On this day in Ipswich Town’s history: fans’ favourite Counago tames the Lions
PUBLISHED: 05:59 12 September 2020
In this daily feature, we take a look at what happened on this day in Ipswich Town’s history, selecting one particular year, this time from 16 years ago when Town beat Millwall 2-0 on September 12, 2004, thanks to a big helping hand from Pablo Counago
Pablo Counago, always a big fans’ favourite if not always the toast of Town managers, turned the game completely on his introduction as a 67th minute substitute during a 2-0 home win over Millwall on September 12, 2004, a result which cemented Town’s place at the top of the Championship table.
Yet Joe Royle’s men were going nowhere until the arrival of Counago, having been held to 0-0 by mid-table Millwall, despite the Londoners having an eye on their UEFA Cup tie against Ferencvaros in four days time.
For the first 80-odd minutes, Town looked anything but promotion material, let alone title contenders, only for Counago’s late entry to turn the tide.
Town had won their previous four games, but they huffed and puffed against the Lions, with player-manager Dennis Wise pulling the strings, and Darren Bent and Shefki Kuqi looking very laboured up top.
Royle then brought on Counago for an in effective Kuqi and within six minutes Town were ahead.
Counago met Jason De Vos’ long ball with a header into the danger area, where Bent, at the time a regular for England Under-21s, swept home in style past keeper Graham Stack. There were seven minutes left on the clock.
And Counago doubled the lead himself, in the last minute, diverting home Bent’s low cross to complete a terrific cameo role,
Remarkably, in the eyes of many Town supporters, Counago was on the transfer list and available on a free transfer, in contrast to fellow front-runner Bent, who had recently been the subject of a £3millon offer from Charlton.
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Spaniard striker Counago, though, was seen as a remnant of Town’s expensive days as a Premier League outfit. He had been recruited by previous boss George Burley three years earlier.
“We needed a bit of inspiration and Pablo gave us that. I just hope his season starts here,” explained Town boss Royle, who did not sound that convincing,
His late goal against Millwall was one of only three goals he scored for Town during the 2004-05 campaign, before his move to Malaga for two seasons from the summer of 2005.
Of course, Counago was destined to return to his beloved Portman Road. Having scored 31 goals in 100 league games first time around, he re-signed for Town in 2007 and remained for the next four years.
Town’s bright start, with just one defeat (3-2 at Derby) in seven fixtures, did not end up securing promotion back to the Premier League.
Back in 2004-05, Town finished in third spot, two points behind tomorrow’s visitors Wigan Athletic, who became the first club to debut in the top flight since Barnsley’s promotion of 1996-97.
The Latics had only been elected to the Football League 27 years before their promotion to the Premier League, having spent most of their time in the nether regions of the fourth tier.
Town ended up losing to West Ham, once again, in the play-off semi-finals, drawing 2-2 at Upton Park before losing the second leg 2-0 at Portman Road in front of a crowd of a 30,000-plus crowd.
As for Darren Bent, after the Millwall match he enthused: “When a Premiership club thinks you’re worth an offer, you can’t help feeling positive.”
To confirm this, Bent went on to top-score with 20 league goals that campaign.
TOWN squad (v Millwall, September 12, 2004): Davis, Diallo, De Vos, Naylor, Wilnis, Horlock, Magilton, Miller, Westlake, Bent, Kuqi (sub Counago, 67). Unused subs: Price, Dining, Richards, Bowditch.