Bent strike sends Ipswich top

Ipswich Town 2 - Wigan Athletic 1
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The Independent Online

Ipswich leapfrogged Wigan to the Championship summit last night after a performance that demonstrated the quality of their football is matched by the resilience of their footballers.

Undeservedly trailing to Leighton Baines's stunning 56th-minute strike they replied through Richard Naylor before Darren Bent underlined his rich promise with an 89th-minute winner.

Ipswich were the aristocrats of the pair, having won a league title and an FA Cup as well as supplying England with two managers. They, though, have been down on their uppers with last month's £250,000 purchase of Darren Currie being their first transfer expenditure since 2001.

Wigan, though only in the league since 1978, the year the FA Cup was paraded at Portman Road, are the nouveau riche. Dave Whelan, the sports leisure-wear magnate, has funded their rise with funds most of the Football League can only envy.

The first real threat of a goal came after 26 minutes when Baines, one of several players on either side being watched by a gaggle of scouts, misjudged a clearance. Currie neatly flicked the ball forward and Bent raced away through the fog. However, he shot wide of the far post.

Bent perhaps should have squared, as might Shefki Kuqi when, 20 minutes later, a similar error by Breckin left him clear. But he shot over, and Ipswich went into the break to receive a lecture on teamwork, one they might have been spared had Kuqi's header, from Currie's 42nd-minute cross, drifted inside rather than past the far post.

Eleven minutes after the break Joe Royle's team had rather more to ponder as Baines, utterly against the run of play, fizzed a 35-yard shot past Kelvin Davis.

Currie, who had brought a smart save from John Filan a few minutes earlier, soon fashioned a reply. From his testing 66th-minute free-kick Naylor rose to glance the ball in cleverly.

Wigan responded with their most adventurous football of the game, Davis having to deny Ellington and Jimmy Bullard before Kuqi brought the save of the night from Filan. A draw loomed, but Bent then beat Matt Jackson to a long forward pass and clipped a wonderful first-time shot over the Australian to put Ipswich top of the Championship tree for Christmas.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnius, De Vos, Naylor, Richards; Magilton, Miller, Westlake, Currie; Bent, Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Supple (gk), Counago, Karbassiyoon, Bowditch, Collins.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Jackson, Breckin, Baines; Teale (Graham, 78), Bullard, McCulloch, Mahon (Wright, 79); Ellington, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Thome, Flynn.

Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).

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