Walters keeps Town's top-six dream alive

Preston 2 Ipswich Town 2IPSWICH Town failed to win the game they had to win at Deepdale against Preston North End this afternoon.The Blues still have a mathematical chance of ending in the play-offs, and it will go right down to the last day - with Crystal Palace suffering a late defeat at Hull.

Preston 2 Ipswich Town 2

IPSWICH Town failed to win the game they had to win at Deepdale against Preston North End this afternoon.

The Blues still have a mathematical chance of ending in the play-offs, and it will go right down to the last day - with Crystal Palace suffering a late defeat at Hull. But the odds will be very much against them after this game when they took the lead and then came back to equalise three minutes from the end.

Town had the tonic of a 12th minute goal when Tommy Miller continued his tremendous scoring record against Preston with a low 25-yard shot. But Ipswich's inability to keep clean sheets came back to haunt them in the 35th minute when Chris Brown tried his luck from 20 yards and the ball deflected off Jason De Vos to leave Stephen Bywater flatfooted.

Bywater had earlier made a magnificent close-range save from a Neil Mellor rocket, while Brown headed over soon after his goal when it was easier to score.

Mellor put Preston in front in the 75th minute before Jon Walters levelled late on.

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Ipswich were in their traditional blue-and-white strip on a well-grassed playing surface and they came under some early pressure with a free-kick being headed just wide of Bywater's left-hand post.

Neat play by Bruce in the ninth minute got Town out of a potentially tricky situation with the best yet to be seen of the Blues although Walters won a corner after reaching the left by-line. This was cleared with difficulty by Brown at the near post, with the half-clearance reaching Garvan as Town hit straight back with a cross by Quinn.

This was cleared, but Ipswich were soon back on the attack and only a brilliant Lonergan save in the 11th minute denied the visitors a goal.

Haynes did brilliantly well to beat two men - leaving both for dead - down the right and his pinpoint cross picked out Quinn at the far post. The diving header was well placed and had plenty of power, but the home keeper dived smartly to his right to finger tip away for a corner.

Garvan's kick almost found De Vos lurking beyond the far post and the ball travelled out to MILLER standing 30 yards out and unmarked. Miller took a few paces forward and drove a low right-footed shot into the net to the right of the well-beaten Lonergan.It was Miller's fifth goal of the season and his second against Preston this season.

Walters crossed from the right as Ipswich continued to find space in midfield, and Hart got himself in such a mess that he could only head the ball over his own bar.

Sedgwick beat Quinn with some neat play and danger threatened, but the cross was over-hit and went for a goal kick. But when Preston built a considered attack in the 24th minute the ball was played to Chaplow 18 yards out and his low shot was struck well but straight at Bywater.

When Walters headed on Bywater's long kick, Counago was almost in on goal, but he failed to get a telling touch and a grateful Lonergan was able to run out and collect.

Much of the sting had now gone out of Ipswich's play and they were indebted to a marvellous save by Bywater to maintain their precious lead in the 32nd minute. A cross from the right created Town problems and when the ball fell to Mellor eight yards out and right in front of goal his piledriver looked certain to find the net. But somehow Bywater managed to put in a block and the ball and the rebound was deflected wide. Mellor shook his head in disbelief before shaking Bywater's hand.

With news that both Crystal Palace and Wolves were losing 1-0, Ipswich were in a promising position as they looked to secure a top-six finish. But this altered in the 35th minute when BROWN equalised. Bywater this time was left flat-footed when Brown tried his luck with a 22-yard right-foot shot took a deflection off Garvan and rolled rather apologetically into the corner of the goal.

Preston should have taken the lead in the 40th minute when Brown found himself unmarked right in front of goal after a cross from the right. Somehow - with all the goal to aim at - he sent his header a foot over the bar.

Garvan had yet to stamp his authority on to the game in midfield, and Ipswich were not looking as though were likely to find the net at this stage, although a one-two between Quinn and Counago in the 43rd minute saw the former bring a diving save out of Lonergan.

In the 48th minute Town came within a whisker of re-taking the lead when Counago struck the inside of Lonergan's left-hand post - with the ball rolling along the line before going out for a goal kick.

Counago had been set up by Garvan, with a lovely through ball and the Spaniard stretched to send his right-foot effort beyond the keeper.

Two minutes later Miller rose in the six-yard box to head the ball back to Quinn following a right-wing cross and the number 25 sent in a first-time right-foot drive that missed the foot of Lonergan's right-hand post by an inch or two. And they went close again in the 55th minute when Garvan and Walters teed up Quinn for an 18-yard left-foot shot that beat the keeper but flew a foot over the bar at the far post area.

When Brown went round De Vos two minutes later the cross spelled danger for the Blues until Bruce arrived to send a diving header at the near post safely for a corner.

A slick move through the middle in the 59th minute saw Counago run free and place the ball neatly into the net beyond the keeper. But the Spaniard had made his run a fraction early on to Walters' pass said Mr Unsworth the linesman who raised his flag.

Counago then rose beyond the far post, and again a goal looked likely, but Hart was on hand to head the ball ahead of Counago and for a corner.

Walters moved to the right side of midfield after 63 minutes when Lee came on to play up front alongside Counago. Haynes was the player to go off.

A minute later, Preston broke and Mellor got the better of Bruce to send in a 16-yard low right-footed shot that was saved by Bywater diving to his left. Wright was back to tidy and clear the rebound.

In the 68th minute Wright was left holding his head in his hands after Lee did some good spadework on the right side. The cross went right across the six-yard box with Wright getting a touch right in front of goal but unable to get enough on the ball to turn it into the net. It only needed a firm contact from three yards and it had to have been a goal.

The rampaging Kuqi came on for Counago after 69 minutes with Town mainly on the attack, but Preston a danger on the break. Lee went down just inside the area and could not believe he had not been given a penalty after a challenge from Trotman left him on the ground.

Chaplow broke into space in the 72nd minute but dragged his shot across goal and out for a throw-in. Ipswich were naturally pushing forward and this would lead to gaps at the back although losing the touch that Counago offers and the pace that Haynes has had not made Town's cause look any easier.

Whaley replaced L Neal after 77 minutes and in the 79th minute Preston took the lead to make it heartbreak time for Town.

De Vos was caught out of the middle following a low cross from the left by Chaplow. Two Preston players at the near post got in each other's way, but the ball fell to MELLOR six yards out and he blasted a left foot shot high into the net to give Bywater no chance.

Sumulikoski came on for Quinn almost immediately, and when Lee had the ball 22 yards out he tried his luck with a shot more in desperation than hope and the ball flew high over the bar.

Town had been caught out at the back when searching for goal, but with their earlier cohesion now gone they were not looking like pulling back a goal - let along two. But equalise they did in the 87th minute when the players' player of the season WALTERS went chasing forward on to Garvan's through ball. The number 19 showed composure to coolly slot home his 13th goal of the season low to the keeper's right.