Burgess edges Ipswich past Coventry to within a point of the Premier League

Burgess edges Ipswich past Coventry to within a point of the Premier League

As Kieran McKenna walked into his press conference in a windowless bunker of this vast bowl, he quenched his thirst with a glass of sparkling water. On Saturday afternoon, the chances are it will be a drop of champagne in the comforting surrounds of Portman Road, with Ipswich so close to promotion they can probably smell the gloss of the Premier League, spy its bells and whistles.

The permutations are not quite so complex any more: if Ipswich avoid defeat at home to Huddersfield, a team resigned to relegation, they will return to the top flight after a 22-year hiatus. What a difference a few days makes. After witnessing his Town side squander the lead for the third time with a handful of minutes to spare at Hull last Saturday, ­McKenna, so often a picture of serenity, punched the window pane in the away dugout but here the full-time scenes were of unfiltered joy.

McKenna normally throws his fist into the air in front of the ­supporters after victories but did so on Tuesday with a little more gusto. Marcus Harness, among those to travel despite not being in the matchday squad, hoisted Omari Hutchinson airborne. Once the Ipswich players, many of whom bear-hugged at the final whistle, headed inside, the club’s chief executive, Mark Ashton, took a turn, celebrating before the 2,359 travelling fans, still delirious at the reality of it all.

This time last year Ipswich were toasting promotion from League One as runners-up to Plymouth, among the clubs fighting for survival this weekend. The other promoted side, Sheffield Wednesday, are also at risk of the drop. Then, it was a Tuesday night victory at Barnsley that paved the way to a promotion party on home soil the following weekend when they stormed to a 6-0 win over Exeter. Ipswich will hope history repeats itself.

Before McKenna was appointed in December 2021, Ipswich were going nowhere fast. Since his arrival, the journey has been unforgettable, the shift in the mood around the place and the product on the pitch transformational.

Ipswich opened the scoring through Kieffer Moore’s cool finish on eight minutes after Wes Burns burned down the right wing and nipped in behind Jay Dasilva. Ipswich’s second goal, after Haji Wright cancelled out their opener, was of a more scruffy vintage. Leif Davis, a standout performer from left-back, looped a free-kick towards the back post where centre-back Cameron Burgess won the first header before a scrap ensued.

George Edmundson ended up in a heap on the turf, tangled with Joel Latibeaudiere but Burgess stayed alive, gracefully shifted his feet, and sent a left-foot shot in that struck Bradley Collins, the Coventry ­goalkeeper, and kissed a post.

No team in the division has scored more goals than Ipswich this season and while they tend to trade in the beautiful or spectacular – think Burns’s audacious strike in the reverse fixture – this was slightly uglier. “It doesn’t make it any better but it definitely doesn’t make it any worse,” McKenna said, smiling. “They all count. It is not always going to be smooth, calm and pretty.”

Ipswich’s Kieffer Moore scores his team’s first goal against Coventry.View image in fullscreen

Victory was not without its challenges. There was the moment Burns cleared off the line after Kasey ­Palmer’s shot pinballed off Sam Morsy before Vaclav Hladky instinctively pushed Wright’s shot over. There was the four-minute ­second-half delay to allow for the fourth official, Dean Whitestone, to replace the hamstrung referee, James Bell. And when Coventry equalised on 64 minutes, Ipswich had to recharge.

Jeremy Sarmiento and George Hirst, readied before Wright rattled a shot under Hladky in the Ipswich goal, entered and the former in particular provided a welcome zest. The Brighton loanee Sarmiento almost scored with his first touch and, after a magical piece of control, he swivelled and slipped Hirst through on goal but the striker could not beat ­Collins. Then there were the 11 minutes of second-half stoppage time, in the final minute of which the 17-year-old Coventry substitute Aidan Dausch curled an effort wide.

Ipswich can see the finish line after a timely first victory in five matches. While the Coventry manager, Mark Robins, was left counting the cost of an injury to Latibeaudiere – “we are down to one fit centre-half, it’s like a Monty Python sketch” – as their season peters out, it is impossible to ignore the sense that Ipswich are only just getting started.

“It was a great moment, no doubt, and we’ve been blessed to have a few of them,” McKenna said of the scenes after the final whistle. “I always say to the players: ‘It is not about the destination, it is about the journey. We have put ourselves in a pretty good position. It’s in our hands.”

Source: theguardian.com