Full report: Burnley 0 Ipswich Town 0
Ipswich Town returned from fellow promotion-chasers Burnley with a hard-fought point, on a rain-sodden afternoon in Lancashire on Saturday.
Chances were at a premium as the two sides cancelled each other out, but this was far from the stereotypical bore draw, in a frenetic encounter that just lacked a touch of quality in the final third.
Luke Hyam, Ryan Fraser and Freddie Sears had Town’s best chances of the game, while Andre Gray spurned a golden opportunity for Burnley, before being denied by Dean Gerken at the start of the second half.
The draw leaves Town in sixth and final play-off spot and Burnley a point and a place above them in fifth. However, Hull, in third, stretched their advantage over Town to six points with a win at QPR on New Year’s Day, while leaders Middlesbrough are now 11 points clear of the Blues, after their 2-0 home win against second-top Derby on Saturday.
Immediately below Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham reduced the gap between themselves and Town to two points, thanks to victories against Fulham and Brentford respectively.
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The Blues made the long trip to Turf Moor a point and a place behind Burnley and left Lancashire in the same position.
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These evenly-matched sides have won 11 games this season, scoring 34 goals, although the Blues had conceded seven more goals prior to this contest.
The pre-match billing promised goals – Burnley remain the division’s top goalscorers on home soil, while Town are now only behind Brentford when it comes to being the league’s most prolific team on their travels.
The reality was that these two teams could not be separated as they refused to throw the towel in during a bruising encounter.
Town won the corresponding encounter between the sides, 2-0 at Portman Road, in August, but that came on a night where the Blues where, in Mick McCarthy’s words ‘right at it’ and Burnley, still getting used to their new surroundings after relegation, weren’t.
The Clarets are a far more settled outfit to the side Town faced then, but despite their point advantage over the Blues, there is nothing between the teams.
Both sides boast strong back fours that are difficult to breach, while the respective midfields are industrious, with no shortage of guile. Town’s engine room provided the Blues’ only change from the win at Brighton, with Luke Hyam – making his first Town start since last January – replacing the injured Jonathan Douglas.
In attack, both sides boast a burly, physically-imposing frontman and a lively runner alongside or just off them.
In Burnley’s case, the latter role falls to £9m man Andre Gray, with 13 Clarets goals to his name this season, who looked lively alongside the strapping Sam Vokes.
For Town, Mauritian international Kevin Bru, another superb free transfer found by McCarthy, played just off Daryl Murphy and looked just as lively, albeit offering slightly different attributes to the direct-running Gray.
Gray and Bru’s signings may highlight a disparity over what the two sides can spend, but the financial imbalance was nowhere to be seen at the weekend.
This term, both have struggled against current top-six sides, although the Blues, who won 1-0 at fourth-top Brighton on Tuesday, will be the more satisfied of the two teams after this encounter.
Now the challenge is to catch the teams right at the summit and while that may be prove a bridge too far, this duo will fight tooth and nail to the end to achieve that.
On the subject of teeth, Christophe Berra, who lost one of his in the recent win at Charlton and seems to be constantly in the wars these days, was part of the game’s first bit of action – the bandaged Scot landing heavily on his side after a robust aerial challenge from Vokes.
Berra barely moved for the next three minutes, and looked in some discomfort from the monitors that screened the game in the press box.
However, it was going to take more than a knock to the side to floor this warrior and he was soon back on his feet, putting his head in where it hurts at a set-piece.
Ipswich forced a corner and after a bout of pinball inside the Burnley box, Tommy Smith’s close-range header was comfortably collected by goalkeeper Tom Heaton after Bru had lifted the ball into the danger area.
Vokes continued to cause problems with his aerial presence at the other end but it was with his feet that he caused the Blues’ first bout of consternation, the Welsh international firing just wide of the near post after picking up a smart ball from Michael Kightly.
Both teams were prepared to throw men forwards with Kightly and Scott Arfield posing a threat on the wings for the hosts and Ryan Fraser and Freddie Sears providing nonstop trickery and running for the visitors. And it was Fraser who had Town’s best chance of the first-half, the Bournemouth loanee receiving the ball in centre field from Sears before unleashing a powerful left foot strike from 30 yards that missed Heaton’s right-hand post by inches.
Then came Burnley’s best opportunity. Kightly did well down the left and cut inside before squaring to Gray who was unmarked on the edge of the 18-yard box.
With Dean Gerken rooted to the spot it seemed the former Brentford man would pick his spot in the space to the goalkeeper’s left, but he horribly dragged his right-foot effort across goal, much to the relief of the travelling Ipswich fans.
Gray rued that chance but moments later was left furious on two occasions as he was seemingly man-handled by Berra and Smith.
The latter’s challenge, had it been given, would have seen Smith as Town’s last man and the ramifications could have been awful, but on both occasions, referee Peter Bankes turned a blind eye, incurring the wrath of the home faithful.
He became even more unpopular just before the break when, moments after Sears had been denied by Heaton at the near post, he ruled out a goal for the Clarets.
A corner from the right saw Ben Mee get ahead of his marker and after seeing his first header saved by Gerken, nodded home the rebound from three yards out.
However, the referee saw an infringement, most likely to have been on Gerken, and Ipswich’s goal stayed intact. Bankes left the field to a chorus of boos, but Burnley’s ire almost dissipated moments into the second half when Gray found half a yard on the right of the six-yard box, but saw his shot from a tight angle, saved by the feet of Gerken.
Both teams searched for a winner, and Hyam went closest for Town, only to see his back post goalbound effort, from a Bru corner, be blocked by Stephen Ward.
At the other end, Kightly blasted a shot across goal, before substitute Rouwen Hennings lashed at a ball in the area with the last kick of the game, but saw his effort drift wide.