Conor Chaplin, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Broadhead on target as Ipswich Town bounce back with victory against Millwall to cut gap to leaders Leicester City
Three first-half goals proved to be enough for Ipswich Town to comfortably bounce back from defeat with a 3-1 victory over Millwall at Portman Road and cut the gap to Sky Bet Championship leaders Leicester City.
Conor Chaplin fired Kieran McKenna’s side into the lead within five minutes with his seventh of the season.
A fine flowing move in the 12th minute then saw Massimo Luongo double their advantage from the edge of the box.
And the game was effectively out of the Lions’ sight by the interval with Nathan Broadhead headed home a Leif Davis cross in the 39th minute for his seventh of the campaign.
It was a dominant second-half from the hosts but it was Millwall who eventually got the final goal of the game with a 78th minute consolation coming from substitute Kevin Nesbit.
It came on a night that saw Town capitalise on leaders Leicester surprisingly dropping points at basement side Sheffield Wednesday in a 1-1 draw after substitute Jeff Hendrick’s stoppage-time equaliser for the Owls. The Suffolk side maintain a seven-point gap to third-placed Leeds United following their 3-1 win at home to Swansea City.
Kieran McKenna made three changes from the 2-0 defeat at West Brom on Saturday with Harry Clarke and Axel Tuanzebe coming into the defence for Brandon Williams, who the club confirmed had picked up a knock, and Luke Woolfenden.
Elsewhere, Massimo Luongo returned to partner Sam Morsy in the middle of the park in place of Jack Taylor.
Joe Edwards made two changes from the line-up which started Saturday’s 3-0 home defeat to Coventry with skipper Shaun Hutchinson and Aidomo Emakhu coming in for Jake Cooper and George Honeyman.
There was a minute’s applause ahead of kick-off for former England manager Terry Venables.
Town had developed a bad habit of conceding early goals, doing so in each of their last six matches. But after a few early sloppy passages of play they got themselves off to the perfect start against the Lions, taking the lead inside five minutes.
Morsy found Wes Burns on the right and the Welsh international beat his man on the outside before sending a hanging cross to the far post. George Hirst nodded it into the path of Chaplin 14 yards out who hit the rising ball into the turf, seeing it skid past former Blues fans’ favourite Bartosz Bialkowski into the bottom right-hand corner.
It took just seven minutes for Town to double their advantage with a flowing move in the 12th minute that saw the ball worked inside from the left before Chaplin played one-twos with first Hirst into the area and then Burns before laying off for Luongo to take a touch and fire a low shot from just outside the area inside the right-hand post.
It could have been three soon after when Hirst met Burns’ cross on the run but saw it go just over via a fingertip save from Bialkowski.
Millwall threatened for the first time in the 19th minute when Brooke Norton-Cuffy’s angled effort, which took a deflection off Nathan Broadhead, was pushed round his near post by Vaclav Hladky.
The Czech stopper was required to make another near-post save soon after from Ryan Longman’s first-time angled effort from Zian Flemming’s pass into the area.
Town went within a lick of paint of increasing their lead in the 27th minute when Burns’ powerful effort from the corner of the area, after being released by Chaplin, beat Bialkowski’s dive but cannoned back off the right-hand post.
Millwall were still looking dangerous on their forays forward and just after the half-hour mark Tom Bradshaw executed a flick of the boot from Ryan Longman’s cross but it was never troubling Hldaky.
Up the other end Morsy fired just over the far top corner from an angled effort from Chaplin’s pass.
But Town got their third in the 39th minute. Longman’s clearance from left-back only made it as far as Cameron Burgess who ran forward wih the ball before finiding Leif Davis whose clipped cross was headed back across goal off the turf by Broadhead to nestle inside the left-hand post.
It was to be the last notable action of a first half which had seen Millwall cut apart time and again by Town’s incisive passing.
Millwall came out for the second half with Honeyman replacing Emakhu who was booked within a minute for a late challenge on Broadhead.
Hirst fired not far over from 25 yards out soon after with Millwall conceding possession cheaply.
Town were stroking the ball about confidently as visibility began to deteriorate with the fog coming in.
From Chaplin pass into the area Broadhead and then Luongo had efforts blocked by the Lions’ defence.
Chaplin darted through the middle from Tuanzebe’s pass before seeing his shot from outside the area pushed over by Bialkowski in the 65th minute.
McKenna changed his forward line in the 69th minue with a quadruple substitution. Marcus Harness, Omari Hutchinson, Kayden Jackson and Dane Scarlett all entered the fray.
Luongo curled just wide of the right-hand post after Clarke’s initial effort was blocked from Scarlett’s lay-off while Harness soon saw his shot from inside the area spin up off a defender’s boot as the revamped attack looked to deliver a fourth.
But it was Millwall, with their first attempt of the second half that scored next with substitute Nesbitt guiding home a nice cross from Longman inside the right-hand post after he cut back inside Clarke in the 78th minute.
Scarlett was denied his first Town goal in the 88th minute with his shot on the turn, following quick shifting feet which took Harness past his man to set him up, saved by the out-stretched foot of Bialkowski. The former Town player then blocked the follow up shot from Harness, after Millwall failed to clear.
Jack Taylor was introduced for Luongo in the final regulation minute with four additional minutes signalled.
Hladky came confidently through a sea of players to punch a cross away in the last notable action in what had been a half that had largely been a non-event.
Town return to action at Portman Road in four days’ time with the visit of Coventry City (3pm).
Ipswich: Hladky, Clarke, Davis, Morsy (cpt), Burns (Jackson 69’), Chaplin (Hutchinson 69’), Burgess, Luongo (Taylor 89’), Hirst (Scarlett 69’), Broadhead (Harness 69’), Tuanzebe.
Unused subs: Walton (gk), Woolfenden, Ladapo, Ball.
Booked: Luongo (25’), Broadhead 52’).
Millwall: Bialkowski, Wallace, Hutchinson (cpt), Bradshaw (Nesbit 61’), Flemming (Leonard 70’), Longman, Norton-Cuffy, Emakhu (Honeyman 46’), Saville, De Norre (Mitchell 61’), Harding.
Unused subs: Sarkic (gk), Cooper, Nisbet, Campbell, Leonard, Esse, Adom-Malaki.
Booked: Flemming (38’), Honeyman (47’), De Norre (54’).
SuffolkNews Man of the Match: Conor Chaplin was back to his best.