A point apiece did neither side any good at Portman Road yesterday. For all the prodigious efforts and nervous energy expended by Ipswich and Millwall, events elsewhere conspired to determine the fates of both clubs. Down, therefore, went the Londoners to the Endsleigh League Second Division for the first time in 11 years, having deprived the highest scorers in the top four leagues of the victory they required to reach the play- offs.
If Ipswich were ultimately not creative enough, then Millwall certainly did not look bad enough. Top of the table for six weeks up to 9 December when they suffered a crushing 6-0 defeat at Sunderland, they had not been in the bottom three all season. There is patently a good team trying to get out of the squad Jimmy Nicholl inherited 17 games ago from Mick McCarthy.
Nicholl, who has experienced relegation before as manager of Raith Rovers, said: "I am bitterly disappointed for the chairman, Peter Mead, but if any of our players think they're too good for the Second Division they can come and see me and maybe they will be on their way."
Explaining why he had started with Chris Malkin alone up front, Nicholl replied: "I wanted to have only totally committed players today."
The culmination of Millwall's alarming plummet is likely to cost the club pounds 1m. One player, who could, however, generate some funds, Alex Rae, was ironically missing at a time when he was needed most. Without their leading scorer, who was suspended, Millwall rarely looked like gaining the win they needed.
The only bonus was that their name was not further seriously sullied by the mindless minority of their followers, who apart from hurling a few cushions at police did not stage the riot that had been feared. Like Ben Thatcher, the Millwall left-back whose cold comfort was a bottle of chilled champagne for being named Anglia TV's man of the match, they seemed too numbed to react.
Not so Ian Marshall. The burly Ipswich striker, a veritable handful throughout, blazed his side's best early chance over on the half-volley, had another shot saved and then, diving in on to Alex Mathie's cross, made another promising opening for James Scowcroft as the ball ran loose. James Connor nodded his header off the line but Millwall were soon to survive more hair-raising moments.
When Thatcher's back-pass fell short, Casey Keller had to kick clear from Mathie. Scowcroft came closer still with a header against an upright from Simon Milton's cross.
The news that Portsmouth were winning at Huddersfield and Leicester were ahead at Watford was soon related to both sets of players, and the sequel was desperation stakes in the last half-hour. Yet, while half-chances fell at regular intervals to Ipswich, Millwall, despite providing belated assistance for Malkin, never even tested Richard Wright. The consequence of that was a distressing one.
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Wright; Stockwell, Wark (Vaughan, 67), Thomsen, Taricco; Mason (Scowcroft, 29), Sedgley, Williams, Milton; Mathie, Marshall. Substitute not used: Gregory.
Millwall (4-5-1): Keller; Connor, Stevens, Weir (Witter, 84), Thatcher; Savage (Neill, 71), Doyle, Newman, Bowry, Van Blerk; Malkin. Substitute not used: Rogan.
Referee: K Lynch (Knaresborough).
Man of the match: Thatcher.
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