Thriller ends all-square
By Patrick Goss
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Ipswich came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw against Sunderland.A thriller at Portman Road saw Ipswich come from behind to earn a crucial 2-2 draw against league leaders Sunderland.
Sunderland looked to have planted one foot firmly in the Premiership when goals from Stephen Elliott and Carl Robinson had given them the lead - cancelling out a Richard Naylor opener and a missed Marcus Stewart penalty.
But Darren Bent rescued a point for Ipswich in a game that enthralled until the final whistle, and kept the promotion race open.
It was a mystery as to how the teams had gone in at half time on level terms - with Stewart's penalty miss only one of a plethora of chances that went begging.
Bent had two early chances - the second nodded over the top after Sunderland's defenders had gone to sleep and let a dangerous ball bounce in the area, but it was The Black Cats that started to carve out the best goalscoring opportunities.
Liam Lawrence's through ball was perfect for Dean Whitehead to run onto but he slipped as he hit it and it trundled just wide.
But it was former Ipswich star Stewart that wasted the best opportunity to break the deadlock, when he earned then missed a penalty.
Fabian Wilnis will feel he was slightly unlucky, slipping as Stewart cut back and blocking the ball with his flailing arm, but referee Steve Bennett was adamant that it was a penalty.
In front of a stand full of the fans that had once idolised him, Stewart stepped up looking nervous, stuttered his run up and then fluffed his lines by skewing wide.
Chris Brown should have done better soon after as Stewart tried to make amends, blazing criminally over after the striker's tenacity had earned him a shooting chance, but the game remained goal-less at the break.
Sunderland again came close after the restart when Lawrence's free-kick was turned onto the bar by Stephen Caldwell, but Mick McCarthy's men looked set to rue their misses when Ipswich finally took the lead.
Much of the pre-match focus had been on a keeper crisis that saw Sunderland forced to start with youngster Michael Ingham - and his inexperience showed as he dropped the ball from a straightforward cross.
Naylor tried to bundle home, Robinson did everything he could to keep it out, and skipper Jason De Vos made sure from close range.
McCarthy threw on Elliott and Brian Deane and the two almost instantly hauled their side level - the latter heading back across the area and allowing the former to nod home from a yard or so out.
Only good defending from Wilnis prevented a quick-fire second - his fine tackle denying Deane after Elliott had cut back, whilst at the other end Bent's acrobatic hooked effort drifted narrowly wide.
Whitehead then wasted a glorious chance, powering through impressively but not taking advantage of Kelvin Davis' questionable decision to stay on his line, and allowing the keeper to make a fine tip wide.
But, Sunderland finally got their noses in front, when Julio Arca's brilliant flick over set George McCartney free down the left.
His cutback should have been converted by Deane, but despite his woeful miss Robinson was on hand to hammer home and cue ecstatic celebrations.
However, Ipswich were not done, they seemed to take heart from a greedy Robinson moment when he opted to shoot in a four-on-one situation and Bent took advantage of the miss to level soon after.
A rare foray forward gave the talented striker a chance, and he slotted home with aplomb to throw the game open once more.
Late drama saw Shefki Kuqi's goal-bound shot blocked but it was not to be, and the promotion race remains open for what has proved a gripping finale to the campaign.