Ipswich enter 'lottery' as Virgo strike saves Brighton

Brighton 1 - Ipswich Town 1
Click to follow

Joe Royle hates them and Ipswich, as a club, should fear them, but the play-offs are now the Suffolk club's only possible route back to the Premiership, three years after they were relegated.

Joe Royle hates them and Ipswich, as a club, should fear them, but the play-offs are now the Suffolk club's only possible route back to the Premiership, three years after they were relegated.

This will be Ipswich's sixth attempt, in nine seasons, at promotion via the Football League's version of the lottery. History, if not current form, is against them, as only once, in 2000, have they earned promotion to the top flight this way.

This result also means that Brighton, promoted to the Championship a year ago, maintained their status at this level, something that was celebrated at the end by a mild-mannered pitch invasion that others might have interpreted as a promotion celebration. But given the slender resources on which the Seagulls get by, staying up feels like a victory.

Their manager, Mark McGhee, was certainly relieved to have avoided the drop. He said: "That was a scary last 20 minutes. I don't want to experience that too often. But we've given every ounce to stay up and we've deserved it. We got the result today but this has been a tremendous effort over the whole season."

Ipswich's fate was out of their hands to a large extent. Starting the day in third place they had to better Wigan's result to win automatic promotion behind Sunderland. Once news began to filter through of Paul Jewell's men winning easily at home to Reading, the Suffolk club appeared to lose interest until the last 15 minutes.

That was when the home side were at their most nervous, having done arguably the hardest part with Adam Virgo, despite carrying an injury, quickly equalising Shefki Kuqi's early strike.

With news and rumours filtering through to the Withdean Stadium of Crewe's and Gillingham's scorelines, it was possible that if Ipswich won, then the Seagulls would be sunk. Those two sides were Brighton's direct rivals for the last relegation position, and in the end the Gills were the club to go down.

The hosts had the worst possible start, going behind when Jim Magilton found Kuqi, who was given too much space by Albion's back three. The Finnish international ran through and found the bottom corner of Alan Blayney's net.

Albion's response, epitomised by Virgo, who will have to undergo surgery this week, was admirable and within six minutes they were level. A free-kick taken, Joe Royle thought nowhere near where it should have been, was headed by Gary Hart and well saved by Kelvin Davis although Virgo was there for the rebound.

Justifiable penalty appeals were then turned down on both sides, with Royle saying later he felt the officials were not fit to take charge of such an important game. Particularly crude was Charlie Oatway's first-half foul on Darren Bent, which even McGhee termed "assault".

The Ipswich manager instantly turned his attention to the play-offs. The Tractor Boys lost to West Ham at the semi-final stage last season and will face them again, with home advantage in the second leg this time and Royle tried to sound upbeat, saying: "Now we're in them we've got to be positive about them."

Goals: Kuqi (4) 0-1; Virgo (10) 1-1.

Brighton (3-5-2): Blayney; El-Abd, Virgo, Butters; Reid, Oatway, Carpenter, Hammond, Harding; Knight (Robinson, 89), Hart (McPhee, 82). Substitutes not used: Shaaban (gk), Mayo, Nicolas.

Ipswich (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis (Diallo, 40, Scowcroft, 75), Naylor, De Vos, Unsworth; Magilton, Miller, Westlake, Currie (Counago, 65); Bent, Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Horlock.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Booked: Brighton Oatway; Ipswich Magilton, Kuqi.

Man of the match: Virgo.

Attendance: 6,848.

Comments