TAKE the point and run.Although second best to a Sunderland side that will surely grace the Premiership next season, Ipswich showed character and resolve to salvage a draw and keep their own promotion hopes alive.
TAKE the point and run.
Although second best to a Sunderland side that will surely grace the Premiership next season, Ipswich showed character and resolve to salvage a draw and keep their own promotion hopes alive.
Sunderland missed a penalty by Marcus Stewart; Stephen Caldwell hit the angle of crossbar and post, while Kelvin Davis pulled off some magical saves.
It could be a vital point in the final analysis with Town arguably facing a slightly easier run-in than Wigan.
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Of course we all know there are no easy games in this division and it is a tough league, blah blah, but let's be honest, Town fans would not fancy meeting QPR, Preston and Reading, in the last three games which is what Wigan have to do.
Leeds away, Crewe at home and then Brighton away will be difficult but preferable to their two rivals.
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Sunderland are not exactly home and dry as they need at least a win and a draw against Leicester and Stoke with a visit to West Ham sandwiched in between but they look a class outfit.
Like Ipswich, Mick McCarthy's men have picked up just a point from their past two games but just as they did against Reading, will feel hard done by at Portman Road.
Even though they took the lead through Richard Naylor, Town will feel grateful that they snatched a point in a performance that was marginally better than that at Wolves.
The Blues didn't play anywhere near as well as they can. But then a Black Cats' side, that showed more athleticism as a team and had extra quality in the outfield, did not allow them to.
What they didn't have was a goalkeeper anywhere near the quality of Kelvin Davis, who once again proved to be Town's saviour.
He kept them alive at critical moments while his opposite number gifted Ipswich a breakthrough once they finally managed to put him under serious pressure.
Town's Achilles heel was its
midfield and, not for the first time, less than impressive defending.
Ian Westlake was passed fit after a knee injury forced him to miss
training for most of the week, so he started alongside the defensively-minded Kevin Horlock, who did his job steadfastly.
Unfortunately that meant no place for skipper Jim Magilton and his
creativity and influence were clearly missed as Ipswich bypassed the
midfield for the most part.
They did get the ball forward but to little effect and the Black Cats' defence coped easily, while Davis was the busier keeper until the opening goal.
With Thomas Myhre failing to recover from a thigh strain and Mart Poom a long-term casualty, Sunderland were forced to field third choice keeper Michael Ingham.
The youngster was barely tested in the first half and apart from a Darren Currie shot straight at him after 30 minutes he had nothing to really trouble him.
He just beat Bent to a poor back pass but then looked nervous about taking a Wilnis long throw which Bent headed over the bar.
But when he was placed under
pressure the teenager, who was told more than a month ago that he will not be kept on at the end of the season, crumbled.
He dropped a 66th-minute Darren Currie corner and Richard Naylor bundled the ball over the line despite Carl Robinson clearing, only for Jason De Vos to nod back into the net from three yards.
Minutes earlier Gary Caldwell had rattled the crossbar with a header from Lawrence free kick.
That prompted McCarthy to swap striker duo Marcus Stewart and Chris Brown for Brian Deane and Stephen Elliott.
The substitution worked a dream just two minutes later.
Stephen Wright delivered a deep cross from Sunderland's right flank and Deane headed across goal for Elliott to steam in and head in from close range for the equaliser.
Town were in despair six minutes from time when Arca chipped Wilnis for McCartney to cross. Deane didn't get a clean connection but Robinson was on hand to power in from eight yards.
But a clever substitution of their own got Town a precious point.
Magilton appeared to allow Town to get the ball down and pass and Pablo Counago caused havoc in the few minutes he was on.
The Spaniard played a part in the Blues equaliser a minute from time as he latched onto a Shekfi Kuqi flick on.
He played the ball into Darren Bent's path and he smashed in his 19th goal of the season.
The game could have been out of sight for Sunderland if former Blues striker Stewart had not missed from the spot in the 24th minute for the second time in five attempts this season.
Wilnis had played him onside and as he looked to pass to the
lurking Arca for what would have been a simple tap-in, Wilnis blocked the ball with an arm.
It was harsh on the Dutchman, who had slipped and could not get out of the way of the ball.
It didn't matter as Stewart scuffed his left-footed penalty and it went wide of Davis' left post with the keeper going the correct way.
Both teams had shouts for a penalty apart from the one that was given against Wilnis.
None were more important than in the last of five minutes added on when a Kuqi shot was kept out by Caldwell and while Ipswich were adamant it was a hand, it appeared that he had blocked it with the top of his chest and shoulder.
De Vos used a hand to push away the ball as he went up with Chris Brown, while Tommy Miller went over Julio Arca's legs as he tried to reach a Bent ball.
Miller and Bent swapped headers, the latter crossed deep for Kuqi to send a downward header wide.
Town offered little before their opener with a Bent shot on the turn going wide.
Unsworth curled a couple of free kicks off target over the bar while Kuqi and Currie hit shots straight at the young keeper.
Sunderland looked the more
dangerous and Davis showed his worth as Arca curled in a free kick that dipped and the keeper produced an excellent low save.
Davis also made a good grab from a Liam Lawrence pull-back with Stewart loitering but saved his best until last when he made a brilliant one-handed save low to his right to push away Whitehead, who was clean through.
It can only be hoped he won't be as busy in the final three games and that Town rediscover their crisp passing style and a cutting edge to match in what is going to be a nervous three weeks.