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Ipswich Town play out goalless draw with Watford at Portman Road to move back into Sky Bet Championship automatic-promotion places

Ipswich Town played out a goalless draw at home to mid-table Watford to move back into the Sky Bet Championship automatic promotion places.

The Blues sit level on points with table-topping Leicester, who hold a game in hand, and one point above third-placed Leeds United.

Portman Road, which has been the hub of drama this season, has hosted few low-scoring affairs in Town’s return to the second tier and the Blues created enough chances in the first half against Tom Cleverley’s Hornets to feel this was two points dropped, rather than one gained.

Jack Taylor made his first start since January. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Jack Taylor made his first start since January. Picture: Barry Goodwin

The Blues penned the visitors into their own half for the majority of the first period and created an abundance of chances. Striker Kieffer Moore had three efforts on goal and was unfortunate not to find the back of the net with a bullet header that goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann did incredibly well to keep out.

Nathan Broadhead was also among the chances in the first half. The winger saw two efforts saved by Bachmann before his deflected strike glanced the post. Contrary to the first, Town failed to record a shot on target in the second. A triple change was insitigated by manager Kieran McKenna, but his attacking substitutes failed to crack to the code to unlock Watford’s defence.

After promotion-rivals Leicester City and Leeds United dropped points last night (Tuesday), the door was left ajar for the Blues to take pole position heading into the weekend. An opportunity Town failed to fully capitalise on, but a point that could prove important come the end of the season.

Conor Chaplin dropped to the bench for the visit of Watford. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Conor Chaplin dropped to the bench for the visit of Watford. Picture: Barry Goodwin

McKenna has never lost back-to-back league games as Town boss, and that record remains in tact. With his squad ‘stretched’, he rolled the dice with four changes to freshen up the starting line-up that lost 1-0 to local-rivals Norwich City on Saturday. Harry Clarke, George Edmundson, Jack Taylor and Kayden Jackson were brought into the fold as Axel Tuanzebe, Luke Woolfenden, Massimo Luongo and Conor Chaplin made way.

Cleverly was yet to be defeated as Hornets boss upon his trip to Portman Road and the opening 10 minutes showed it. Town struggled to break down his compact side who which switched between 3-4-3 and 5-3-2 formations.

The Blues had to be patient and strategical with their attacks and after a quarter of an hour they unlocked the visitors brilliantly. Clarke was almost ushered through the Watford defence before teeing up Kieffer Moore, who laid a back-heel off to Nathan Broadhead. The Welshman’s first-time effort was comfortably held by Daniel Bachmann.

Not long after, the hosts came forward again. A silky run from Omari Hutchinson, who weaved in between Jamal Lewis and Ryan Porteous, looked like it would yield a goalscoring opportunity but, with a touch of fortune, the Hornets cleared.

Harry Clarke returned to the starting line-up to face Watford. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Harry Clarke returned to the starting line-up to face Watford. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Portman Road was yet to witness a clear-cut chance, something to lift the fans, but when Porteous let the ball escape his control on half-way the crowd came alive. Kayden Jackson, who was starting his second game since the beginning of February, latched onto the mistake and fired in a cross that Moore met with his right foot, but he fired just wide at the near post.

Chances were coming, the Town faithful grew louder and McKenna’s side should have broken the deadlock 10 minutes before the break. After he saw a long-range effort caught by Bachmann, Broadhead released a low left-footed drive that deflected off Edo Kayembe's foot before it clipped the right post and agonizingly rolled across the goal line.

The 26-year-old then inadvertently blocked Taylor’s effort inside the penalty area, minutes before skipper Morsy – who scored the winner between the two sides in December – struck straight at the Watford shot stopper from range.

A dull opening turned into an onslaught from Town as the first half drew to a close. The best chance of the contest so far was crafted when Clarke stood a cross up to the back post that Moore attacked with a bullet header, but it was met by an acrobatic stop from Bachmann who flung the ball behind for a corner. The fourth time he had denied the Blues, with their 10th attempt of the contest.

Watford started the second period looking more assured in defence and confident going forward, spending the majority of the first 15 minutes after half-time in Town’s half. A fierce strike from Yaser Asprilla that Hladky parried away the best they created.

An hour passed and McKenna had seen enough. A triple change was in order, Jeremy Sarmiento, Luongo, and Chaplin all introduced to add some firepower to an attack that desperately needed it.

The substitutes definitely had a positive effect – as they have done all season – with Watford forced to camp in their own half, but Town failed to trouble Bachmann once.

Portman Road grew restless. The last thing Town fans wanted to see was former Norwich-man Lewis receive the ball in space inside the box, fortunately his strike from close range was straight at Vaclav Hladky.

Town forced their way forward late on in the contest, substitute Ali Al-Hamadi saw his strike graze the side netting as it deflected out for a corner.

For all of second-half stoppage time, it was Ipswich asking the questions but in the final seconds Hladky was alert to pull off a wonderful stop and deny Watford escaping with all three points. Kayembe tried his luck from just inside his own half but the Czech was alert to tip the ball behind for a corner.

Ipswich Town: Hladky, Clarke, Edmundson (Woolfenden 79’), Burgess, Davis, Morsy (cpt), Taylor (Luongo 62’), Hutchinson, Jackson (Sarmiento 62’), Broadhead (Chaplin 62’), Moore (Al-Hamadi 71’).

Unused substitutes: Walton, Tuanzebe, Travis, Harness.

Watford: Bachmann, Hoedt (cpt), Porteous, Lewis, Pollock, Chakvetadze (Kone 70’), Asprilla (Ince 90+3’), Bayo (Dennis 86’), Dele-Bashiru, Kayembe, Andrews.

Unused substitutes: Hamer, Sierralta, Livermore, Rajovic, Martins, Morris.

Attendance: 28,589

Suffolk News Man of the Match: Omari Hutchinson