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Vaclav Haldky makes key late saves as Ipswich Town draw with Middlesbrough to take over at the top of the Championship table

Ipswich Town moved back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship table with after battling to a 1-1 home draw with play-off chasing Middlesbrough.

The visitors had taken the lead against the run of play through Emmanuel Latte Lath’s 20th minute header but Massimo Luongo volleyed home the equaliser off a Davis corner on the half-hour mark.

The Blues were on top for much of the second half but unable to make it count while Vaclav Haldky came up with two big saves late saves to deny Michael Carrick’s side going away with all three points.

Massimo Luongo, celebrating with Leif Davis (near), drew Ipswich Town level against Middlesbrough with his third goal of the season Picture: Barry Goodwin.
Massimo Luongo, celebrating with Leif Davis (near), drew Ipswich Town level against Middlesbrough with his third goal of the season Picture: Barry Goodwin.

It was a second successive home draw for Kieran McKenna’s side but was enough to take advantage of both Leicester City and Leeds United slipping to defeats to put them a point ahead of the Foxes, who hold a game in hand, and two ahead of the latter, who like themselves have just three games to go.

Leeds’ first home defeat of the season, 1-0 to Blackburn Rovers in the lunchtime kick-off, combined with Leicester’s 1-0 defeat at Plymouth Argyle last night, had opened the door for Town to pull three points clear at the top of the table in their penultimate home match with victory.

McKenna, who was yesterday revealed as the Championship Manager of the Month for March, made six changes to his starting line-up from Wednesday’s goalless draw with Watford.

Jeremy Sarmiento goes clear in the penalty area in the first half Picture: Barry Goodwin
Jeremy Sarmiento goes clear in the penalty area in the first half Picture: Barry Goodwin

A minor ankle injury to George Edmundson meant Luke Woolfenden started in central defence while Axle Tuanzebe came in at right-back with Harry Clarke also dropping out of the match day squad.

Further up the pitch, the fresh legs of Massimo Luongo, Conor Chaplin, Jeremy Sarmiento and Ali Al-Hamadi all started ahead of Jack Taylor, Kayden Jackson, Nathan Broadhead and Keiffer Moore. For striker Al-Hamadi it was his first league start.

The versatile pair of Dominic Ball and Cameron Humphreys were the two who came in among the substitutes.

Boro head coach Michael Carrick made just one change from Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at Hull City with Sammy Silvera replacing Sam Greenwood in a wide attacking role.

Full-back Leif Davis took his assist tally to 17 with the corner for Massimo Luongo’s goal Picture: Barry Goodwin
Full-back Leif Davis took his assist tally to 17 with the corner for Massimo Luongo’s goal Picture: Barry Goodwin

The ninth-placed Teesiders arrived in good form, unbeaten in their last eight matches having won five of those to give them an outside shot of still making the play-offs.

Boosted by Blackburn’s victory over Leeds, there was great noise from the home fans in the early stages and they almost had an early goal to celebrate when Chaplin ran in behind the defence to Leif Davis’ low near-post corner in the sixth minute, but his first-time effort whizzed up over the bar.

Sarmiento, whose cut-back for Al-Hamadi had earned the corner off a deflection soon sent an effort from outside the area into the hands of Seny Dieng.

Massimo Luongo, celebrating with Leif Davis (near), drew Ipswich Town level against Middlesbrough with his third goal of the season Picture: Barry Goodwin.
Massimo Luongo, celebrating with Leif Davis (near), drew Ipswich Town level against Middlesbrough with his third goal of the season Picture: Barry Goodwin.

The on-loan Brighton winger continued to look dangerous and found Chaplin on the edge of the area who screwed a first-time shot wide of the right-hand post in the 12th minute as the hosts’ bright start continued.

Middlesbrough’s first attack soon arrived on the counter with Isaish Jones’ low cross-cum-shot, after a strong run, deflected away by Vaclav Hladky at his near-post.

Town’s midfield were managing to find plenty of space and from another Sarmiento cut-back, Chaplin could not direct a bouncing ball at the far-post on target.

But it was the visitors who took a shock lead in the 20th minute when Ivorian striker Latte Lath got inbetween Tuanzebe and Woolfenden to nod home Luke Ayling’s cross that had come from just outside the right corner of the area.

It had come shortly after a wayward Sam Morsy backpass had led Hladky to slide the ball clear with the visitors then switching play to find the spare man.

McKenna’s side went close to responding seven minutes later when Davis charged down the left and found Hutchinson free at the far side of the box with the Chelsea loanee sending a curling effort not far over the bar.

Town had a penalty appeal turned down soon after with Tuanzebe adamant his cross had come off former Blues academy defender Matt Clarke’s arm.

But it was from the ensuing corner on the half-hour mark that they found the equaliser with Luongo charging past his mark to volley Davis’ far-post delivery in off the underside of the crossbar to send the home fans wild. It was the former Boro midfielder’s third goal of the campaign and took record-breaking full-back Davis’ assist tally to 17.

