Having talked his way through two matches, the second of which went to extra time, 12 goals, a penalty miss, a hat-trick, a row with Tony Mowbray and two red cards at a pulsating Portman Road, Jim Magilton catches his breath: ‘7-5? In a play-off? You know you’ve been involved in something special.’
It was May 2000 and, for a fourth consecutive season, Ipswich were in the play-offs to reach the Premier League. Needless to say, the first three had been lost.
The most recent defeat, in the 1999 semi-final, was by Bolton. Now, in 2000, it was Bolton again in the play-off semis.
Jim Magilton (right) scores Ipswich’s third goal against Bolton in the play-off semi-final
FIRST DIVISION PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINAL, SECOND LEG. May 17, 2000
IPSWICH 5 BOLTON 3 (agg 7-5)
Ipswich: R Wright; Croft, Brown, Mowbray, Venus; Clapham, Holland, Magilton, Scowcroft; Johnson, Stewart
Subs: Naylor, Reuser, Branagan, Thetis, Wilnis
Scorers: Magilton 18 (pen), 49, 90, Clapham 94 (pen), Reuser 110.
Manager: George Burley
BOLTON: Jaaskelainen; Bergsson, Fish, Ritchie, Whitlow; Johansen, Jensen, Elliott, Warhurst; Johnston, Holdsworth
Subs: Banks, Hansen, Phillips, Farrelly, Passi.
Scorers: Holdsworth 6, 39, Johnston 50
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Magilton had arrived from Sheffield Wednesday, initially on loan, in January 1999. At that stage, Ipswich had been out of the Premier League for four seasons and Magilton says his first impression was: ‘Everyone at the club was desperate to get back up. You could smell it.
‘I was desperate, too. I’d left the Premier League to go to Ipswich and that first defeat by Bolton brought it home. We had a great season after that. George Burley had us together.’
Bolton had lost the previous final to Watford, so they had their own motivation. In the first leg at Bolton, the home side were 2-0 up in 26 minutes.
Even then, though, Magilton says he had belief. ‘We still felt ready, it was an open game, unusually open, with no caution from either manager or either group of players. Marcus Stewart scored two great, really calm goals for us. They’d started like a train. We finished like one.’
It finished 2-2 and the second leg was just three days later. Eidur Gudjohnsen was unfit for Bolton. It gave Ipswich a boost.
Magilton (right) celebrates after scoring his side’s equalising goal from the penalty spot
But Dean Holdsworth put Bolton in front and, although Magilton equalised with a penalty, Holdsworth scored again. Before half-time, Ipswich got another penalty and this time Magilton missed. ‘There were a lot of shenanigans, it took an eternity to take that kick. And I changed my mind. Jussi Jaaskelainen saved it.’
At half-time, with Ipswich trailing 2-1, Magilton made straight for the toilet. ‘I felt like death.’
Burley was reassuring and, four minutes into the second half, Magilton did score again — ‘Top corner, probably one of the best goals I ever scored. What a relief.’ That sensation lasted a whole minute. Bolton winger Allan Johnston made it 3-2 to Bolton on the night, 5-4 on aggregate.
There were 40 minutes left and Portman Road produced the best atmosphere Magilton can remember at the stadium. The play was end-to-end and the sweet-passing midfielder recalls asking the referee again and again about time. Then in the 90th minute: ‘Mark Venus launched one, (Tony) Mowbray won a header and it fell to me.
‘Even in all this I had real clarity.I hit a shot through the legs of Franck Passi and in. The place erupted.’
The midfielder makes his way back to his half after netting his second goal of the match
Martijn Reuser said to Magilton: ‘You know you’ve just scored a hat-trick?’ Magilton did. It was the only one of an 18-year career that began as a youth player at Liverpool.
Amid the 5-5 mayhem, Bolton’s Mike Whitlow was sent off. The visitors were a man down as extra time began. Soon, Ipswich had another penalty. Magilton went to take it. Captain Mowbray disagreed. ‘There was a bit of a heated discussion. Not nice,’ Magilton says.
And while that was going on, Jamie Clapham picked up the ball and took the penalty. He scored. 6-5.
Three minutes later Bolton were down to nine men when Robbie Elliott was dismissed. Reuser then ensured Ipswich’s progress with a fifth on the night, 7-5 on aggregate.
Barnsley, managed by Dave Bassett, were the opposition in the Wembley final. They had to be beaten if Ipswich were not to endure a fourth straight play-off slump. It was another remarkable match, Ipswich going 1-0 down after six minutes, then recovering to win 4-2. ‘At 3-2 up, we were hanging on,’ Magilton says, ‘and Georgi Hristov missed a sitter.’
Magilton is congratulated by his Ipswich team-mates after completing his hat-trick
But Ipswich won, they were back in the Premier League: ‘Huge relief, a feeling of pressure released, then satisfaction.’
And in 2000-01, Burley’s promoted team surpassed all expectations by finishing fifth and reaching the League Cup semi-finals. A club with a glorious European tradition was back in the Uefa Cup and in November 2001 Ipswich beat Inter Milan 1-0 at Portman Road. Unfortunately the away leg was lost 4-1 to a Christian Vieri hat-trick.
Back home, Ipswich unravelled, falling to relegation. They have not been back and are bound for the third division.
Magilton was appointed player-manager in 2006. Twice they narrowly missed out on the play-offs. Now 49, for the past five years he has been performance director at the Irish FA, overseeing an upturn in Irish youth.
If those boys need schooling in drama, Jim Magilton knows a game to show them.