Unlikely lad Jerel starts promotion party

by Jon Ritson Chief sports writer

ACTIONS speak louder than words and what a time for the quiet man to secure his place in Swindon Town's history.
   Jerel Ifil emerged as the unlikely goalscoring hero as Paul Sturrock's men secured an instant return to League One.
   The Beast has always been a man of few words but if you didn't know better, you'd almost think he'd been planning this day for the best part of 10 months.
   Aside from an FA Cup consolation at Crystal Palace, Ifil has singularly failed to trouble the scoreboard operator.
   That all changed in the 52nd minute of an occasion that will live long in the memory.
   Not a seat to be had in the place, the sun beating down and a wonderful sense of anticipation.
   It could have been an awful, nail-biting, tension-soaked afternoon yet the positive approach from both players and supporters never allowed that situation to materialise.
   There was a collective sense of determination among the Town faithful. 'We are going up' was far more than a chant, it was a statement of fact.
   And when Ifil met Sofiene Zaaboub's corner from the left, the promotion roar cranked up to ear-splitting ecstacy.
   There was a split second pause as the ball flashed past Clayton Ince.
   Hang on a minute, isn't that... yes, it is, it is, yessssssssssssssssssss!
   The Beast had finally done it and nothing was going to spoil the party after that.
   Dean Keates' stunning injury-time strike, his shot thundering past the otherwise impeccable Phil Smith, made little difference in the final analysis as both sets of players and supporters celebrated the title and promotion respectively.
   If only it could be like this every week.
   It was hairs on the back of the neck, lump in the throat stuff, and suddenly all the misery of last season's relegation was forgotten.
   But how typical of Ifil that he refused to get hysterical in his finest hour.
   He cut a calm figure amid the spraying champagne as he reflected on the most important goal of his career.
   He said: "It was my first league goal, last game of the season, I don't really know what to say.
   "The crowd were very good, we responded to the crowd and gave them the performance they deserved.
   "We let ourselves down last season, now we are back where we should be. Bring on League One.
   "We have all stuck to the task and everyone wanted to give their all, sometimes you have to go through that barrier.
   "It's great for the team that they have decided to do that.
   "They scored a wonder goal hats off to them.
   "But it was a comfortable performance and in the end we did the job. I'll remember the goal, promotion, it's probably the best part of my career.
   "This will stay in my mind for some time. I think I'm in the best form of my career.
   "I'm playing regularly and playing well, I've felt stronger this season and I think it's shown on the pitch.
   "We hadn't thought about League One but now we can, I think we have the squad for it."
   Almost 15,000 fans responded to the call for one last effort and so did a chap with a dodgy back.
   Barry Corr had been advised not to play by medical staff but ignored the advice to repay a debt.
   If this is how you play with two broken bones in your back then supporters could be in for a treat if they get to witness a fully fit Corr next season.
   He combined well with Blair Sturrock, the latter having also made an impressive contribution during the final stages of the campaign.
   Town needed to start brightly against a far from sparkling Walsall outfit and they did just that.
   Corr was a whisker away from getting his head to Jack Smith's deflected cross-shot and from the resulting corner Ifil climbed well to meet Christian Roberts' set piece but couldn't beat Ince.
   Jack Smith hobbled off on 19 with an achilles injury, to be replaced by loan man Ashley Westwood.
   It didn't cause too much disruption and Town continued to look the more likely scorers.
   Roberts' low drive was gathered by Ince while Sturrock's quick thinking saw his 25-yard lob drop just over the crossbar.
   Ifil and Phil Smith got in a muddle on the half hour with Trevor Benjamin almost pouncing amid the confusion while Kevin Harper rifled wide at the other end.
   Half time brought the news that Accrington were leading at MK Dons and Sturrock's men emerged with further attacking options.
   Peacock's header was deflected on to the right post on 48 but Ifil struck four minutes later to really get the party started.
   Walsall boss Money was ordered to the stands by referee Mike Jones just before the hour for something he said while Peacock met another Zaaboub corner, only for his header to flash over the crossbar.
   Anthony Gerrard was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card for halting Roberts' charge towards goal on 67 before Sturrock's strike was gathered at the base of the right post by Ince.
   Michael Dobson sent a 20-yard effort whistling just over the top on 84 but not for the first time this season, Town were indebted to Phil Smith for a crucial stop.
   Martin Butler's fierce strike looked destined for the right hand corner of the net until Smith pushed it away.
   Smith was powerless to prevent Keates levelling matters in the third minute of stoppage time but for once a last-gasp equaliser was not cause for mass depression.
   The final whistle saw cheers, tears and the hope that this is merely the start of happier times on the pitch.
  As for the Beast, has he already circled the first Saturday in May 2008 on his calendar? Don't bet against it.