RETRO MATCH: A black Knight for Whites at Ipswich
IPSWICH Town’s Portman Road was the scene of one of the most painful and controversial defeats in the history of Bolton Wanderers.
The occasion was the second leg of the Division One Play-off semi-final – May 17, 2000 – when George Burley’s Tractor Boys and Sam Allardyce’s Wanderers had the promised land of the Premier League on their horizons.
It was Ipswich who prevailed and went on to beat Barnsley in the final to book their return ticket to the top flight.
But it was not so much the defeat itself that left such a deep scar on those involved – Allardyce, his players and their supporters – but more the manner of their third semi-final exit in the space of 16 weeks and more particularly the role played by referee Barry Knight.
That night the Kent official became, as the front page of the Bolton Evening News declared, “The most hated man in Bolton”.
His name is still reviled by Bolton fans who were at the game or around at the time.
And for anyone thinking that was an over-reation to an extra-time defeat, just consider the bare facts: In 120 dramatic minutes, Mr Knight awarded Ipswich three penalties, showed 12 yellow and two red cards to Bolton players and did not issue so much as a single caution to the home side.
Not surprisingly, he refused to even discuss the inbalance or respond to Allardyce’s claim that he was “totally to blame” for the defeat and that he harboured a grudge against him personally and against Wanderers as a club.
But Big Sam had his say right enough – to such an extent that he ended up in the disciplinary dock, carpeted by the FA for his vitriolic and detailed attack on the man he believed had single-handedly denied his bravehearts a place at Wembley.
The Bolton boss just could not hold back after seeing his promotion dream shattered in the space of 13 unlucky and chaotic minutes.
Less than a minute of normal time remained when Jim Magiltion rescued Ipswich with a dramatic equaliser to take a riveting play-off duel into extra time.
And right before his eyes, the man who had worked a tactical masterstroke saw his team reduced to nine men and trailing for the first time in the entire tie.
No one begrudged Ipswich their victory after failing to clear the first hurdle of the play-offs in the previous three seasons, especially after seeing the desolation on their faces when they had been beaten on the same ground by Wanderers in an extra-time thriller 12 months earlier.
But, for Allardyce, this was all about Wanderers and Mr Knight.
“He could have done untold damage to this football club that will be felt over the next two years,” he said.
“You just don’t know how long it might take us to get into a position like this again.
“He should be made accountable for what he’s done. Words just can’t describe how I feel. I don’t think he should ever be allowed to referee a game again.
“I can’t believe what happened to us out there because of an official. I’m not saying all three penalties – but at least one of them was wrong. But he’s given three decisions, booked 10 of our players and sent two of them off and given nothing against the opposition.
“Even Jimmy Phillips, who has been a model professional for more than 20 years, couldn’t take it any more. He was absolutely disgusted by the referee’s performance.
“I don’t think I can ever come to terms with something like this. I will never forget what he’s done.”
Ipswich had recovered from being 2-0 down to draw the first leg at the Reebok 2-2 but Wanderers took just six minutes to get back in front – Dean Holdsworth reacting first after Robbie Elliott’s challenge forced Richard Wright to spill Michael Johansen’s cross.
Holdsworth was playing as a lone striker in Allardyce’s specially-designed and highly-effective game plan and was rarely out of the picture.
Eleven minutes after celebrating his goal he tripped Magilton in the box to give away the night’s first penalty which the Northern Ireland international duly tucked away, but was the hero again six minutes before half time when he put Wanderers back in front with a sweet free-kick.
That 2-1 lead stood at half time thanks to Jussi Jaaskelainen saving a second penalty from Magilton which was awarded for a Paul Ritchie challenge on Town’s Paul Stewart.
Three minutes into the second half, Magilton made up for his spot-kick miss when he weaved between Paul Warhurst, Mark Fish and Allan Johnston before slamming a rising shot past Jaaskelainen.
But Ipswich were behind again seconds later when Johnston fired a 20-yarder past Wright for Wanderers’ third.
And that was how it stayed until the 89th minute when the tie was turned on its head.
With Wanderers fans thinking they were safe, Tony Mowbray won an aerial duel with Fish and Magilton’s shot skidded in to take it to extra time.
The Whites started the extra period a man down after Mike Whitlow had been sent off for a second bookable offence in the closing seconds of normal time and were further handicapped four minutes in when Jamie Clapham converted Ipswich’s third penalty to put Burley’s boys ahead for the first time.
Three minutes later, Wanderers were down to nine men when Elliott was sent off for a second bookable offence and when Martin Reuser wrapped it up with Ipswich’s fifth in the second period of extra time all that remained was for Mr Knight to show his 12th yellow card of the night to Franck Passi.