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Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Fourth Round - Ipswich Town v Sunderland

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On This Day (24 January 2004): Mick’s men gub the Tractor Boys!

Sunderland and Ipswich were neck and neck in the promotion battle. This FA Cup tie at Portman Road looked like it could be a tight affair, with Mick McCarthy and Ipswich manager Joe Royle renewing their rivalry.

Photo by Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images

Sunderland went into this tie without their top scorer Marcus Stewart, who was injured. Ipswich had scored six goals the previous week against Crewe and had also knocked six past Sunderland on their last visit to Portman Road.

I had not been back to Ipswich since August 1981 when I witnessed a really entertaining 3-3 draw and Ally McCoist, Nick Pickering, and Ian Munro’s debut. A nicely planned work event in Canterbury was facilitating my attendance at this tie on my way home, (after all Ipswich is just up the road from Canterbury)! There was a noisy boisterous away support in the 20,000 plus crowd, and I had a good feeling in my waters as kick-off approached.

As the game commenced, it was quickly apparent that McCarthy had set us up with Kevin Kyle ploughing a lone furrow up front against the tractor boys. Julio Arca and Tommy Smith would provide some width, and Jeff Whitely, McAteer, and Thirwell would combat the midfield.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Fourth Round - Ipswich Town v Sunderland Photo by Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images

The first half saw a fairly even contest in which we kept the ball quite well. Kyle was a physical handful throughout, and Tommy Smith provided some lovely bits of skill and some dangerous moments. Ipswich defender John McGreal came to the rescue twice in the first 20 minutes.

Jeff Whitley ran thirty yards through the centre of the park and placed a neat pass to Kyle, who looked odds on to score, as he let his shot go McGreal got a timely block in. Five minutes later a far post header from Kyle found Whitley nicely placed, but his shot was deflected away by the busy centre half.

Shotton Colliery born Tommy Miller (who later signed for the lads in 2005) was Ipswich’s most dangerous attacker in this period. He had two good attempts, the first of which saw a cracking shot and save from Poom, and the second produced a timely defection from Bjorklund when his shot looked goal bound.

Just before the end of the half, Williams dispossessed Wilnis and sped away down the right wing. He fired a low hard cross that Tommy Smith controlled, then arrowed across Davis in the Ipswich goal and in at the far post for a cracking score that was just about deserved.

Ipswich came out all guns blazing in the second half, and our defence was severely tested as the bullish Kuqi and the skilful Counago had good attempts well saved by Poom. John McGreal then had two headers in quick succession saved by the Estonian who was having a stormer.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

On 65 minutes came the key moment in the game. Kuqi fired a brutal shot that Poom saved at full stretch and then set a quick counter-attack away. Thirwell was badly fouled and the resulting free-kick was taken by McAteer. He fired the kick over the wall and straight at Davis who looked like he had it covered.

The ball seemed to hit his chest and escape his grasp, and in stepped Julio Arca to hammer home for his third goal in three games. The away support erupted as the little Argentinian danced his way back up the pitch.

Despite a lot of string pulling by Jim Magilton and a very late goal by Ipswich sub Reuser, the lads controlled the game well through to the final whistle. Mick McCarthy had quipped before the game that he had dreamt of playing at Wembley in the cup, but he never got as far as his back yard as a player.

He would take his team all the way to the semi-final with some barnstorming performances in this cup run. We bowed out at Old Trafford deservedly beaten by Millwall.

Did the cup run fuel our league campaign or hinder this as we just missed out on promotion at the end of the season? I had enjoyed another good day in Suffolk and sped off North, very happy at having made the detour.

FA Cup Round 4 // Date - 24/01/2004

Venue - Portman Road // Attendance - 21,406

Ipswich 1 - 2 Sunderland (Smith 43, Arca 67, Reuser 88)

Ipswich - Davis, Wilnis, McGreal, Naylor, Richards (Reuser 69), Wright, Magilton, Miller, Westlake, Kuqi, Counago

Sunderland – Poom, Williams (Ramsden), McCartney, Babb, Bjorklund, Smith (Oster 82), McAteer (Thornton), Whitley, Arca, Kyle

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