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Ipswich Town substitute Jeremy Sarmiento scores 97th minute to regain top spot in 3-2 thriller with promotion rivals Southampton at Portman Road

Ipswich Town provided another dramatic conclusion to a Sky Bet Championship match at Portman Road with substitute Jeremy Sarmiento’s 97th minute strike completing a 3-2 comeback win against promotion rivals Southampton to send them back to the top of the table.

Leicester City had knocked Kieran McKenna’s side off with their 3-1 victory against Norwich City in the lunchtime game but another crazy finish in their Sky-televised 5.30pm match saw them jump back above the Foxes.

Leif Davis’ 13th-minute thunderbolt had fired Town into the lead but Southampton drew level within a minute when Che Adams stabbed home Joe Aribo’s pass from a sweeping move.

Leif Davis celebrates scoring the opening goal Picture: Barry Goodwin
Leif Davis celebrates scoring the opening goal Picture: Barry Goodwin

It visibly shook the home side who fell behind in a below-par first-half to Adam Armstrong’s first-time finish in the 23rd minute.

But after Vaclav Haldky had come up with several key saves to keep his side in the game, it was two substitutes which completed yet another memorable comeback for Keiran McKenna’s side.

Nathan Broadhead fired home on the turn in the 68th minute before Brighton & Hove loanee Sarmiento managed to incredibly dispatch a Davis cut-back at the second attempt, defyng physics in his recovery, with seconds to go to send the home crowd wild.

Leif Davis scores the opening goal Picture: Barry Goodwin
Leif Davis scores the opening goal Picture: Barry Goodwin

It came after Southampton had been reduced to 10 men with James Bree having been given his marching orders in the 85th minute for pulling down Davis on the edge of the box.

The three points saw Town, with just six games to go, open up a 13-point gap on the fourth-placed Saints who have played two games less.

Kieran McKenna made two changes from Good Friday’s 1-0 win at Blackburn Rovers with central defender Cameron Burgess and wide forward Kayden Jackson starting in place of George Edmundson and Nathan Broadhead who both dropped to the bench.

Lewis Travis, ineligible to play against his parent club at Ewood Park, returned to the bench in place of Cameron Humphreys.

Russell Martin’s visitors showed three changes from their disappointing 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough. Joe Aribo, former Town loanee Ryan Fraser and Jan Bednarek all came in for Will Smallbone, Kamaldeen Sulemana and Kyle Walker-Peters, who were all among the substitutes.

It was a first competitive return to Portman Road for locally-raised academy graduate Flynn Downes, having played in a friendly for West Ham United, who he is currently on loan from, in a pre-season friendly in July, 2022.

It was Downes who was involved in the early action at both ends, cutting out a dangerous low cross from Jackson in the sixth minute before going on to pull a sot wide from just outside the area few minutes later.

Ipswich players react to going 2-1 down having led 1-0 in the first half Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich players react to going 2-1 down having led 1-0 in the first half Picture: Barry Goodwin

Town soon had a shooting chance themselves in a similar position but Leif Davis was also well off target.

But the left-back found his range to devastating effect to give the Blues the lead in the 14th minute. Another Jackosn low cross was only cleared as far as Sam Morsy and the skipper floated the ball to inside the left edge of the area where Davis controlled before rifling a thunderous shot in into the roof of the net.

The lead lasted less than two minutes though before Adam Armstrong flew down the right-hand side and played the ball into the area for Aribo who touched it on for Che Adams to stab home from seven yards out. Town players appealed in vain for offside with replays showing Davis, on the far side, playing him on.

Sam Morsy took down Flynn Downes 25 yards out on the right a couple of minutes later to earn a yellow card with Stuart Armstrong sending his kick whizzing past Vaclav Hladky’s dive.

Efforts from Aribo and Adam Armstrong were both blocked as the visitors looked to build on their momentum in the game with Town looking decidedly shellshocked.

Kieffer Moore goes down injured ahead of having to be substituted in the first half Picture: Barry Goodwin
Kieffer Moore goes down injured ahead of having to be substituted in the first half Picture: Barry Goodwin

And Southampton took the led in the 23rd minute when Stuart Armstrong drove in from the left wing past Jackson and dissected the home defence with a great low pass into the area to find the run of Adam Armstrong who fired in from an angle on the right with a first-time finish into the bottom left-hand corner.

A counter-attack had the home crowd roaring again but after Davis found Chaplin in the area he failed to get a clean connection on his first-time effort which went straight into the arms of Gavin Bazunu.

McKenna was forced into his first change in the 36th minute as striker Kieffer Moore was unable to continue with a back injury, having tried in vain to run it off, with Ali Al-Hamadi coming on to lead the line.

The Iraqi international soon hooked the ball on to find Jackson’s run into the area with the Blues calling for a penalty as he went down under the attentions of Jack Stephens, though Premier League referee Michael Salisbury was unmoved.

