Match report: Ipswich Town 0 Aston Villa 0 – Town come so close to victory in dramatic finish to scrappy match

Villa's Aly Cissokho heads a Cole Skuse chip off the line late on in the Ipswich Town v Aston Villa

Villa's Aly Cissokho heads a Cole Skuse chip off the line late on in the Ipswich Town v Aston Villa (Championship) match at Portman Road, Ipswich, on 17 September 2016. Picture: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town came mighty close to snatching victory against newly-relegated Aston Villa in a frantic finish, but a nil-nil scoreline was a fair reflection of a scrappy match short on goalscoring chances at either end.

The two teams produced just one shot on target between them inside 90 minutes, Freddie Sears’ tame long-ranger, before a forgettable affair burst into life during eight minutes of stoppage-time.

Sears twice came close with 25-yard free-kick attempts, Leon Best and Cole Skuse both had efforts cleared off the line following corners, while Sears also struck the base of a post with a side-footed effort.

Just like in the 1-0 midweek win at Derby, Town battled, blocked and defended superbly but rarely looked a threat in the final third. Villa – who still have only one win to their name following relegation from the Premier League – were equally powderpuff in attack.

Blues boss Mick McCarthy made two changes to his starting line-up following Tuesday night’s battling 1-0 win at Derby. Sears, fit-again after a groin strain kept him out in midweek, and Tom Lawrence, who impressed off the bench on his debut, replaced Conor Grant and Kevin Bru.

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Villa manager Roberto di Matteo made four alterations to his team following their 1-1 home draw with Brentford on Wednesday – three of them enforced. Ross McCormack, Rudy Gestede and Ritchie de Laet all missed out through injury, while Aly Cissokho dropped to the bench, They were replaced by Nathan Baker, Leandro Bacuna, Jordan Amavi and the fit-again Jack Grealish.

Villa created the game’s first opening when, with just over a minute on the clock, advanced wing-back Jordan Amavi dragged a shot across the face of goal and just beyond team-mate Jonathan Kodjia.

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If the visitors thought they were going to be given an easy ride though then very quickly they found otherwise. Jonathan Douglas produced a brave clearing near-post header when the boots were flying at a corner, then Adam Webster threw himself in the way of a Grealish shot.

That solid, organised, hard-working base gave Town a platform to build on, with Lawrence – making his full Town debut in a No.10 role just behind Brett Pitman – catching the eye with his movement and sumptuous set-piece deliveries.

One wicked in-swinging corner kick beat keeper Pierluigi Gollini only to be hacked off the line by a defender, while a deep free-kick delivered at pace led to a strong Blues penalty appeal. Sears was heading away from goal with the ball when Amavi clipped his heels, but referee Tony Harrington was unmoved. Town could once again feel hard done by regarding an officiating decision.

Rather than feel sorry for themselves, Town stepped things up a gear. Sears showed quick feet before lashing a long-range effort straight at Gollini, then Nathan Baker was forced into a last-ditch block on Lawrence in the area following Pitman’s fine headed flick-on. Moments later, Lawrence sent an ambitious 30-yard half-volley not far over the bar.

When the Blues did have to defend they did it superbly. Cole Skuse produced a crowd-pleasing crunching tackle on Grealish in the middle, Luke Chambers out-muscled Kodjia at the back and Christophe Berra showed more desire than Jordan Ayew to reach a loose ball first.

Grant Ward’s willingness to race back and stop a cross, followed by another fine piece of covering by Douglas, typified Ipswich’s energy off the ball.

Ipswich then finished the half on top, in an attacking sense, by producing a couple of half-chances.

First, after decent build-up, Sears’ difficult angled drive slammed into the near-post side-netting. Then, Chambers’ excellent tackle and diagonal cross preceded Pitman winning a 50/50 duel with defender Tommy Elphick and forcing a corner. Lawrence’s whipped delivery was clawed out from under the bar by Gollini.

A scrappy start to the second half set the tone as the game increasingly became a battle, Lawrence left clutching his ribs after being clattered by Ashley Westwood.

The Leicester loanee dusted himself down and produced another dangerous deep free-kick delivery which, after flicking off a Villa defender’s head, hit the on-rushing Douglas in the face and diverted just wide.

It required an immense saving tackle from Webster to deny Villa breaking the deadlock in the 57th minute. After Chambers’ attempted back-pass fell well short, Ayew skipped past Bialkowski before Webster came from nowhere to make the block.

Lawrence – on a booking and possibly running out of gas – was replaced by Teddy Bishop a minute later to heart applause following his encouraging full debut. Within seconds, Bishop clashed heads with Westwood and the pair needed lengthy treatment.

Bishop, still feeling the effects of that challenge, was withdrawn in the 88th minute as McCarthy sent on strikers Luke Varney and Leon Best.

The front duo had an immediate impact as debutant Best won a free-kick on the edge of the box. Sears’ curling effort clipped the edge of the wall and went inches wide. Best met Sears’ resultant corner with a firm header that Kodjia headed out from under the bar. He was congratulated by his team-mates like a goalscorer.

Moments later, Varney’s bustling play won another free-kick, again 25-yards from goal. Sears struck his effort well, with keeper Gollini turning it around the post. The subsequent corner was not cleared, Best laid the ball off and Skuse’s chip back into the area looked like it might drop in before sub Aly Cissokho headed out from under the bar.

And there was still time for Sears – now without a goal in 34 matches – to drift inside from the left and caress a side-footed shot between two defenders and off the base of the far post.

IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-1-1): Bialkowski; Chambers (cpt), Webster, Berra, Knudsen; Ward, Skuse, Douglas, Sears; Lawrence (Bishop 58, Varney 88); Pitman (Best 88).

Unused subs: Gerken, Kenlock, Bru, Grant.

Booked: Lawrence (52)

ASTON VILLA (3-5-2): Gollini; Chester, Elphick (cpt), Baker (Richards 28); Bacuna (Adomah 82), Westwood, Jedinak, Grealish, Amavi (Cissokho 67); Ayew, Kodjia.

Unused subs: Bunn, Hutton, Gardner, Kozak.

Booked: Kodjia (74)

Attendance: 19,249 (1,882 away)

Referee: Tony Harrington

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