Ipswich Town 0-1 Cambridge United: Play-off hopes surely suffer terminal blow

Cambridge United players celebrate Joe Ironsides goal to break the deadlock.

Cambridge United players celebrate after Joe Ironside had forced Dominic Thompson into an own goal to break the deadlock. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town’s play-off hopes suffered what is surely a terminal blow as they were beaten 1-0 by Cambridge United this afternoon. 

The Blues’ 11-game unbeaten run ended thanks to a Dominic Thompson own goal, mid-way through the second half, on an afternoon where Kieran McKenna’s men dropped below the high standards they have set themselves in recent months. 

There were long spells of frustration as Ipswich struggled to break down a well-organised Cambridge team who maintained a threat throughout and punished their hosts when it mattered. 

Defeat represents a huge opportunity missed for a Town team whose play-off ambitions were already hanging in the balance, despite their excellent recent run of form under their new boss.  

Flashpoint as Sam Smith and James Norwood square up, with Dominic Thompson also involved.

Flashpoint as Sam Smith and James Norwood square up, with Dominic Thompson also involved. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Results elsewhere mean victory would have cut the gap to sixth to just three points but, following McKenna’s first home defeat in charge, it's now six while others still hold games in hand. 

Town have five matches remaining, starting at Shrewsbury next weekend, but will now need to be perfect to have any chance of crashing the party. 

In another game Town needed to win, McKenna made two changes to his side as Conor Chaplin and Tom Carroll came into the starting XI in place of Sone Aluko and Tyreeq Bakinson. 

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Town were on the front foot early, with James Norwood, Wes Burns and Conor Chaplin all combining early to give Bersant Celina the chance to shoot down the throat of Cambridge keeper Dimitar Mitov.  

The Blues worked the ball well in the final third but, despite their efforts, couldn’t work meaningful openings before the visitors put the ball in the net as Joe Ironside met Sam Smith’s cross to head past Christian Walton. Thankfully, though the offside flag went up to rescue the Blues. 

James Norwood in action against Cambridge.

James Norwood in action against Cambridge. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

The Cambridge pressure kept coming, with Cameron Burgess’ foul on George Williams on the edge of the box leading to a driven shot from Adam May which Luke Woolfenden needed to block away for a corner. That set-piece needed Walton to save superbly to keep Williams’ stooping header out as the full-back met May’s delivery. 

Town were persisting despite some frustrating moments, with clever touches and neat lay-offs not always opening up the opportunities they perhaps deserved, before Celina threatened the visitors’ goal with a rare header which was ultimately easy for Mitov.  

Sam Morsy was the next to shoot, with the Cambridge keeper getting down to his left to save, as a frustrating half continued for McKenna’s men.  

The scores were level at the break, with Walton called into action again after it as Lloyd Jones stayed forward following a set piece and forced the Ipswich keeper to push his header away to his right.  

Town’s first opening saw Thompson work the ball into the box for Chaplin, with the attacker dragging a shot across the box which Norwood was so close to getting his studs on before it flew wide for a goal kick.  

Ipswich Town keeper Christian Walton tips over a dangerous ball.

Ipswich Town keeper Christian Walton tips over a dangerous ball. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Burns fired wide from 30 yards, as a Town corner broke down, before the Blues fell behind. 

The opener came after Woolfenden had given away a free-kick to the left, with the delivery flicked on to the back post where Ironside’s pressure on Thompson resulted in the Town man turning into his own net. 

McKenna turned to his bench to introduce Macauley Bonne and Sone Aluko in place of Chaplin and Carroll, with Norwood having a good effort saved by Mitov soon after before Matt Penney replaced Thompson. 

Town huffed and puffed their way through what remained of the contest without being able to test Mitov further than Morsy’s driven shot from outside the box, which the keeper spilled, before stoppage times approached.

The Blues had the ball in the net in the final moments, during a six-yard-box scrap following a corner, but the assistant referee's flag went up and the goal didn't stand despite Town protests. That was as much as Town could manage, with late penalty appeals also waved away as Morsy claimed his cross was handled, before the officials were booed off at the final whistle.

Was this the day the dream died? Quite possibly, yes. 

Ipswich Town: Walton; Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess; Burns, Morsy, Carroll (Aluko, 64), Thompson (Penney, 74), Celina, Chaplin (Bonne, 64); Norwood

Subs: Hladky, El Mizouni, Bakinson, Pigott

Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Jones, Dunk; Digby, May, Smith, Knibbs, Brophy, Ironside

Subs: Mannion, Iredale, Hoolahan, Tolaj, Lankester, Sherring, Worman

Att: 26,515 (2,009 Cambridge fans)