When (Sir) Bobby Robson brought his Ipswich Town side to Highfield Road in the winter of 1979 little did he know what lay in store. His defence comprised George Burley, Terry Butcher, Russell Osman and Mick Mills while John Wark reigned supreme in midfield. Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen complemented the free-scoring Scot with Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil and Eric Gates leading from the front. Over 42 games they would concede just 39 goals, establishing themselves as challengers to Liverpool and Manchester United. Mick Ferguson and Ian Wallace led City’s attack with Tommy Hutchison and Steve Hunt on the flanks.
Ferguson, the bearded Geordie number nine, had smashed three hat-tricks in one season back in ‘77/78. By 4.45pm he needed trophy cabinet reinforcements as he claimed the first four goal haul for 20 years in a Coventry shirt. Gordon Milne's men won 4-1with Wark netting the Suffolk side's consolation from the penalty spot. In the return fixture the following April, Robson's men won 3-0 having not lost since their mauling at the hands of Ferguson, a valuable lesson learnt.
Hat-tricks can tend to come against the division's struggling sides as in the cases of Lee Hughes (Crewe) and Freddy Eastwood (Peterborough). Ferguson’s haul was comparable in future years with Terry Gibson, Dion Dublin and Mick Quinn as they scored against the country's elite defences on their particular day. ‘Gibbo’s’ treble in 1983 against Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen was beyond belief, even now when you view the footage that Liverpool side was simply outstanding. Dion Dublin triumphed in his battle against French World Cup winners Frank Lebouef and Marcel Desailly in 1998 while Mick Quinn led a merry dance to messrs Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Andy Linighan and Tony Adams at Highbury as chants of ‘Sumo’,’Sumo’ rang out from the jubilant away following.
As is the norm in modern times the hero is afforded a substitution to a standing ovation from most sides of the ground. Ferguson, however, played the whole game and walked off with his team-mates holding the ‘Minerva Supreme’ match ball as just over 16,000 stood to applaud. In that evening’s ‘Pink’, the legendary 6pm after-match newspaper, a picture of the scoreboard summed up the day as it beamed out ‘FERGUSON 4 IPSWICH 1'. This feat remains the last time a City player scored four times in a league fixture, just over 32 years ago. Freddy Eastwood's treble was just over three years ago, the club must be saving a fortune in match ball expenditure.
The visit of Ipswich has taken on even more importance with the late capitulation on the Golden Mile. Away points may prove to be so vital come April but the home games hold the key. Draws at the Ricoh are of little value, we need the maximum haul to counter the dearth of points on the road. We escaped the previous time we failed to win away all season mainly due to Robbie Keane and Gary McAllister entertaining us with flair and goals at Highfield Road. Gary McSheffrey was a fringe player in that squad, he's now a main player and his goals could make all the difference to our hopes of survival.