Match report: Ipswich Town 2 Middlesbrough 2 – Entertaining end to the season

Freddie Sears wheels away after giving Town an early lead. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENW

Freddie Sears wheels away after giving Town an early lead. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town were denied a final day victory by a last-gasp Middlesbrough goal but were still applauded off following a thoroughly entertaining 2-2 draw at a sun-soaked Portman Road.

Freddie Sears jumps into the arms of kit man James Pullen as he celebrates giving the home side an e

Freddie Sears jumps into the arms of kit man James Pullen as he celebrates giving the home side an early advantage. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Freddie Sears’ fine finish gave the Blues an early lead (8) before Stewart Downing rifled through a crowded box (71). Martyn Waghorn’s converted penalty (83) put the hosts back in front, but Patrick Bamford’s header at a corner – which came after the five matches of added time were up – saw honours even.

Both keepers – Bartosz Bialkwoski and Darren Randolph – made a string of good saves in an open and engaging match that belied its end-of-season dead rubber status.

The Blues have finished 12th in the Championship table and above rivals Norwich City for the first time in eight years following the Canaries’ 5-1 thrashing at Sheffield Wednesday. Boro end up fifth and have a two-legged play-off semi-final against Aston Villa to come.

Jordan Spence – who passed a late fitness test on his knee – set the tone early on with a powerful burst up the right which drew a foul and appreciative applause from a bumper home crowd. Moments later, Waghorn fired wide after playing a sharp one-two with Cole Skuse to get into the box.

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Town were zipping the ball around with confidence and intent, with one such move leading to a corner which Waghorn curled directly against the post.

The breakthrough arrived in the eighth minute when Spence took a quick throw up the line and Sears shrugged off the attentions of Ben Gibson before cutting inside and producing a fine finish across keeper Randolph.

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Having gone more than a year without and 38 games without finding the net, the striker had suddenly netted two in the space of less than 10 minutes of action given his goal at Reading the previous weekend came in stoppage-time.

Middlesbrough did improve after being initially put on the back foot, but even with better possession they struggled to break down an organised home defence. Cameron Carter-Vickers produced a good block on Mo Besic’s shot, while Bialkowski provided a brave punch away in his six-yard box from Adama Traore’s dangerous delivery.

Town did ride their luck in the 34th minute. First, Adam Webster was inches away from turning Downing’s low cross into his own net. Then, from the resultant corner, Callum Connolly was forced to hack the ball off the line.

However, it was the Blues who finished an encouraging half strongly as Waghorn fired wide from long-range after a smart one-two with the energetic Skuse.

Boro were quicker out of the blocks after the restart and it required a tremendous lunging block from Connolly to deny the livewire Traore in the 49th minute. Then, following a little spell of away pressure, Downing’s deflected shot was held by Bialkowski.

Town wrestled back the momentum as the game approached the hour mark as twice keeper Randolph made breathtaking saves in the space of two minutes.

Initially, the Irish custodian did superbly to tip Waghorn’s close-range volley over the bar after the former had spun Gibson brilliantly deep before racing to get on the end of Sears’ deep cross. Skuse subsequently met Waghorn’s deep corner delivery with the sweetest of angled volleys and Randolph, once again, did superbly to tip the thunderous strike over the bar.

End-to-end action ensued. Boro saw a golden counter-attacking opportunity break down at the last moment and Town hit back with a counter-punch of their own as Waghorn sent Sears scampering away. The Town striker skipped inside Daniel Ayala only to be denied by a fine Gibson covering tackle.

Connolly produced yet another superb sliding block in his own box to deny Assombalonga in the 71st minute just as you sensed Town legs were starting to tire. The corner kick was only half-cleared and that allowed ex-England international Downing to rifle a crisp, low shot through a crowded area and into the bottom corner.

Boro almost scored a second moments later as Bialkowski kept out Assombalonga’s well-hit angled effort with a strong outstretched arm.

There was a standing ovation in the 78th minute to mark the moment Roger Osborne scored the FA Cup Final winner against Arsenal 40 years previously to the day.

Caretaker boss Bryan Klug promptly introduced fresh legs in Luke Hyam and Shane McLoughlin and it was the latter, making his league debut for the Blues, who won his side their first penalty of the season. The Irish youngster, playing on the left side of the attack, charged down Ayala and then nicked the ball ahead of the lunging Gibson just inside the box.

Waghorn coolly despatched the 83rd minute spot-kick for his 16th goal of an impressive debut campaign for the Blues.

Town then almost grabbed a third as Sears latched onto a Waghorn through pass and worked himself half a yard of room in the box before failing to get hold of a shot that Randolph dropped upon.

Then came the late Boro onslaught. It looked as though Ipswich would ride the storm after a fine Carter-Vickers block, a superb one-handed save from Bialkowski from Assombalonga’s well-struck shot and Mo Besic hitting the crossbar with a super curling effort from range (the flag was raised when Ayala netted the rebound).

However, just after the allotted five added minutes were up, substitute Bamford met Jack Harrison’s corner to head home.

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