The Blues almost took the lead went within a lick of paint of taking the lead less than three minutes later with Sarmiento, who had been slipped in behind the defence, seeing his trickling angled effort come back off the right-hand post before the visitors managed to clear the danger.

More good interplay on the edge of the box set up Luongo whose low shot was never troubling Dieng while Chaplin had a go at lobbing the keeper a few minutes later, seeing his 40-yard effort sail wide.

Carrick’s side continued to pose a danger on the break with Silvera able to find Latte Lath in the space in the area but after his initial shot was blocked by Cameron Burgess his follow-up effort went wide via a deflection.

Clarke won the header at the corner at the far post but it bounced wide to Hladky’s relief.

There was another penalty appeal waved away for Town in the second of two minutes of stoppage time, with Chaplin slipped into the area before Rav ven den Berg’s sliding challenge left him in a heap.

It was a half where Town could have easily have found themselves ahead while Boro’s counter-attack threat could equally have paid further dividends.

Luongo was the first player to have his name taken by referee Sam Allison as he chopped down Jones on half way early in the second half with Silvera firing an angled shot over following the free kick.

There were soon chances at both ends with visiting skipper Jonny Howson’s shot finding the hands of Hladky behind it before a breakaway run by Omari Hutchinson into the box saw his shot deflected over off Lukas Engel.

Howson earned himself a booking in the 57th minute after halting Sarmiento’s run in what had been an open-ended start to the second half.

It was to be the Columbian’s last action as following the free kick Broadhead replaced him in a double substitution which also saw Moore replace Al-Hamadi up top.

Joint top scorer Broadhead went close to finding the run of fellow substitute Moore with a deft flick across the area as the Blues began to pin the visitors back in their half.

A few minutes after coming on, Boro substitute Sam Greenwood picked up a loose pass and fired in a 25-yard shot that Hladky plamed away as the outcome continued to hang in the balance.

With 15 minutes to play Hutchinson was found inside the area after good work from Broadhead and some intricate passing with Dieng pushing away his angled shot with the tricky winger soon seeing a fierce effort headed up and over by Clarke.

Goalscorer Luongo received a standing ovation as he was replaced by Taylor in the 77th minute while Davis’ subsequent dangerous corner saw Dieng push over from under his crossbar.

The chances continued to come for Town with Broadhead firing wide of the target from the left side of the area.

But they could have gone behind in the 80th minute if it were not for a fine low save by Hladky to turn Jones’ shot from inside the area, after he was played in by Latte Lath, round his near post.

The Czech stopper then made a flying save to his right to keep out Clarke’s close-range header from Ayling’s cross while Greenwood fired over from the edge of the box as Town continued to live dangerously.

Up the other end Hutchinson sent an effort whistling just over while Deing was forced to push Morsy’s low 87th minute shot from the fringe of the area away.

McKenna brought on Ball and Lewis Travis in a double change a minute from time with Tuanzebe and Chaplin leaving the field.

Five additional minutes were signalled with the home crowd roaring their side on as their pressure continued.

But Hutchinson had to make a key sliding intervention in the box as Boro broke from a corner.

Davis sent a late cross into the box but Town could not get a head on it ahead of the final whistle sounding to signal another home draw at Portman Road.

On reflection of the chances it was a fair result with the Blues having been indebited to the late heroics from their goalkeeper while not bringing his oppositie number into action too much.

How important a point it was will only be known after the next three games, with Town now heading into a two-week break ahead of a trip to face Hull City, having seen the game at Coventry City rearranged due to their involvement in the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals.

A smattering of home fans stayed behind to see captain Morsy presented with the Supporters Club’s Player of the Season.

Ipswich: Hladky, Davis, Morsy (cpt), Woolfenden, Chaplin (Travis 89’), Burgess, Al-Hamadi (Moore 59’), Hutchinson, Sarmiento (Broadhead 59’), Luongo (Taylor 77’), Tuanzebe (Ball 89’).

Unused subs: Walton (gk), Harness, Jackson, Humphreys.

Booked: Luongo (49’), Travis (90+5’).

Middlesbrough: Dieng, ven den berg, Clarke, Latte Lath, Jones, Ayling, Howson (cpt) (Barlaser 86’), Silvera (Greenwood 69’) , Azaz, Engel, O’Brien.

Unsued subs: Jones (gk), Gilbert, Dijksteel, Bangura, Thomas, McCabe, Finch.

Booked: Howson (58’), Ayling (90+3’).

Attendance: 28,771 (1,324 away fans)

SuffolkNews Man of the Match: There was a number of solid performances across the side but Vaclav Hladky once again proved himself with three big second-half saves that could have a key bearing on his side’s claim for an automatic promotion spot come the end of the season.