, he nodded the ball simply down inside Baker's left-hand post for his 11th goal of the season.

Ipswich's response was urgent but unfocused. They lacked the central influence of Dozzell - absent with a thigh strain - and the players tramped in at half-time to unaccustomed booing.

Ipswich Town: Baker; Yallop (Whelan, 79), Thompson, Stockwell, Wark, Linighan, Williams, Genchev, Whitton, Bozinoski (Goddard, 75), Kiwomya. Substitute not used: Forrest (gk).

Middlesbrough: Ironside; Morris, Phillips, Kernaghan, Peake, Whyte, Hendrie, Mustoe, Wilkinson, Kamara (Falconer, h/t), Wright. Substitutes not used: Slaven, Roberts (gk).

Referee: K Barrett (Coventry).

HARTLEPOOL extended their record-breaking goalless run to 13 games last night but they did force the Wigan goalkeeper, Tony Pennock, to pull off some fine saves in the Second Division stalemate watched by 1,791 at the Victoria Ground. It is now 1,176 minutes since Hartlepool scored a goal.

(Photograph omitted)

Rangers look to McCoist,

Flitcroft's mastery, page 31