Ipswich Town beat Southampton 3-2 at Portman Road to return to the top of the Championship table. Stuart Watson reflects on the action.

East Anglian Daily Times: Leif Davis fires Ipswich Town ahead against Southampton with a stunning angled strike.Leif Davis fires Ipswich Town ahead against Southampton with a stunning angled strike. (Image: Stephen Waller)

RUNNING TOWARDS ADVERSITY

On Easter Sunday, Ipswich boxer Fabio Wardley - wearing the club's colours/badge - was involved in a 12-round war with Frazer Clarke at the O2 Arena. A one stage, face covered in blood after receiving a deep cut on the nose, he looked beaten. Ultimately, however, he fought to the bitter end to secure a split decision draw and retain his Commonwealth and British belts.

Less than 24 hours later, Ipswich Town's players replicated that resilience and never-say-die spirit in keeping with the club's 'running towards adversity' mantra.

Just three days on from a gruelling, backs to the wall for the final half hour, 1-0 win in Blackburn and subsequent 250-mile journey home, the Blues were up a side that can keep the ball for fun and who possess remarkable strength in depth. Not ideal.

Leif Davis, whose game is based around non-stop running, had struggled badly with illness at Ewood Park. Influential skipper Sam Morsy is in the latter stages of Ramadan (fasting from dawn until sunset). Both were asked to go again. Not ideal.

Town led 1-0, but soon found themselves 2-1 down. Main goal getter Kieffer Moore then went off off with a back problem in the 36th minute. He was replaced by Ali Al-Hamadi who, it shouldn't be forgotten, was playing in League Two at the start of this calendar year. Not ideal.

For spells either side of the break it looked the slick Saints would have too much. At times, Town were chasing shadows. This looked like a bridge too far. 

This special group - so strong in body and spirit - simply doesn't know when it's beaten though.

More than a third of Town's points - 31 out of 87 - have now been gained from losing positions this season (W8 D7).

East Anglian Daily Times: Jeremy Sarmiento celebrates his 90 7 winner against Southampton.Jeremy Sarmiento celebrates his 90 7 winner against Southampton. (Image: Steve Waller)

MCKENNA TIME

Kieran McKenna grew up watching Manchester United repeatedly win at the death in what became dubbed 'Fergie time'.

By making his players ultra-fit, meticulously planning for all game scenarios and having subs feeling fully motivated to be 'finishers', he's replicated that culture at Portman Road.

Jeremy Sarmiento's winner in this game came in the seventh and final minute of stoppage-time. 

Almost a third of Ipswich's goals this season - 31 out of 96 - have come in the 75th minute or beyond. Seventeen of those goals have secured either a draw or a win.

Town's late goals are as follows:

75-80: Bristol R (H) - Aluko 76; QPR (A) - Chaplin 75**; Cardiff (H) - Ladapo 78**; Blackburn (H) - Luongo 79**; Preston (H) - Jackson 78; Fulham (H) - Baggott 79; Birmingham (A) - Harness 79; Sunderland (H) - Chaplin 75**; Preston (A) - Moore 75; Cardiff (A) - Moore 79.

80-85: Stoke (H) - Jackson 81; Watford (A) - Morsy 80**, Birmingham (H) - Sarmiento 81**, Bristol C (H) - Chaplin 80*, Sheff W (H) - Al-Hamadi 80.

85-89: Huddersfield (A) - Williams 87*; Plymouth (H) - Harness 86**; Birmingham (A) - Harness 89**; Rotherham (A) - Taylor 87*; Leicester (A) - Sarmiento 89*; Preston (A) - Moore 87; Bristol C (H) - Davis 89**.

90+: AFC Wimbledon (A) - Taylor 90; Leeds (H) - Chaplin 90+7; Leicester (H) - Morsy 90+3*; West Brom (H) - Hutchinson 90+3*; Millwall (A) - Al-Hamadi 90+3; Rotherham (H) - Hutchinson 90+5**; Birmingham (H) - Hutchinson 90+2; Sheff W (H) - Al-Hamadi 90; Southampton (H) - Sarmiento 90+7**

*Equaliser **Winner

East Anglian Daily Times: Leif Davis is sent tumbling by James Bree, with the latter being dismissed for Southampton.Leif Davis is sent tumbling by James Bree, with the latter being dismissed for Southampton. (Image: Steve Waller)

THE ATMOSPHERE

Given all the circumstances outlined above, Town's players needed the crowd to lift them more than ever. Boy did the fans respond.

