Town 3-2 Sheffield United
Saturday, 8th Feb 2003 18:55
Ten man Town made a sensational comeback from two goals down to win 3-2 at home to Sheffield United. Two weeks ago in the FA Cup the Blues almost completed a similar revival only to be beaten in the last minute, but this time around goals from Darren Bent (2) and Darren Ambrose completed a memorable afternoon.
As promised Joe Royle made a couple of changes, Darren Bent replaced Marcus Bent with Darren Ambrose coming in instead of Jermaine Wright. Royle also switched the formation with Matt Holland moving into midfield with a four-man backline of Makin at left back, Hreidarsson and Gaardsøe in the centre and Fabian Wilnis on the right. Ambrose and Darren Bent played attacking roles wide on each side ahead of the midfield with Couñago the only conventional attacker.
Prior to the game PA announcer Rob Chandler paid tribute to assistant manager Dale Roberts who died earlier this week. As he closed his eulogy applause broke out in the North Stand and spread throughout the stadium. The minute's silence was perfectly observed by home and away supporters.
The early stages of the game saw neither side create any clear-cut chances, but the Blues have the better of the possession. The first real opportunity of the game fell to Darren Bent who was played in on the right by Darren Ambrose. Bent closed in on Paddy Kenny but put his shot too close to the keeper, who gathered to his right.
The half undoubtedly changed in the 20th minute when Pablo Couñago clashed with Michael Brown on the edge of the Sheffield United area. Brown appeared to hold the Spaniard as he tried to hold the ball up and continued to do so even after it had been cleared.
As the two broke Couñago caught Brown in the face as he freed himself, although by no means as hard as the Sheffield United player claimed. Referee Richard Beeby was quickly on the scene and was in no doubt about what had happened, sending the ex-Celta Vigo man for an early bath. Brown probably deserved a yellow card for his role in the melee but received nothing.
Beeby had annoyed the Town support even before the sending off, waving away a number of freekick claims from Kabba, Ndlovu and Brown but failing to show yellow cards for what he clearly thought were dives.
Shortly after the Couñago sending off Darren Ambrose picked up a yellow card for a late tackle as the game started to simmer at a heat familiar to regular watchers of Town-Blades games.
The visitors ought to have gone ahead in the 28th minute, Dean Windass heading a Brown cross wide when hitting the target looked far easier to do. On 33 Chris Makin was replaced with Jermaine Wright, the defender having picked up an ankle injury.
Referee Beeby was at the centre of further controversy in the 35th minute when Steve Kabba felled Fabian Wilnis with a flailing arm right in front of the North Stand. Despite the similarities with the earlier incident on this occasion no cards were shown. This did little to improve the referee's standing amongst the Town support.
Six minutes before the break Kabba finally did find his way into the ref's book after kicking out at Fabian Wilnis as the Dutchman took the ball down the right flank. Shortly afterwards he was on the end of more Town abuse after taking a laughably theatrical dive which again went unpunished by the referee.
The game was getting close to boiling over with half-time approaching, but there was one more twist before the break. With left-sided defender Hermann Hreidarsson well out of position, Peter Ndlovu ran onto a ball forward, took it inside Thomas Gaardsøe on the edge of the area and fired past Andy Marshall.
It was a bitter blow for Town and as the players trooped off Hermann Hreidarsson and Jim Magilton argued the toss about the cause of the goal while virtually the whole of Portman Road booed off the officials.
Joe Royle decided a change was in order, Marcus Bent replacing Jim Magilton, who had a slight back injury, and taking up a position alone in the attack, Ambrose and Darren Bent in wide positions behind him. Matt Holland rejoined the defence with Herman Hreidarsson moving to the left.
Town went close to getting back on terms as soon as the 47th minute, Tommy Miller fighting himself into a position where he hit a looping effort from inside the box which dipped onto top of the bar and over.
However, the next goal would go to United. Jermaine Wright hesitated with the ball around fifteen yards outside the Town area and was caught in possession. Dean Windass brought the ball forward before hitting a shot beyond Marshall and into the net.
The game looked up for Town at this stage, however as at Bramall Lane two weeks ago, Joe Royle's side are made of sterner stuff. Darren Bent came close to creating an opportunity in the 52nd minute when his low cross was just cut out with Marcus Bent and Darren Ambrose in threatening positions.
Four minutes later the Blues got a goal back. Fabian Wilnis and Jermaine Wright exchanged passes on the right before Wright chipped a ball over the Sheffield United defence towards Darren Bent who volleyed in from ten yards.
The Blues were back in it and two minutes later Marcus Bent, whose introduction had had a massive effect on the game, just failed to lift an Ambrose pass over Kenny and into the net.
Marcus Bent's hold-up play was proving a massive problem for the Blades, especially with a Darren breaking quickly on either flank. Just before the hour Bent senior played in his namesake down the right but Kenny was off his line quickly to grab the ball.
Referee Beeby found himself surrounded by Town players in the 61st minute after Michael Brown took a clear dive as he and Darren Bent went for the ball. Brown's tendency to hit the turf given little excuse had been more than noted by the Town faithful at Bramall Lane two weeks ago.
The two Bents were working well together and in the 69th minute they came close to setting up a chance from an Ambrose pass, but Shaun Murphy put the ball out for a corner.
The Blues were having by far the best of it and it was difficult to believe that it was Sheffield United who had the extra man. Marcus Bent won the ball and took it down the right in the 73rd minute, but Tommy Miller's header was too easy for Kenny.
Four minutes later Town were on terms. Darren and then Marcus Bent battled their way through a number of Sheffield United defenders on the right, inside the penalty area. Bent senior finally found himself some space before sending in an inch perfect cross to Ambrose eight yards out and the youngster made no mistake with his header back across Paddy Kenny and into the net.
Portman Road was now as loud as it had been since the demolition of the old North Stand and the Blades' current favourite, Tom Hark, had been appropriated and was ringing round the ground, complete with arm movements.
Town started to push for the winner and with four minutes left Fabian Wilnis, excellent throughout on the right of defence, put Darren Bent away down the right. Keeper Kenny rushed out too quickly and found himself stranded outside his area, but Bent's ball into the box was cleared by Murphy.
However, the winner was only a minute away. Hermann Hreidarsson found Darren Ambrose on the left just inside the penalty area. He took the ball past Ndlovu before sending in a sublime cross which Darren Bent met perfectly at the far post, heading in past Kenny.
Portman Road went wild but there were still a few awkward minutes of normal time and some injury time to be played. Referee Beeby was again called into action as Hermann Hreidarsson and Shaun Murphy clashed as the Blades tried to take a throw-in. Murphy's push to Hreidarsson's face looked little different to the incident involving Couñago earlier in the game but on this occasion the official decided that yellow cards all round was a sufficient punishment.
With the final whistle increasingly close sub Tommy Mooney hit a freekick into a Town wall and Michael Brown hit a trademark volley wide of Andy Marshall's goal.
Not long after the whistle went and Town's players celebrated as if they had won the Cup. It had been an amazing game which despite the red card and going two goals behind the Blues had deservedly won.
Pablo did raise his hand as he clashed with Michael Brown but to little real effect, while there were other similar incidents later in the game which went unpunished. The half-time introduction of Marcus Bent was pivotal, the ex-Blade putting in his best display of the season while the Darrens were also in fine form, particularly in the second half.
Overall a pulsating game which will long be remembered and a more than fitting tribute to the memory of Dale Roberts.
Town: Marshall, Wilnis, Makin (Wright 33), Hreidarsson, Gaardsøe, Holland, Magilton (M Bent 46), Miller, Ambrose, Couñago, D Bent.
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