With Town having lacking their usual composure, Southampton continued to look the more dangerous from their regular attacks with Fraser going close a couple of minutes before the break, his low angled shot from Stuart Armstrong’s ball into area going just past the far post.

Seven minutes of added time were signalled with Adam Armstrong next to provide a concerning moment for the home fans, lifting his shot from the right side of the area over the far post from Adams’ neat play.

There were ironic cheers from the home fans, who had been left frustrated by the officiating, as Adam Armstrong was flagged offside as Hladky came out to block his shot ahead of the half-time whistle which drew boos aimed at Salisbury.

But there was no doubt their side had been second best since being rocked by the Saints’ quickfire equaliser and were fortunate not to be further behind.

Town came out promisingly at the start of the second half with Al-Hamadi seeing a header from a deep Davis cross forcing a low but comfortable save from Bazunu.

But they were soon being pushed back again with Hladky having to go full stretch to make a great save in the 52nd minute when James Bree’s disputed free kick was flicked on by the head of Bednarek, the Czech stopper pushing it away for a corner.

And he came up with another big stop five minutes later when rushing off his line to block Fraser’s shot after Downes had slipped him in on a three-on-two breakaway before Burgess was soon sliding away a dangerous cross as Town continued to live dangerously.

Just past the hour mark Mckenna opted for a triple change with Harry Clarke, Jack Taylor and Broadhead coming on for Axel Tuanzebe, Massimo Luongo and Jackson.

Town needed something to get them going again and it came in the 66th minute when Broadhead found Al-Hamadi in the box and the his low shot struck the foot of the left-hand post.

It instantly lifted the crowd and seemed to provide the spark for what followed less than two minutes later with Davis finding Taylor with a pull-back before he slipped Broadhead into the area with the substitute firing in on the turn first-time beyond Bazunu to lift the roof off Portman Road and draw level with Chaplin on 13 goals.

Martin reacted with his first change as Frazer was withdrawn for Welsh international Dale Brooks.

There was a newfound vigour about the Blues’ play with Al-Hamadi going on a jinking run on the break but unable to find anyone before the ball ricocheted into Chaplin’s path but his shot flew well wide.

Up the other end a combination of Luke Woolfenden and then Hladky denied Adam Armstrong at the near post from a frantic passage of play as Saints looked to regain the lead approaching the final 10 minutes.

Another promising Town attack, led by an out ball to Hutchinson fizzed out in the area with Chaplin’s pass unable to find a blue shirt.

With five minutes to go Southampton were reduced to 10 men as Bree was sent off for a last-man pull down on Davis just ouside the area with Broadhead firing Taylor’s touched off free kick straight into the wall.

Chaplin soon sent a curling effort whizzing past the far post but the offside flag was already up with it being the number 10’s last action as Jeremy Sarmiento was brought on a minute from time.

Seven minutes of additional time were once again signalled to a roar from the home crowd.

Woolfenden slid in to cut out a dangerous Brooks cross as Southampton threatened to find a late winner themselves.

A 96th minute deep free kick was pumped into the visitors’ box with Broadhead winning the second ball to see Bazunu behind his near-post volley that lacked sufficient power.

But just a minute later delirium broke out in the home stands as Morsy played the ball out to Davis on the left and from his pull-back Sarmiento, near the penalty spot, initially miskicked his first time effort before somehow regaining his balance to recover the loose ball with his left foot and qickly firing it into the bottom right-hand corner with his right.

The chants of ‘we are top of the league’ began to thunder around the stadium with Southampton unable to get anywhere with a final attack before the final whistle sparked wild celebrations after another amazing conclusion to a match at Portman Road.

It was the perfect way for the Blues to limber themselves and their fanbase up for the trip to Carrowd Road to face Norwich City on Saturday (12.30pm).

Ipswich: Haldky, Davis, Morsy (cpt), Woolfenden, Chaplin (Sarmiento 89’), Burgess, Jackson (Broadhead 61’), Hutchinson, Moore, Luongo (Taylor 61’), Taunazebe (Clarke 61’).

Unused subs: Walton (gk), Edmundson, Harness, Travis.

Booked: Morsy (16’), Taylor (70’).

Southampton: Bazunu, Downes, Stephens (cpt), Aribo (Rothwell 82’), A. Armstrong, Adams (Endozi 77’), Bree, S. Armstrong (Smallbone 82’), Harwood-Bellis, Fraser (Brooks 71’), Bednarek.

Unused subs: Lumley (gk), Walker-Peters, Manning, Mara, Sulemana.

Booked: Bednarek (90+5’).

Red card: Bree (85’).

Attendance: 29.393

SuffolkNews Man of the Match: Vaclav Hladky. Came up with some big saves at a key point in the game, trailing 2-1. Cameron Burgess and Leif Davis also deserve mentions.