Rotherham United 1-0 Ipswich Town: Blues bullied throughout as they lose top spot at New York Stadium
Ipswich Town were bullied throughout as they went down 1-0 at the hands of Rotherham, losing top spot in the process.
Richard Wood's goal just before half-time was the difference but the scoreline in no way reflects just how dominant the hosts were during the course of the 90 minutes as they out-fought and out-thought the Blues, just as they did in their 2-0 victory at Portman Road in October.
Paul Lambert's men were second best throughout this contest, with the visitors only really coming alive in the final few minutes as Luke Garbutt forced a good save from Daniel Iversen and James Norwood somehow directed a shot from the byline towards goal but saw it come back off the post.
Had either effort crept into the net to force an equaliser it would have been a travesty, though, such was the hosts' domination for the vast majority of this game.
They hit the bar in either half, through Kyle Vassell and Hakeeb Adelakun, while their constant pressure and balls into the area forced the Blues into last-ditch stops time and again to repel the waves of attack.
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The result sees the Blues lose top spot to the Millers, heading into the weekend visit of fellow-promotion-chasers Peterborough.
Manager Lambert kept the same side for the third game in succession, with the hope of backing up impressive victories against Tranmere and Lincoln City.
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The ball spent the majority of the opening five minutes in the air as both sides tested their opponents with long balls both into the box and to the channels, with the two defences standing up well to the challenges put to them.
But, from a set play after Emyr Huws had brought down Matt Crooks, Rotherham opened their playbook and unleashed a beautifully orchestrated set-piece which so nearly gave the host the lead. It began with a neat Dan Barlaser pass which dissected the Town defence as Rotherham attackers cleverly blocked off Ipswich defenders, and ended with Vassell thumping his angled shot off the underside of the crossbar and kindly bouncing to safety.
Michael Smith, who scored the winner when Paul Hurst's Blues were beaten here in August 2018, headed the following corner straight at Will Norris in the Ipswich goal as the visitors survived the period of pressure, before Norris was called upon again to stop Adelukan's close-range effort from inside the box.
Crooks, Town's tormentor from the Portman Road meeting in October, then headed wide from a good cross into the box after rising above Luke Chambers during an opening 20 minutes in which the visitors were clearly second best.
Much of the Ipswich attack centred around angled balls for Kayden Jackson, looking to free the striker against a Millers' backline which has struggled to deal with pace of late, but their attempts to move the ball forward became more and more frantic with Lambert urging his troops to calm their play.
As the clock reached 25 minutes, all four sides of the New York Stadium stopped to applaud in memory of footballer Jordan Sinnott, a close friend of Rotherham striker Crooks who lost his life over the weekend following an attack in Retford, Nottinghamshire.
The game continued in the same manner, as the Blues struggled to get the ball down to play, before Rotherham took a deserved lead. Garbutt gave the ball away in the build-up, allowing Rotherham to scamper away and win a corner from which Smith connected and forced a decent save from Norris. The Ipswich keeper couldn't hold the effort, though, as Vassell appeared to get a toe on the ball before it popped up in the air for Wood to crash through traffic and head home from underneath the crossbar.
Downes headed wide from a dangerous Garbutt corner before the half-time whistle blew, with Ipswich needing to emerge from their dressing room following their 15-minutes of discussion with new ideas if they were to get anything from this contest.
The struggle remained at the start of the second period as the Blues found it hard to get the ball down and play, with the hosts again the most threatening as James Wilson was required to block well to stop Vassell's scissor-kick en route to goal.
Norris was needed again to keep Chiedozie Ogbene out, before James Norwood was introduced as the Blues looked to find a way back into a contest which was beginning to get away from them with long periods of home pressure.
Huws was then replaced by Nolan, after receiving treatment on the field, with Rotherham's air raid continuing and Norris forced to punch clear through traffic and then get across his goal well and beat Vassell to Michael Ihiekwe's header towards the bottom corner.
The Ipswich crossbar was left shaking after Adelakun's effort bounced clear following an exceptionally well-struck shot from 25 yards, with the visitors unable to create any kind of platform from which to play in response.
A rare promising moment saw Judge slip in Jackson, but the striker didn't catch hold of his shot at all as Iversen was left with an easy save at his near post, before Garbutt forced an excellent stop from the on-loan Leicester man as the keeper stopped his free-kick from creeping under the crossbar.
Norwood hit the post from a near-impossible angle but that was as good as it got for the visitors, who return home to Suffolk pointless and no longer is possession of the league's top spot.
Rotherham United: Iverson; Thompson, Ihiekwe, Wood, Mattock; Barlaser, Adelakun (Olosunde, 88); Ogbene, Vassell (Ladapo, 75), Crooks (Wiles, 72), Smith
Subs: Bilboe, MacDonald, Lindsay, Lamy
Ipswich Town: Norris; Chambers, Wilson, Woolfenden; Edwards, Garbutt; Downes, Huws (Nolan, 68), Judge (Sears, 80); Jackson, Keane (Norwood 67)
Subs: Holy, Kenlock, Skuse, Bishop
Attendance: 9,327 (923 Ipswich fans)