When the chips were down in the latter stages of the first half, there was a unified chant of 'come on Ipswich'. A roar of encouragement then greeted the team as they emerged for the start of the second period.

When Al-Hamadi struck the post in the 66th minute the volume went up a notch. The players, given an injection of energy off the bench and from the stands, fed off that. Two minutes later, Nathan Broadhead equalised and the place was absolutely rocking.  

James Bree was dismissed for the visitors with five minutes to go. It was 11-v-10 now, but it felt more like 12-v-10 such was the feverish atmosphere. The natives had seen this script play out before and they knew it could happen again. After a while, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Those in the North Stand virtually sucked the ball in at the death. It was like a 29,393 strong crowd manifested the grandstand finish through collective will. An explosion of noise greeted the winner. I'm still getting goosebumps thinking about it now.

This is my 13th season covering Town and that's the most raucous I've known Portman Road, including East Anglian derbies. This team really has captured hearts and minds.

East Anglian Daily Times: Kieran McKenna gives instructions to substitute Nathan Broadhead.Kieran McKenna gives instructions to substitute Nathan Broadhead. (Image: Steve Waller)

SUPER SUBS

The tide turned in this game when McKenna made a triple change in the 64th minute.

Harry Clarke, Jack Taylor and Nathan Broadhead replaced Axel Tuanzebe, Massimo Luongo and Jackson to provide much needed freshness across the pitch. Taylor's midfield energy, in particular, was game changing.

Broadhead and Sarmiento (who replaced Conor Chaplin late on) both finding the net takes the number of goals scored by Town subs this season to a staggering 25.

Three of the Blues' January signings - Moore (6), Sarmiento (4) and Al-Hamadi (4) - have bagged 14 goals between them.

“It’s not about some magic information 10 seconds before they come on, it’s about how we work day-to-day," said McKenna.

"It’s about a squad fully engaged in training, fully engaged in preparation, knowing their roles and working on their relationships so they can have an impact."

East Anglian Daily Times: Nathan Broadhead celebrates after getting Ipswich Town back to 2-2 against Southampton.Nathan Broadhead celebrates after getting Ipswich Town back to 2-2 against Southampton. (Image: Steve Waller)

THE ENTERTAINERS

The 21,000 season ticket holders at Portman Road really do have the best value for money football watching experience in the land right now. 

Town have repeatedly come out the right side of high-scoring thrillers on Suffolk soil, often coming from behind and leaving it late to do so. 

This was the sixth time this season the Blues have won 3-2 at home. Other Portman Road thrillers have included 4-3 (x2), 3-4 (x1), 4-2 (x1), 3-1 (x2), 3-0 (x1), 2-1 (x2) and 2-2 (x2).

It's not good for the heart, but it's certainly preferable to the years of binary boredom we got when the club suffered a death by a thousand cuts and supporters drifted away to find better things to do with their valuable time and hard-earned cash. Ironically, Mick McCarthy watched this game from the directors' box. Be careful what you wish for, hey?

Little more than six years ago, there were attendances in the 13,000s. Anecdotally, kids were begging their parents not take them anymore. Now, Ipswich is the hottest ticket around.

East Anglian Daily Times: Kieffer Moore leaves the field with a back injury.Kieffer Moore leaves the field with a back injury. (Image: Steve Waller)

THE NEGATIVES

Sam Morsy was booked in the first half. The Town captain is now two cautions away from hitting 15 for the season and receiving a three-game ban. That would carry into the play-offs. It's going to be a tricky tightrope for him to tread over six big games.

Kieffer Moore went off holding his back in the first half. We have to keep everything crossed that's not too serious, because losing him for Saturday's East Anglian derby or beyond would undoubtedly be a big blow.

East Anglian Daily Times: Harry Clarke delivers his customary post-win fist-pump in front of the North Stand.Harry Clarke delivers his customary post-win fist-pump in front of the North Stand. (Image: Steve Waller)

THE TABLE

Town are top of the Championship table with six games to go. A top-four finish is already guaranteed. Southampton are close to being shaken off now too. It's looking like a three-way fight for automatic promotion with Leeds and Leicester.

A tally of 87 points matches what George Burley's promoted side achieved in 1999/00. Just one more will surpass Southampton's record in 2011/12 for the highest tally posted by a newly-promoted Championship club.

Up next, the small matter of a trip to Carrow Road to face a Canaries side that have won their last seven on the spin at home. Time to end 14 years of hurt? Do that and it really will feel like this is meant to be.