Counago's equaliser a poor substitute for revenge

West Ham United 1 Ipswich Town 1
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The Independent Football

Revenge for failing against West Ham in last season's play-off semi-finals eluded Ipswich at Upton Park yesterday in a curious match in which neither side seemed capable of seizing the game, or the possibility of moving to the top of the Championship. West Ham even missed a penalty which Ipswich's manager, Joe Royle, admitted was crucial to the outcome.

Revenge for failing against West Ham in last season's play-off semi-finals eluded Ipswich at Upton Park yesterday in a curious match in which neither side seemed capable of seizing the game, or the possibility of moving to the top of the Championship. West Ham even missed a penalty which Ipswich's manager, Joe Royle, admitted was crucial to the outcome.

Having reached fourth place, West Ham had concluded that, unlike last season, when they had lost contact with the leaders too early, this time they were up with the pace. They are now very much Alan Pardew's side, with only a few traces of his inheritance from Glenn Roeder's era, and yesterday they were promised a real test. Until they were beaten by Stoke in midweek, Ipswich had briefly enjoyed top place as a result of the previous weekend's victory over Millwall.

Not that the atmosphere at the start was anything like as tense as it had been during last May's play-offs, which perhaps contributed to the slow pace with which Ipswich confronted their problems. West Ham's Teddy Sheringham had twice begun and followed through broad and sweeping attacks before Chris Powell released Luke Chadwick on the left. His cross was largely ignored by Ipswich and Malky Mackay, who makes a habit of scoring against Ipswich, stooped unmarked to head past Kelvin Davis.

Sheringham continued to prompt West Ham by dropping deep, but he was also prepared to move forward at speed. Indeed, he shaved the far post with a solid header from another Chadwick centre and saw Davis leap to deflect a shot from three yards after the keeper had cleverly saved a diving header from Mackay with equal agility.

The easiest chance that fell Sheringham's way came in the 33rd minute, after Davis came out to intercept Carl Fletcher but brought him down. The referee immediately awarded a penalty which Sheringham struck low, firmly - and well wide.

By then the atmosphere had lifted, the pace had risen, and Ipswich were often looking frail at the back and not altogether full of confidence in their counterattacking. Mackay and Calum Davenport were alert to the in-form Darren Bent, who nevertheless was not best served from midfield.

If Ipswich had begun the first half carelessly, the same could be said of West Ham at the start of the second. Bent had suddenly become a handful, once turning on the ball deceptively only to shoot a shade wide, then seeing a shot tipped onto the bar by Stephen Bywater. In the event, though, Ipswich equalised from a set-piece when Jim Magilton's corner was headed down by Tommy Miller, and Pablo Counago managed to press in the goal. The referee ignored claims that Counago had handled.

Again Ipswich seemed to step off the power, and, with eight minutes left, were very lucky that Marlon Harewood missed a header from Matthew Etherington when almost on the goal-line.

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