Bent goal earns crucial point

Ipswich Town 2Sunderland 2IPSWICH Town will need a sprint finish if they now want to gain automatic promotion to the Premiership.Anything less than three wins in their final Championship matches at Leeds United and Brighton and at home to Crewe and it will surely be the play-offs for the Blues.

Ipswich Town 2

Sunderland 2

IPSWICH Town will need a sprint finish if they now want to gain automatic promotion to the Premiership.

Anything less than three wins in their final Championship matches at Leeds United and Brighton and at home to Crewe and it will surely be the play-offs for the Blues.

All the home players were saying this after Sunderland proved good value for their point in yesterday's highly entertaining draw at Portman Road.

Ipswich appear to have little chance of overhauling the Black Cats, who remain five points ahead.

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But Wigan can still be pursued with relish even though they look set to collect three more points with a home game against QPR on Saturday.

Even if they do miss out on a top two finish it is imperative that Town gain momentum over the next three matches, as this will then take them into the play-offs in good spirits.

The riches at stake in the top flight cannot be ignored, and this is why there is so much passion about gaining promotion from the Championship.

Missing out on the Premiership will be a big blow to Town, but following the pain that Sunderland (15 consecutive defeats before relegation) and Ipswich (a headlong spiral into administration) suffered the last time they went up, another season in the Championship has its compensations.

Ipswich promotion chances were not helped by their failure to test rookie keeper Michael Ingham enough. Fourth choice behind Mart Poom, Thomas Myhre and Ben Alnwick, Ingham was as nervous as a kitten in the Black Cats' goal.

Already told that he is not good enough and that he will be leaving during the summer, Ingham, who made his Sunderland debut against Reading last weekend, conceded a goal when put under pressure for the first time.

Full marks to the Sunderland rearguard for protecting the man who only played because of injuries to Poom and Myhre and his greater experience over Alnwick.

But if Town had been able to turn the screw more and play balls into the danger zone, they would surely have forced more lapses from the keeper and won the match.

While Ingham looked like a novice, Kelvin Davis stood between Town and a defeat.

He somehow got down to the bottom corner to keep out an early free-kick from Julio Arca, and late in the game saved from Dean Whitehead as the number 14 collected a pass from Ian Westlake to Richard Naylor that was under hit.

It was probably Davis' best save of the season - although referee Steve Bennett somehow decided it was a goal kick.

Bennett's performance was crucial to the outcome, and the Premiership official who has been in the midst on physical battles between Arsenal and Manchester United and recently sent off Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer for fighting, will not be over concerned about any repercussions from this Championship squabble.

To be fair to him his decision - if not his reasoning - to give Sunderland a penalty following a Fabian Wilnis hand ball, and his turning down of late Town spot kick claims when the ball hit Stephen Caldwell on his left shoulder were probably correct.

Marcus Stewart served Town well during his time at Portman Road, and the striker who was given a warm reception by Town fans did them another big favour by rolling his penalty wide of the post. That miss could still take Town to automatic promotion.

After his decision to switch to 3-5-2 against Wolverhampton last Monday backfired, manager Joe Royle left out Jim Magilton and returned to a 4-4-2 line-up with Ian Westlake recovering from injury.

Kevin Horlock started his first game since the defeat at Wigan on March 5, with Magilton coming on for the final 15 minutes.

Fellow Town substitute Pablo Counago made the bigger impression after replacing Darren Currie with just nine minutes left to play.

The Spaniard was in the mood as the sun beat down and he had a hand in Darren Bent's last leveller and was close to manufacturing a dramatic late winner.

No one can knock the contributions of Bent and Shefki Kuqi up front this season, but with no goals in open play in Town's last four away matches, Counago could be a wise choice at Leeds on Saturday - with perhaps three playing up front.

Sunderland's first two substitutions also had a big effect on the game with the wily Brian Deane getting behind Jason De Vos to give Stephen Elliott an easy finish for the Black Cats' equaliser.

It was a cracking contest and wonderful stuff for armchair viewers who watched while tucking into their Sunday brunch.

The Pools Panel confirmed what we all knew anyway - what a lottery it is forecasting results. They went for a home win after selecting a Town victory at Wolves last weekend.

The Pools Panel cannot - unfortunately - get Town promoted, but the Blues can take heart, and hope that the unfancied results continue and that Wigan lose their third home game on the bounce with an unexpected reverse against QPR.

If not, it will be very short odds on the play-offs for Town if they fail to pick up three points at Leeds United, who had manager Kevin Blackwell looking on yesterday.

Yesterday's medallists in the London Marathon showed how long distance races should be run. Ipswich must now take a leaf out of the top sprinters' book - and make a dash to the line.