Date: 25th January 2011 at 10:30pm
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Ipswich Town’s valiant cup run fell at the final hurdle along the road to Wembley as a strong Arsenal side ran out 3-0 winners in the Carling Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg at the Emirates Stadium.

It was a major occasion for new Ipswich manager Paul Jewell, who was taking charge for the first time in the Cup having watched Ian McParland lead the Blues to their historic 1-0 win over Arsenal at Portman Road a fortnight ago. Tamas Priskin’s goal that night ensured that Town would be heading to the Emirates with a precious lead to defend.

Charged with trying to see Town hold out against one of the deadliest attacking sides in world football, Jewell made just one forced change to the side that won against Doncaster on Saturday, 34-year-old Mark Kennedy coming in for the cup-tied Lee Martin. Indeed there was only one change from the first leg, Grant Leadbitter replacing Jaime Peters with Carlos Edwards moving to right-back behind David Norris.

Meanwhile following their embarrassment in the first leg, Arsene Wenger strengthened his Arsenal lineup with three changes. Emmanuel Eboue and Kieran Gibbs, who struggled at Portman Road, were replaced by Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy, whilst in-form striker Robin Van Persie came in to spearhead the attack, Theo Walcott dropping to the bench with Nicklas Bendtner coming back into midfield.

Ipswich prepared to kickoff in front of a sell-out crowd of just under 60,000 at the Emirates, including 9,000 Town fans. The travelling support arrived complete with giant inflatable rugby balls, chanting “1-0 to the rugby team” in response to Cesc Fabregas’ controversial comments about Town’s long-ball approach to the first leg. Indeed, the Gunners might have been caught out by a long-range hit right from the kickoff, Grant Leadbitter immediately firing an outrageous strike from the centre circle which brushed the top of Wojciech Szczesny’s net.

Arsenal quickly showed their attacking intent at the other end, Marton Fulop beating Bendtner to a through ball before Van Persie volleyed wide from a cross by Sagna. On 11 minutes, Fabregas – who was already proving unpopular with the Blues fans – drew further abuse after what seemed a blatant dive in search of a penalty. Referee Mark Halsey rightly ruled that Gareth McAuley had made no contact, the visiting fans reacting with the oft-chanted “Same old Arsenal: always cheating”.

Town were finding it difficult to get forward but did create a chance from a free kick three minutes later, McAuley heading over from Leadbitter’s delivery. The match was then held up for some time after Arsenal keeper Szczesny and Sagna clashed heads, the defender evidently coming out worse off. Despite eventually getting back on his feet, the French international was suffering from concussion and was subsequently replaced by Eboue on 18 minutes.

With the game back underway, Arsenal continued to threaten the Town defence. Fulop got down to save from Fabregas before the hosts came very close to breaking the deadlock, Bendtner crossing from the right to the far post and Van Persie nodding onto the crossbar.

As the game approached the half hour, the danger signs were growing for the Blues. Fulop fumbled a Fabregas free-kick into the area forcing Damien Delaney to block a shot on the rebound from Bendtner. Two minutes later McAuley cleared off the goal-line after Van Persie had beaten Fulop to the ball, but the Dutchman had already been ruled offside. Town meanwhile were struggling to keep possession and had offered very little in the Arsenal half, a further free kick from Leadbitter coming to nothing.

With 35 minutes played, the Gunners looked almost certain to open the scoring. Jack Wilshere lifted the ball into the box for Fabregas who got in past Edwards on the left of the six yard area, but despite flicking a shot beyond Fulop, it somehow went right across goal and wide of the far post. The Ipswich goal was certainly leading a charmed life, but it was beginning to look inevitable that Arsenal would eventually find a way through.

The clock ticked towards the interval, but it couldn’t come soon enough for Town – not helped by four minutes of injury time. A McAuley clearance into the air from Bendtner’s shot resulted in a rather panicky exchange back and forth across the Ipswich box as both Bendtner and Van Persie tried to keep the danger alive. Delaney and Darren O’Dea each made great challenges to deny Van Persie running into the box before Halsey blew his whistle to send the teams in goalless at half time, much to the relief of the travelling fans.

Still clinging onto their 1-0 lead, Ipswich had now battled through three quarters of the two-legged semi-final tie and, with the scoreline preserved, were now 45 minutes away from their first ever League Cup final. Aside from a few set-pieces however they had been unable to make any real impact on the Arsenal goal, struggling to keep hold of the ball and either running into trouble or losing possession with a poor ball. The hosts meanwhile had looked dominant throughout and were unfortunate not to have levelled the tie at the very least. Indeed, the first half had been much like the first half hour in the FA Cup tie at Chelsea – Town were defending valiantly, but it was surely only a matter of time.

Surprisingly, the first opportunity of the second half came for the Blues, Bendtner heading away a Leadbitter corner only for O’Dea to strike right across the face of goal. Arsenal were soon getting forward again though, Edwards stopping Fabregas running into the area and Connor Wickham getting back to deny Eboue before Delaney cut out a dangerous ball from Wilshere.

