Sheffield United had been much troubled against Ipswich throughout the course of the 1996-97 season having been beaten 3-1 twice in the league and that draw in the first leg of the Play-Offs, in fact United would march onto Wembley without beating there Division One rivals in any of the four matches played. Those who attended the first leg were lucky to witness an entertaining match, but those who travelled to Portman Road for the return leg was in for a treat.
Andy Walker was the hero of the hour – actually two to be in fact when his 77th minute goal cancelled out all previous to make the score 2-2 and force the game into extra-time with the Blades hanging on despite being reduced to ten men to book a place at Wembley for the first time in four years. He finished from close range on the far post after Jan Aage Fjortoft crossed. It could prove to be his last goal for the Blades with a summer move to Aberdeen looking likely on the cards.
On 110th minute United were put through their paces when midfielder Nick Henry was dismissed for retaliation. They had been given the perfect start when Belarus International Petr Katchouro blasted the ball against the underside of the cross bar with Wright helpless after just eight minutes when a long clearance pass from Carl Tiler found the Minsk man who held off a challenge from Tony Vaughan before being one-on-one with the keeper and fired home. Ipswich had undoubtedly been labelled favourites for this cup-tie and was level in dramatic fashion through James Scowcroft.
United were not keen on this fixture at all, in typical Blades style they had a terrible away record and hadn’t won away from home since Boxing Day – a 2-1 win at Bradford City whilst The Blues were unbeaten in seven matches. The Town faithful were baying for blood and they torn into the United back-line like a knife through butter; Niklas Gudmundsson sent his effort wide of goal, much to the relief of the Blades.
Alan Kelly was left limping after a clash with Gudmundsson but was able to continue after much needed treatment. Town finally broke the deadlock after half an hour and sent the home crowd into a frenzy, Paul Mason’s cross from the right was cleared but Argentine Mauricio Taricco picked the ball up and delicately chipped the ball into the box with Scowcroft headed home from six yards past Kelly.
On 72nd minute Portman Road erupted as Gudmundsson netted the goal which looked certain to cannon the Blues into a Wembley final with Crystal Palace who had already beaten Wolverhampton Wanderers over two legs. Stockwell crossed and the Icelandic slotted home from close range.
Just 30 seconds after the re-start the visitors looked to have levelled instantly, showing true Yorkshire grit to bounce back after losing a goal lead, Fjortoft had the ball in the net but was ruled out for a foul after he was judged to have pushed in the box.
Five minutes later Walker stole centre-stage and despite being pushed in the box and onto the post he was able to adjust himself and slot home the ball at the far post once Jan crossed. The game went into extra-time and United hung on to win this match on the away goals rule.