Match report: Ipswich Town 2 Reading 1 – Pitman’s late winner makes it a sweet sixteen straight victories on Tuesday nights at Portman Road

Brett Pitman scores the winner for Town in the Ipswich Town v Reading (Championship) football match

Brett Pitman scores the winner for Town in the Ipswich Town v Reading (Championship) football match at Portman Road, Ipswich, on 02 February 2016. Picture: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Substitute Brett Pitman scored an 89th minute winner as Ipswich Town beat Reading 2-1 to make it 16 straight Tuesday night home victories at Portman Road.

Ryan Fraser showed neat footwork before firing the Blues ahead in the 57th minute, but Cole Skuse’s unnecessary lunge in the box gifted Garath McCleary the chance to level things up from the spot in the 69th minute.

Ipswich – just as they did against QPR and Leeds – showed huge character to score a late winner in front of their own fans for the third time in four league matches, Pitman converting fellow sub Luke Varney’s cross on the stretch.

Victory lifts Mick McCarthy’s men back into the play-off places due to the fact that Sheffield Wednesday drew 1-1 at home with Burnley. Reading have won just two league games in nine since Brian McDermott returned as manager.

Less than 24 hours after an underwhelming January transfer window had ‘slammed shut’ – McCarthy having made it clear he would not be splashing the cash like Town’s promotion rivals – there was an undoubtedly subdued atmosphere inside Portman Road. The crowd of 16,616 was the lowest league attendance of the season.

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Indeed, it was almost like this was a reserve game the punters had come to watch, not one that could potentially propel their team back into the play-off places.

Social media had been full of moans and groans about a so-called lack of ambition, such negativity no doubt fuelled by the recent wounds of the FA Cup defeat debacle.

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The flatness in the stands seemed to rub off on both teams and a cagey, uneventful first half of cautious cat and mouse football ensued.

Ipswich maybe just about shaded it given they forced six corners. Fraser’s set-piece deliveries were dangerous more often than not, but Reading’s defence stood firm on all occasions.

McCarthy had started with a 4-4-2 formation and restored Freddie Sears to his favoured role of striker, but that plan went out the window just before the half hour. Due to the fact that deep-lying playmaker Oliver Norwood had been pulling the strings, Sears and Ainsley Maitland-Niles switched and the latter was asked to man-mark the Royals’ skipper.

Reading finally produced the game’s first shot on target in the 32nd minute, Matej Vydra’s long-range attempt easily held by Bartosz Bialkowski. The visitors would not test the Pole again before the break.

Ipswich produced their first and only shot on target of the half just a minute before the interval when Fraser’s well-hit shot on the angle stung the palms of Ali Al Habsi.

McCarthy replaced Maitland-Niles with Kevin Bru at the break hoping that the Mauritian international would do a better job of shackling Norwood.

Another uninspiring 10 minutes followed before Ipswich massively rode their luck. Luke Hyam was hustled off the ball too easily by Yann Kermorgant and the latter’s low cross found strike partner Vydra on the edge of his six-yard box. The ex-Watford man mis-hit his shot though and Tommy Smith was able to make the block.

Two minutes later Town took the lead. Luke Chambers started the move with a superb curving pass up the line, then Sears raced to the by-line and pulled the back. Fraser took a calm touch with his right foot to leave two lunging defenders on the deck near the penalty spot, then he spun and squeezed a left-footed shot in off the inside of the right post.

The goal lifted the crowd and, soon afterwards, Sears’ long-range effort deflected narrowly past the right-hand upright.

Smith headed a Fraser corner – Town’s 10th of the game – on target in the 65th minute and, although Al Habsi was equal to it, Ipswich looked like they were beginning to build some momentum.

Then came a mad two minute spell in which both teams had golden counter-attacking opportunities before the Royals broke the deadlock.

First, there was a huge let-off for Town after Jonas Knudsen missed a header on the halfway line. Suddenly Reading had several men racing clear on goal, but indecisive substitute McCleary was unable to pick out an unmarked Vyrda in the six-yard box.

Ipswich countered at pace themselves and this time it was Bru who was guilty of not being able to make the most of extra numbers in attack.

Before anyone could catch their breath, Reading were gifted a penalty. Hal Robson-Kanu was going nowhere when he knocked the ball out of his feet in the box towards the corner flag, but Skuse dived in unnecessarily and tripped the winger.

McCleary smashed the spot-kick straight down the middle of the goal and Ipswich, having taken all night to win over the crowd, had it all to do again.

The hosts responded well, showed typical character got on the front foot again. McCarthy was positive too, replacing midfielder Hyam with striker Pitman.

Knudsen’s low shot was well-held by Al Habsi, then Town’s 11th corner of the game caused havoc before the offside flag was finally raised.

The breakthrough arrived in the 89th minute. Fraser provided a wonderful raking pass from deep inside his own half and Luke Varney – just on as a late substitute – provided a surprising turn of pace before delivering a low cut-back from the by-line. Pitman, as so often, was in the right place at the right time and, on the stretch, he poked the ball in off the inside of the near post.

It was his ninth goal of the season and only 18 of his 31 appearances have come from the start.

IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2): Bialkowski; Chambers (cpt), Smith, Berra, Knudsen; Maitland-Niles (Bru 46), Skuse, Hyam (Pitman 82), Fraser; Sears, Murphy (Varney 86).

Unused subs: Henly, Digby, Foley, Coke.

Booked: Berra (64)

READING (4-4-2): Al-Habsi; Gunter, Ferdinand, Cooper, Obita; Robson-Kanu, Norwood (cpt), Williams, Quinn (McCleary 60); Kermorgant, Vydra.

Unused subs: Bond, Taylor, McShane, Hector, Piazon, John.

Booked: Obita (19), Norwood (45)

Attendance: 16,616 (205 away)

Referee: Tim Robinson

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