Oxford United 1-1 Ipswich Town: Blue hearts broken at the Kassam
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Ipswich Town hearts were broken in the fifth minute of stoppage time as the Blues were cruelly denied a vital victory at Oxford.
It seemed like the job was done after Bersant Celina had fired the Blues ahead on 70 minutes, before Kieran McKenna’s men saw out limited Oxford pressure and appeared on the brink of victory.
That was until the fifth minute of injury time, when defender Luke McNally rose highest to head home a late corner which cruelly denied Ipswich a win they deserved.
Victory would have closed the gap on the League One play-off places to just four points but, as it is, the gap has grown to six with only seven matches remaining.
Celina’s goal had capped off a near-perfect second-half performance from the Blues, as they dominated proceedings after an even opening period.
Wes Burns had terrorised the home backline from his berth on the right flank for much of the game, with the bulk of the Ipswich chances involving the Welshman before he ultimately made his mark with a pass for Celina.
But it ultimately wasn’t enough for victory as McNally sent a dagger to the hearts of McKenna’s men in the final seconds.
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Both of McKenna’s changes heading into this game were enforced, with Kayden Jackson and Morsy suffering with hamstring injuries of varying severity.
Jackson’s looks likely to have ruled him out for the season, with Joe Pigott given the nod in his place, while Morsy was fit enough for the bench after limping out of the Blues’ last two games. Tom Carroll replaced him from the start, as he did from the bench in the weekend draw with Portsmouth.
Town were on the front foot early, with Luke Woolfenden having an early shot blocked as a free-kick broke down in the box, on what was his 100th Ipswich appearance, but it was the Ipswich keeper who was called into action early. With just five minutes on the clock, Christian Walton needed to get down quickly to his right to keep out Gavin Whyte, as a through-ball split the Ipswich defence.
Whyte had another, tamer, shot saved a few minutes later, before Burns tested the Oxford defence for the first time as he cleverly beat Ryan Williams before forcing Simon Eastwood into action.
Williams was the next Oxford player to try his luck, firing down into the ground when presented with an opportunity at the far past, before Whyte had his third chance of the afternoon which he ultimately shanked behind.
Pigott dropped deep to collect the ball and then send Burns away down the right, with the Welshman’s cut-back blocked before it could reach Celina, before Burns was involved once again as he looked to curl the ball into the net with the outside of his boot, as he advanced into the penalty area. It flew just wide.
The two teams went in level at the break, with the Blues attacking early at the start of the second period as Burns got to the byline and pulled the ball back for Pigott. The striker received the ball on the edge of the six-yard box but couldn’t bring it under control.
McKenna shuffled his pack early, taking off Carroll and Pigott and replacing them with Morsy and Macauley Bonne, with the switches giving Town a period of dominance without the Blues ever seriously threatening the Oxford goal.
Burns had a shot saved and Bonne headed down into the floor and then into the keeper’s arms as Town began to move through the gears, with Celina seeing a shot saved by Eastwood and Dominic Thompson seeing a shot blocked.
Then, the goal.
It started with a sublime ball from Chaplin to set Burns away down the right, with the Welshman’s cut-back perfect for Celina to ram the ball in at the far post, sending the 1,700 away fans wild as he charged towards the Ipswich support to celebrate.
Town tails were up, with Bakinson shooting wide soon after the opener, and it seemed as though McKenna’s men had seen off all Oxford could throw at them before conceding in the final minute of stoppage time.
Oxford United: Eastwood; Long, McNally, Brown (Holland, 84); Whyte (Winnall 87), Sykes, Kane, Brannagan, Williams, Bodin (McGuane, 67), Taylor
Subs: Stevens, Seddon, Mousinho, Forde
Ipswich Town: Walton; Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess; Burns, Thompson, Bakinson, Carroll (Morsy, 51); Chaplin, Celina (Aluko, 85), Pigott (Bonne, 51)
Subs: Hladky, Baggott, Penney, Norwood
Att: 11,029 (1,787 Town fans)