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Ipswich Town hold out for victory at Blackburn Rovers following early Conor Chaplin strike to provisionally go top of the Championship





Conor Chaplin’s ninth-minute goal proved enough to send Ipswich Town top of the Sky Bet Championship table heading into Easter Monday with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers.

The Blues, who escaped three disallowed goals from their hosts, move a point ahead of Leeds United – who drew 2-2 at Watford in the 8pm kick-off – and two above Leicester City after the Foxes lost at Bristol City earlier in the afternoon.

Chaplin’s 13th goal of the season, which also marked a record-breaking assist tally for full-back Leif Davis, handed Town their eighth win in nine matches and marked their first victory at Ewood Park since January 1996.

Conor Chaplin (left) scored Ipswich Town’s winning goal from Leif Davis’ (right) cross which set a new Championship assist record Picture: Barry Goodwin
Conor Chaplin (left) scored Ipswich Town’s winning goal from Leif Davis’ (right) cross which set a new Championship assist record Picture: Barry Goodwin

Town boss Kieran McKenna made two changes from the hammering of Sheffield Wednesday prior to the international break, with a recall for George Edmundson and Chaplin, who missed out altogether a fortnight ago with a back strain.

Cameron Burgess, having only returned from Australia late in the week, dropped to the bench with Wes Burns also replaced after the hamstring injury that forced him off last time out.

Massimo Luongo made his 50th league start for the club, with Lewis Travis ineligible to play against his parent club.

Meanwhile, Blackburn head coach John Eustace made three changes to his side that drew 0-0 at Middlesbrough, all of which were enforced.

Sam Gallagher, who was heavily linked to the Blues throughout January, missed out through illness, John Buckley picked up a knock and Icelandic winger Arnor Sigurdsson suffered an injury while away on international duty.

The trio were replaced by Tyrhys Dolan, Ben Chrisene and Joe Rankin-Costello, who had missed the previous eight games through injury.

Davis went into the book in the first meaningful action of the game, the Town left-back lunging in and bringing down Ryan Hedges after the Rovers man had just got to the ball first.

The Suffolk side then saw strong appeals for a penalty waved away by Premier League referee Stuart Attwell. Nathan Broadhead latched onto a ball forward by Sam Morsy and saw his shirt pulled by Callum Brittain, but nothing was given.

Attwell, proving the busiest man on the field in the opening stages, then booked Harry Pickering for manhandling Omari Hutchinson as he looked to break forward.

Town took the lead in familiar fashion on nine minutes. Chaplin’s exquisite crossfield ball started the move to find Davis on the left, before pulling it back to the onrushing Chaplin, whose powerful strike was spilt by Aynsley Pears into his own bottom corner.

In the process, Davis registered his 15th assist of the season, setting a new outright season record for a Championship defender, surpassing Barry Douglas and Kieran Trippier.

Midway through the half, the hosts had the ball in the net when Chrisene’s looped effort was turned into his own net by Edmundson, but the flag was up for offside.

Chaplin raced through the middle and saw a low shot saved by Pears, moments before Rovers had a second goal disallowed after some initial confusion.

Rankin-Costello turned home Dolan’s cross via a deflection from Edmundson, but the linesman’s flag was up, for an infringement from Sammie Szmodics by standing in front of Vaclav Hladky, without touching the ball on its way through.

As the half neared its conclusion, Dolan was booked for a trip on Morsy in midfield before the home fans voiced their frustrations with referee Attwell as the sides headed to the dressing rooms.

Chaplin was looking to pick up where he left off in the first half and went close on two occasions early in the second period. First, he found the side-netting before a curling strike that looked routine for Pears was just about dealt with by the Rovers goalkeeper.

On the hour mark, the Blues survived two big opportunities for the hosts to level. First, Chaplin produced a magnificent piece of defending to stop Chrisene getting a shot away after Hladky had parried a cross from Hedges into a dangerous area.

Then, Dolan’s immediate cut-back for Championship top scorer Szmodics was tipped over the crossbar by Town’s Czech goalkeeper.

Soon after, McKenna turned to his bench for the first time to replace Kieffer Moore, Broadhead and Chaplin with Ali Al-Hamadi, Jeremy Sarmiento and Kayden Jackson.

Blackburn were looking dangerous, though, and Hladky was called into action when he kept out Scott Wharton’s header from a corner low to his right.

Another Town switch moments later saw Harry Clarke replace Davis for the final 20 minutes of the contest.

On 74 minutes, Blackburn saw a goal ruled out by the match officials for a third time. Substitute Andy Moran slammed in off the crossbar, but the goal was chalked off for Wharton’s foul on Hladky as he attempted to claim a high ball.

A few minutes later, on a rare Town foray into the Rovers half, Jackson found Al-Hamadi with a cut-back but the striker fired well over the top of the crossbar first-time.

But the Blackburn pressure kept coming. Somehow, Szmodics failed to equalise after robbing Hladky in his own six-yard box before the Town goalkeeper astonishingly clawed the ball away from the Irishman’s feet when he looked destined to score.

Luongo was soon booked for an earlier foul on Hedges, then Jackson joined him for dissent as the game entered its final five minutes, with the Blues’ backs firmly against the wall.

Jackson dragged an effort wide of the far post on the counter after Sarmiento found him in acres of space as the sides entered five minutes of additional time.

Burgess replaced Hutchinson deep into stoppage time as the Blues saw out victory and completed a first league double over Blackburn since 1992.

Rovers remain winless under Eustace and have won just once in 18 league matches.

League-leading Town return to action with a mouth-watering clash with promotion rivals Southampton at Portman Road on Monday (5.30pm).

Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1): Pears; Pickering (Carter 90), Wharton, Hyam (c), Brittain; Rankin-Costello (Ayari 62), Tronstad; Chrisene (Moran 62), Szmodics, Hedges (Telalovic 82); Dolan. Unused subs: Wahlstedt, Koumetio, Markanday, Gilsenan, Garrett.

Booked: Pickering, Dolan.

Ipswich Town (4-2-3-1): Hladky; Davis (Clarke 70), Edmundson, Woolfenden, Tuanzebe; Luongo, Morsy (c); Broadhead (Sarmiento 64), Chaplin (Jackson 64), Hutchinson (Burgess 90); Moore (Al-Hamadi 64). Unused Subs: Walton, Harness, Taylor, Humphreys.

Booked: Davis, Luongo, Jackson.

Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).

Attendance: 18,235 (4,233 Ipswich).

SuffolkNews Man of the Match: Luke Woolfenden.A commanding performance from Town’s home-grown centre-half. Numerous vital interceptions contributed to the clean sheet and got his head on everything when he needed to. Could be argued that the linesman’s flag was the Blues’ best player.