Barnsley 2 Ipswich Town 4
AT LAST. After three consecutive Division One play-off failures Ipswich Town made it fourth time lucky at Wembley to earn a place in the Premiership worth an estimated £10 million.
Just about everyone outside Barnsley will be delighted that the friendliest of clubs have returned to the top division after an absence of five years.
As they did in their nail-biting 5-3 play-off semi-final win over Bolton at Portman Road, Ipswich made their fans suffer yesterday before half of Wembley celebrated a fully deserved victory.
In fairness to the Barnsley supporters, they gave their defeated team the sort of standing ovation normally reserved for winners.
And what a wonderful last competitive club match for Wembley to stage before refurbishment, full of all the good things in football and with little evidence of the less appealing side.
Six goals (one an own-goal), two penalties (one saved) and a gilt-edged chance for Georgi Hristov to make it 3-3, only for Richard Wright to save his header. And much, much more.
There was attacking football in abundance from both sides, continuing the goal-laden tradition of the First Division play-off final at Wembley.
The game was the shot in the arm English football needed after the events of Istanbul and Copenhagen.
Ipswich will claim the 1999-2000 season saved its best for last. While one had to sympathise with Barnsley after a first visit to Wembley in their 113-year history, the sight of Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks shaking hands with jubilant supporters and Dickie Bird holding aloft a red and white scarf at the end summed up a memorable and friendly finale.
The start was unforgettable, too, especially for Ipswich goalkeeper Wright, who was responsible for the most inadvertent of own goals after six minutes.
Craig Hignett's fierce shot struck the crossbar and rebounded against Wright's shoulder, and the goalkeeper could do nothing as the ball crossed the line. Hignett will try to claim the goal, but the bookmakers paid out to anyone brave enough to have bet on Tony Mowbray scoring the first goal, as they do not count own-goals.
The Ipswich player-coach, who has appeared in 39 games after 'retiring' last summer - saying he would play "only in an emergency" - equalised with a textbook header in the 28th minute.
Barnsley failed to clear a corner, and when Jim Magilton centered Mowbray rose to head home at the far post for his second goal of the season.
Just before half time Hignett pushed the ball past Wright, who caught the Barnsley midfielder as he dived. Hignett played for the penalty and won it - referee Terry Heilbron was technically correct in awarding the spot-kick - but Ipswich will feel justice was done. Wright dived to his right to save Darren Barnard's effort and Ipswich went into the break on level terms.
Seven minutes after the restart they took the lead when Richard Naylor controlled Marcus Stewart's knock-down and, as Kevin Miller advanced, the Ipswich substitute kept his nerve to score.
Naylor took off his shirt and ran behind the goal to celebrate. When calm was restored the player was booked for unsporting conduct.
Ipswich were now controlling the game and in the 59th minute Stewart made it 3-1 when he headed Jamie Clapham's cross from the left wide of Miller. At least Stewart made a personal contribution to the increased fee Ipswich must pay his former club, Huddersfield. The striker left the Yorkshire side in February in a £2.75 million transfer, with the rider that Ipswich would pay a further £250,000 if they were promoted.
Barnsley looked a beaten side, second to the ball and invariably on the back foot. But in the 77th minute they had a break when Mowbray's flailing arm caught Geoff Thomas who lost balance and fell over: penalty.
Ipswich, who were awarded three penalties against Bolton, had conceded their second at Wembley and this time Hignett made no mistake from the spot.
Barnsley, their tails up, pressed for the equaliser, which should have come in the 83rd minute when Thomas's cross from the left reached Hristov.
The Macedonian's header was blocked by Wright but Hristov should have scored.
In stoppage time, with Barnsley committed to attack, Ipswich broke and Martijn Reuser ran 40 yards before crashing the ball past Miller. The Premiership was within touching distance and reality came a couple of minutes later.
"The players were superb," Mowbray said. "After what we've been through the past few years this makes it all worthwhile."
Barnsley manager Dave Bassett conceded: "They were better than us over the 90 minutes, they had a bit more conviction. We let Ipswich come back at us and obviously missing a penalty just before half-time was crucial."