Ipswich had managed to go 150 minutes without conceding a goal against Arsenal, but with half an hour left to go, their brave resistance was finally shattered right on the hour mark. Wilshire’s long ball from the Town half was brought down brilliantly by Nicklas Bendtner running down the left-wing, the Danish international then cutting inside of Edwards before curling a superb finish into the far corner. It was a wonderfully taken goal which showed a real touch of Premiership class from the hosts, and they had deservedly drawn the tie level.

Town now needed to score to avoid the match going to extra time, Paul Jewell responding by replacing Priskin with Jason Scotland. Sadly, any designs Town had on getting back in the lead were quickly extinguished. Within three minutes of conceding the first goal, Andrei Arshavin swung in a corner and Fulop committed himself, but he was beaten in the air by Laurent Koscielny who powered home a header to make it 2-0. Having been a hero for so much of the tie, it was a bitter moment for Fulop, and once again exposed Town’s tendency to concede goals in quick succession – just as they had done at Chelsea.

Arsenal were now leading 2-1 on aggregate, though there was a slim chance of Ipswich staying in the tie if they could find an away goal. Leadbitter’s corner fell to Wickham inside the Arsenal box but he couldn’t quite bring it under control to take a shot. Colin Healy then put Scotland through to run at goal from the left, but he never truly looked like scoring from the tight angle and could only thump straight at Szczesny with other options potentially available in the middle.

With 20 minutes left, there was a brief moment of controversy when referee Halsey inadvertently diverted Kennedy’s pass into the path of Fabregas, but play was pulled back for a drop ball. Arsenal were soon threatening again though, Van Persie heading wide under pressure from Delaney before Jewell made another change, Shane O’Connor replacing Healy. Fabregas dragged wide following a good run into the box as the game ran into the final quarter of an hour.

A minute later however, the Gunners had indeed extended their lead. Denilson stole possession from Edwards to send Cesc Fabregas forward on the counter attack. With Town having committed men forward, the Spanish international exchanged passes with Arshavin before slotting through Fulop’s legs and into the net. With the Blues now requiring two goals to force extra time, if the tie hadn’t been decided already, it had now.

Having been made to wait so long, the home fans were now celebrating securing their place at Wembley, cheering every Arsenal pass. The Gunners might have extended their lead further two minutes later, McAuley and Fulop doing just enough between them to prevent Wilshere breaking through. As the final ten minutes ticked on, Ipswich had one of their rare chances at the other end, substitute O’Connor sending in a cross from the left which Norris headed over at the far post. The Town captain was then called offside as he struck wide.

3-0 up on the night and 3-1 up on aggregate with five minutes left, Arsenal might have settled for giving a few of their less experienced players a run out. Instead, Wenger took off Van Persie and Arshavin to be replaced by the equally strong Theo Walcott and top scorer Samir Nasri.

The result decided, the match started to peter out for the last few minutes, halted momentarily by an Arsenal fan running across the pitch before being hauled to the floor by the stewards. Town tried to finish the match strongly, Johan Djourou and Szczesny almost getting in each others’ way as they tried to clear an Edwards cross, then the Trinidadian had an off-target shot blocked by Djourou. That was the last effort from either side as Halsey brought two minutes of injury time to an end to confirm Ipswich’s exit from the competition and see Arsenal progress to the final at Wembley.

Whilst being a disappointment, Ipswich will feel no shame in this result. Arsenal are firm favourites for the Carling Cup and Town would never have been expected to even put up a fight, let alone running the contest as close as they did. Jewell’s team should be proud of having made Arsenal nervous by keeping them from scoring in two and a half hours of football, including an hour at the Emirates – something that not many teams can say they have achieved. Attacking wise, the Blues had not been able to manage the same forward threat that they had demonstrated at Portman Road, and were frequently caught out when they did by the famous Arsenal counter-attack. In the end, the two goals in three minutes knocked the stuffing out of them.

Despite the struggle at the Emirates however, nobody can take away the triumph of that night at Portman Road. Ipswich should take pride in what they have achieved in this competition and use the inspiration and lessons they have learned to turn around their faltering league campaign. As a struggling Championship team with a dreadful recent Carling Cup record, they have exceeded all expectations in this tournament; beating Premier League West Bromwich Albion, recording an historic home win over Arsenal and keeping a clean sheet against the Gunners for 150 minutes of a two-legged semi-final.

The dream is over, and it’s back to the harsh reality of a relegation struggle in the league. But whatever happens in the next few months, the Ipswich team, staff and supporters should always treasure the memory of the season they upset all the odds to come within half an hour of going to Wembley.


Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna (Eboue 18), Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy, Fabregas, Denilson, Wilshere, Arshavin (Walcott 84), Van Persie (Nasri 84), Bendtner – Not used: Shea, Gibbs, A Song, Chamakh

Ipswich: Fulop, McAuley, Delaney, O’Dea, Leadbitter, Edwards, Norris, Healy (O’Connor 74), Kennedy, Wickham, Priskin (Scotland 63) – Not used: Lee-Barrett, Peters, Smith, Hyam, Civelli


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