They might not be of Premiership status just yet, but Sheffield United are already showing top-flight traits. Neil Warnock's Blades have cut down Leeds, Sunderland and Liverpool at Bramall Lane this season, and reached the semi-finals of the Worthington Cup.
Yesterday they fielded a half-strength team in the FA Cup and still reached the fifth round. They made it the hard way, though, squandering a three-goal lead in the space of four minutes before Paul Peschisolido pounced to score the winner with a minute left.
Warnock's side, featuring five changes to the team beaten at Anfield in the second leg of the Worthington Cup semi on Tuesday night, were 3-0 up and cruising when Michael Brown cracked home his second goal of the game in the 64th minute. Three Ipswich goals in lightning-quick succession, courtesy of Thomas Gaardsoe, Tommy Miller (from the penalty spot) and Darren Bent, left Warnock nearly apoplectic at pitch-side. But then Peschisolido, a late substitute for Tommy Mooney, struck from close range to put United back on the road to Cardiff.
It put an end to an unbeaten run of nine matches by Ipswich, whose manager, Joe Royle, was still shaking his head long after the final whistle. "I don't know how we lost it," he said. "I would have been disappointed with a draw, the way we came back in to the game."
Indeed, with the score at 3-3, it had taken a desperate goal-line save by the back-pedalling Wilko de Vogt to stop Darren Ambrose edging Royle's side in front. Not that Warnock cared. "I take my hat off to the players," he said, after his blood pressure had returned to normal. "They just don't know when they're beaten."
Warnock was already without the suspended Michael Tonge and the injured Nick Montgomery but chose to tinker further with his team, resting Shaun Murphy and Paddy Kenny, and detailing Wayne Allison to bench duty. His midfield included the 20-year-old Tyrone Thompson, who had been due to play on loan in the Conference for Leigh RMI.
Still, there was little sign of weakness in the home ranks in the first half. Indeed, they took a firm grip on the tie with the 38-year-old Stuart McCall dictating much of the play, 14 years on from his two-goal appearance for Everton in the final of the competition. Brown was prominent in midfield, too, and he opened the scoring in the 19th minute, curling a low right-foot shot past Andy Marshall from outside the Ipswich penalty area. Twelve minutes later it was 2-0, with Phil Jagielka rifling in the rebound after Mooney had headed against the cross-bar.
Brown was 26 yesterday and in the 64th minute the player Royle had offloaded from Manchester City three years ago had another goal to celebrate at the expense of his old boss. He very nearly burst the back of the Kop End net with his rasping right-foot volley from 25 yards.
Ipswich had already squandered three clear chances, one by their Spanish striker Pablo Couñago and two by the 18-year-old Ambrose, a half-time substitute, but found the target with a vengeance thereafter. First Gaardsoe lashed in a right-foot drive; next Ambrose was felled in the home box by Jagielka and Tommy Miller tucked away the penalty; and then Ambrose fed the ball through to Darren Bent on the right and the other 18-year-old in Ipswich colours cut inside to side-foot the equaliser. The final, telling cut, however, came from a Blade. The Ipswich defence failed to clear Gerry Quinn's long throw-in and Peschisolido beat Marshall from four yards.
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