Ipswich Town draw season opener with Bolton Wanderers at Portman Road
For the second season running Ipswich Town opened up a Sky Bet League One campaign with a point at Portman Road, having drawn 1-1 against Bolton Wanderers this afternoon.
Although they were never ahead in this one, unlike against newly-promoted Morecambe last August, it still felt like two points slipping through the Suffolk side's hands after a dominant second half.
Aaron Morley had put the Lancashire visitors ahead after a good start for Ian Evatt's side in the 25th minute via the penalty spot, following a foul by debutant Leif Davis.
But Town, who had been installed as second favourites for the title with most bookmakers, responded well and got themselves back on level terms via Lee Evans thumping home from a 38th minute corner.
There were some big late chances, notably for substitutes Tyreece John-Jules and captain Sam Morsy, but in the end a strong second half display failed to yield the goal the home contingent in the 26,688 craved.
Kieran McKenna started three of his six summer signings, the most notable inclusion being the most recent, with left-back Leif Davis having only joined for a reported £1 million-plus fee from Leeds United on Tuesday.
Aside from that, with Morecambe recruit Greg Leigh dropping to the bench, it was the same starting XI that took the field in last weekend's pre-season friendly in a 1-1 draw at Championship Millwall. It also included former Rotherham man Freddie Ladapo spearheading the attack with Portsmouth's top goalscorer last term, Marcus Harness, as one of two number 10s alongside Conor Chaplin.
Bolton boss Ian Evatt had an even more settled look to his first line-up of the new campaign with only Liverpool loanee Conor Bradley not with the Trotters, who finished strongly to end ninth last season.
It was the Lancashire visitors who came out the traps fast, forcing two corners inside the opening five minutes with Dapo Afolayan – so instrumental in last September's 5-2 victory at the same venue – heading well over from Aaron Morley's second delivery.
Manchester City loanee goalkeeper James Trafford came out only to kick straight out to Wes Burns in the 12th minute with Bolton skipper Ricardo Santos heading the Welsh international's cross over his own bar.
As had been customary in pre-season, the mid-way point of the half signalled a stoppage for a drinks break, but it was not long before the visitors had themselves in front with the first shot on target of the match.
Referee Samuel Barrott did not estimate in pointing to the penalty spot in the 24th minute when left wing-back Davis was adjudged to have tripped Bradley just inside the corner of the 18-yard-box. Morley duly sent the spot-kick beyond the reach of Christian Walton's dive low into the left-hand side of the net.
Bolton's George Johnston made a great lunging block in the area nine minutes later to deny Chaplin a sight of goal after clever shielding work from Harness.
But Town were back on level terms via a set piece, which had so often failed to deliver rewards last term, seven minutes from the interval.
After Ladapo's shot was deflected wide off Johnston, Chaplin picked out Evans' clever run towards the near post beautifully from the resultant corner kick with the number eight thumping the ball into the roof of the net from around eight yards.
With their tails up, some intricate passing between Burns and Morsy set up Ladapo in the box soon after but his shot looped up off Bradley's foot.
It was the last significant action of a first half that had largely been split with Bolton initially on top before Town began to find their own rhythm as an attacking force.
The second half began in a reverse to the first, however, with Mckenna's side on the front foot with Chaplin firing a bouncing ball over the bar while Wes Burns almost successfully chased down a back-pass.
In the 55th minute Town tried a cheeky repeat of their equaliser but Jordan Williams got the block in on Evans before the Welshman saw his far post header from Chaplin's subsequent kick clawed away by Trafford. The third straight corner then saw the young keeper punch clear the dangerous delivery from under his bar.
With play swinging up the other end, George Edmundson had to stretch to poke the ball back to Walton from inside the area with Dion Charles in close attention.
Just before the hour mark McKenna turned to his bench with Arsenal youngster Tyreece John-Jules and Leigh entering the fray for fellow debutants Harness and Davis.
The latter was immediately being thanked by his team-mates for cutting out a dangerous cross at the far post.
With five substitutes now allowed the changes continued to come as the game entered the last 20 minutes but it did not stop Town's control of the second half.
The chances began to mount up for the Blues with Leigh lifting a volley over before Evans fired a free kick from the edge of the box some way over.
In the 79th minute Burns met a Leigh cross only to see it turned wide of the near post.
Five minutes from time lively substitute John-Jules ran clear on to a perfect low cross from Donacien but got his feet tangled up.
In the final minute two substitutes linked up well with Sone Aluko threading through John-Jules but again the Arsenal youngster could not get a clean shot away in between two defenders.
Six minutes of injury time were signalled queuing a big roar of encouragement from the home crowd and they through they were about to celebrate a glorious late winner soon after but Morsy's shot running on to a Burns breakaway cross was saved by the legs of Trafford.
Despite more attacks raining in on the Bolton goal it was to be a point apiece in the season opener at Portman Road leaving both managers to agree the hosts could and should have won it.
Ipswich Town: Walton, Davis (Leigh 59'), Edmundson, Morsy (c), Woolfenden, Burns, Evans, Ladapo (Jackson 72'), Chaplin (Aluko 71'), Harness (John-Jules 59'), Donacien. Unused subs: Hladky, Burgess, Harper.
Booked: Davis (43'), Woolfenden (74'), Edmundson (90').
Bolton Wanderers: Trafford, Jones, John, Williams, Santos (c), Johnston, Charles (Bödvarsson 77'), Morley (Tomason 83'), Afolayan (Kachunga 77'), Lee (Bakayoko 70'), Bradley. Unused subs: Sadlier, Iredale, Aimson.
Booked: John (33'), Bradley (63')
Referee: Samuel Barrott.
Attendance: 26,688 (1,392 away)
SuffolkNews Man of the Match: Sam Morsy. Although he did not manage to put away his late chance the captain drove his side forwards following going behind and ensured they were very much on the front foot in the second period. An energetic display set the tone for his team-mates.