Town keep Blues' flag flying
ELECTION night fever lifted Ipswich Town to a famous victory over Inter Milan.More than 8,000 eager Town fans will now head to the splendour of the San Siro Stadium in the plush Italian city in a fortnight, hopeful that their heroes can progress to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup.
By Elvin King
ELECTION night fever lifted Ipswich Town to a famous victory over Inter Milan.
More than 8,000 eager Town fans will now head to the splendour of the San Siro Stadium in the plush Italian city in a fortnight, hopeful that their heroes can progress to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup.
The Tractor Boys were more like Ferrari Boys as they hit top gear and won far more convincingly than the scoreline suggests.
To beat one of the wealthiest teams on the planet in front of a live TV audience in this and 24 other countries can only strengthen the respect held throughout the football world for George Burley's team.
Alun Armstrong literally got off his sick bed to head a wonderful and dramatic late winner to put the smiles back on to the faces of everybody connected with Ipswich Town.
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Nobody is going to suggest that the tie has been won, as Milan will be a far different proposition in the second leg and are still favourites to win on aggregate.
But if Ipswich play with the same resolve, shape and overall balance they will give their army of fans yet another European night to savour in Milan.
On paper Town had little chance against a club who were able to rest two players who cost more money than the entire Ipswich squad.
It was second-from-the-bottom Premiership against second-from-the-top Serie A. Yet a neutral observer would have found it difficult to notice the difference.
The Italians showed some extra technical skills like most continental sides, but man-for-man Burley's Boys were more than equal to the Milan millionaires.
The mischief-makers who have relished spreading recent unfounded tales about the private lives of Town players had only to look at the combined commitment and endeavour to see that there is nothing wrong with the spirit in the camp.
What is needed now – and to be honest pretty quickly – is a couple of league wins to not only lift Town out of the depths of the Premiership but also restore confidence to turn in shows like this week-in, week-out.
Encouraged by the magnificent support of the biggest crowd seen at Portman Road since it was made all-seater, Town turned in a display similar to the won that ran Derby County off the park in the middle of August.
Remarkably, this was the first home success since that 3-1 victory and Burley and his managerial team must now work on getting the same response from their players in the league as they have from this and the two away UEFA Cup games.
Just like in Moscow and Helsingborg, Ipswich fans made their presence felt and it will be some party in the San Siro when the Tractor Boys hit Milan.
Once Matteo Sereni saved superbly from £11 million Nicola Ventola in the tenth minute, the visitors only rarely threatened to score with Town looking sure to extend their record of never having lost a European game at home to 28 matches.
It was a case of whether they could add a precious goal to tuck under their arms and take to Milan. Try as they might it did not really look like coming until Armstrong took his position at the far post with nine minutes remaining.
Richard Naylor had battled bravely and effectively before being replaced by a player who has taken almost a month to shake off a virus – and had been instructed by Burley to move to the far post every time a cross came in.
Pablo Counago played his part and Jamie Clapham supplied a perfect centre that saw Armstrong climb above Grigorios Georgatos, arch his back and send a perfectly-flighted header just inside the post with the flying Francesco Toldo well beaten.
It was a game to warm the heart on a chill night, proving a number of positive signs to Town supporters.
Burley rightly pointed out that it was a team effort, but the class of 20-year-old Titus Bramble shone through like a beacon.
He tackled hard, tidied up calmly and generally took control at the back. Mark Venus was not far behind, locking horns and coming out on top against world-class players. Not bad for someone who played in the First Division for 12 years.
Chris Makin proved yet again what a reliable and effective full back he is while Hermann Hreidarsson's energy and vigour saw him stand out once more.
And in midfield Town had round pegs in round holes. They looked compact and balanced with Sixto Peralta, playing against his parent club, highly effective and Clapham showing the level of performance that prompted talk of an England call-up last season.
What was particularly pleasing – apart from only the third clean sheet of the season – was the emergence of two of Burley's young summer foreign signings. Peralta is improving every game and Spanish Under-21 international Counago is rapidly adjusting to the pace of the game.
The twists and turns that were not working in his first few games for Town are now bearing fruit and both youngsters have the confidence to try to make things happen by going at the heart of the opposing defence.
Some might say that Milan underestimated Town having watched their recent league games. And they would certainly have been very happy if the game had stayed goalless – as the extra urgency in their play after they went a goal behind showed.
They kept men back as all Italian sides do, but were never afraid to push forward to support their front two of Ventola and Mohamed Kallon.
Javier Zanetti caught the eye and his namesake Cristiano also worked hard and had to be watched, but Dutch inter-national Clarence Seedorf had a mixed night combining some schoolboy errors with a couple of marvellous passes.
But the night belonged to Ipswich Town and not Inter Milan.
This was a game – and a victory – that will never be lost in the mists of time. This was Ipswich Town at their best.