Amazing turnaround to troubled season

THE FINAL few weeks of the 1977-78 season turned a forgettable season into an unforgettable one for Mick Lambert.

Nick Garnham

THE FINAL few weeks of the 1977-78 season turned a forgettable season into an unforgettable one for Mick Lambert.

The left winger had been hampered by a hamstring injury for most of the campaign which severely restricted his appearances.

Indeed, in the first half of the season Lambert featured just once - as a substitute in early October - and he failed to start a single league game during what was his testimonial season, clocking up just nine outings from the bench.

So it is perhaps surprising to recall that he figured in four of the seven FA Cup ties, most famously coming on in the final itself in the 78th minute after goalscorer Roger Osborne was forced to leave the field.

Lambert, who scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 FA Cup third round victory over Halifax Town two years before, made his only start of the entire season in the 4-1 fourth round victory at home to Hartlepool, but did not get another taste of cup action until the 6-1 demolition of Millwall in the quarter-final.

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With Ipswich winning 3-0 he replaced the injured Osborne, this time after 73 minutes, and with just seconds remaining provided the cross from which Paul Mariner completed his hat-trick on an afternoon which was overshadowed by violence among the home fans before, during and after the match.

The teams had to be led from the pitch after 36 minutes after Millwall fans first tried to charge Ipswich supporters before pouring over the barriers and hurling anything they could lay their hands on high into the roof of the stand, causing debris to crash down on the Town fans below.

There was an 18-minute hold-up while the police, Millwall officials and even burly Millwall centre-back Barry Kitchener attempted to restore order, and there were some frightful skirmishes between the young hooligans and the police. When play did resume there were noticeable gaps in the stand previously packed with Town supporters. Many spectators, particularly those with young children, had decided to leave the ground there and then.

Lambert, 57, said: “All I remember from that match is poor old Betty Felgate, who was the club's number one supporter at the time, getting hit. She was the life and soul among the supporters in those days.

“It was much worse the night we played at Lazio - they were chasing us down the tunnel,” he recalled of the UEFA Cup second round, second leg tie in November 1973, when he was an unused substitute.

Lambert was to play a much more important role against West Bromwich Albion in the semi-final, coming on in place of Brian Talbot, who had sustained a nasty gash over his right eye as he clashed heads with Albion skipper John Wile when opening the scoring with a diving header after just seven minutes.

Ten minutes later Talbot re-appeared but, after a brief run up the touchline, it was clear he was in no fit state to continue so Lambert, who had been warming-up, went on as substitute - and within three minutes had a hand in Town's second goal.

Albion failed to clear his right-wing corner and Mick Mills pounced to rifle the loose ball home from just inside the six-yard box. Lambert said he can't recall much else about the match, although he did remember Allan Hunter punching the ball away to concede the penalty which allowed them a lifeline to reduce the deficit to 2-1 before John Wark's last-minute header confirmed Town's place at Wembley.

Victory was all the sweeter for the likes of Lambert, who had played in the 1975 semi-final against West Ham United, which Town lost 2-1 in a replay at Stamford Bridge, when referee Clive Thomas controversially disallowed two Bryan Hamilton goals.

“We felt like we were robbed by Clive Thomas. As far as I remember the linesman never gave offside, but Thomas, who always told everyone he was the best referee around, disallowed both goals. I was unsure whether he was right or wrong, but I remember thinking we were robbed.”

There was no doubting Town's right to be in the final this time though.

“Although we were a good all-round side we were not a big club, although I believe we were better than a lot of people realised.

“If you have never been to Wembley, you think you might never do so, but we deserved to be there.”