Royle's revival sparked by Bent

Geoff Brown
Sunday 09 February 2003 01:00
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Ipswich Town are determined to reach the Nationwide First Division play-offs the hard way. For the second week running they had a player sent off in the first half of a match with the score 0-0. And, just as last week, they went 2-0 down. Yesterday at Portman Road, however, Joe Royle's side stormed back from the loss of Pablo Couñago after an off-the-ball incident with third-placed Sheffield United's Michael Brown and goals by the Blades' Peter Ndlovu and Dean Windass to win 3-2.

At the start of the second half, Royle sent on the former Blade, Marcus Bent, and he was the catalyst for the Suffolk side's recovery. Darren Bent pulled one back 12 minutes into the second half, a 12-yard volley from Jermaine Wright's pass giving him a 12th goal of the season.

With 12 minutes remaining, Darren Bent crossed and Darren Ambrose headed in the equaliser. The Blades were untypically jittery and when Ambrose centred in the 88th minute, Darren Bent rose to head in his second goal of the game and earn the three points that lifted Ipswich up to ninth, two points off the top six. Neil Warnock's side stay third, but have lost two in a row.

A frustrating week for second-placed Leicester City – the Football League refused to lift the embargo on player recruitment while the club remains in administration – reached a satisfying climax when Micky Adams' side strolled to a 4-1 win at Walsall, James Scowcroft scoring twice, Matt Elliott and Paul Dickov's 16th goal of the season completing the Saddlers' misery. Leicester are 12 points clear of third place.

But the Division's tensest match was the relegation scrap at Blundell Park where the hosts, Grimsby Town, and Stoke City, were separated only by goal difference at the start. The Mariners went ahead in the fourth minute when a poorly cleared corner was sent back in and Michael Boulding scored with a simple header. Christopher Thompson added a second early in the second half and the Potters' misery was completed with Sergy Shtanuk's 90th-minute dismissal. The win takes the Mariners out of the bottom three, Stoke replacing them.

Rock bottom Brighton's chances of survival look slightly rosier after a comprehensive 4-1 win over Wolves at the Withdean Stadium that again raised doubts about the play-off credentials of David Jones' side. Bobby Zamora, Dean Blackwell, Paul Brooker and Gary Hart all helped themselves to goals as Wolves slipped to seventh.

Still in the relegation dogfight, Sheffield Wednesday gave themselves renewed hope with a 2-2 draw with Norwich City, who had gone 2-0 up at Hillsborough through David Healy and Iwan Roberts. But the Owls took control in the second half and goals by Carl Robinson and Alan Quinn earned a precious point.

Watford, hit by legal action for compensation by former manager Gianluca Vialli, got no respite from Rotherham United's centre-backs Martin McIntosh and Chris Swailes who both scored as the Millers came back from a goal down at Vicarage Road to win 2-1. Rotherham moved up to 10th, a place above Coventry City who lost 1-0 at home to Burnley, Ian Cox on target.

Elsewhere, Millwall's midweek FA Cup exertions against Southampton seemed to leave them with little appetite for the match against Preston North End at Deepdale and they lost 2-0 while Wimbledon twice came from behind to draw 2-2 with Bradford City at Selhurst Park.

At the top of the Second Division, Wigan Athletic's lead was cut to a mere nine points when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Blackpool while second-placed Crewe won 2-1 at 10-man Brentford, Kenny Lunt scoring twice.

The Third Division leaders, Hartlepool United, beat lowly Exeter City 2-1 to stretch their lead to 10 points after second-placed Rushden & Diamonds drew 2-2 at Darlington.

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