Jeremy Sarmiento provides Ipswich Town night to remember in special Southampton victory


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Jack Taylor fell to his knees, Kieran McKenna jumped into the air before realising there would be sixty more seconds to be played and Conor Chaplin dashed the breadth of the pitch to celebrate in a pile of bodies in front of the North Stand.

Portman Road has seen some exceptional moments in its fascinating history. Yet when on-loan winger Jeremy Sarmiento recovered from a slip inside the penalty box to stab the ball past Southampton’s Gavin Bazunu in the seventh minute of stoppage time, the more than 29,000 inside exploded into an almighty noise that has not been experienced for many years.

It’s a result that lifted Town back to the summit of the Championship, narrowly ahead of second-placed Leeds United and Leicester City, while extending their advantage over the fourth-placed Saints to 13 points with six games still to play.

[Omari Hutchinson’s impressive Ipswich Town loan spell and transfer hint will be music to blue ears]

Results elsewhere earlier on Easter Monday had already guaranteed Town a playoff spot and a top-four finish. Southampton continue to have two games in hand over Town. Hence, a top-three finish is by no means guaranteed, but this was a result that was the epitome of Town’s never-say-die attitude and a clear statement of intent that they will push Leeds and Leicester right to the wire for a spot of automatic promotion to the promised land of England’s Premier League.

“It was a great moment, I think everyone from the subs to the staff and fans got a little lost in it,” said McKenna afterwards. “My radar was on the fact there is still 30 seconds left and we needed to get ourselves set again.

“We’ve had it done to us and we’ve done it to Rotherham a month ago. You still have to see the clock out but it was a wonderful moment for all involved and one I’m sure we’ll remember for a long time.”

Sell-out crowds are becoming the norm at Portman Road and after the players emerged to a rocking atmosphere it was clear these were two teams very much up for a ding-dong battle in Suffolk. Town were the first to strike when skipper Sam Morsy picked out Leif Davis with a sublime floated pass.

The Geordie wing-back took a single touch before rifling it beyond Bazunu into the top left corner to add yet another contender to Town’s lengthy list of Goal of the Season contenders.

The Blues were unable to hold onto their lead, however. Within sixty seconds a flowing attack culminated with Che Adams getting a deft touch to beat Vaclav Hladky from the six-yard box. Burgess protested firmly with an appeal for offside, but Davis was keeping him a yard on-side.

Southampton were finding joy by creating overloads on either side of the pitch. It was forcing Davis to be positioned deep and limited his attacking capability yet when he was in an advanced position, the Saint would break quickly and use their pace to take advantage in the wide zones.

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Russell Martin’s Saints set-up allowed them to take the lead on 23 minutes when Stuart Armstrong ran down the left alongside Frazer and created an overload against Axel Tuanzebe. The former Manchester United defender followed Armstrong’s drift inside but was unable to stop the laser-like threaded pass which Adam Armstrong ran onto at the far post to finish beyond Hladky.

Town ended the half looking cornered and struggling for control but half-time provided the opportunity to regroup, tweak aspects of their play, and come out fighting again. Nathan Broadhead’s introduction on the hour mark was part of that revival.

Ali Al-Hamadi, brought on in the first half after Keiffer Moore suffered a back injury, struck the post with a driven shot. Then Welsh international Broadhead was alert to fellow sub Jack Taylor’s touch into him, pivoted quickly, and spun a low strike across Bazunu and into the bottom corner.

All of a sudden Town’s tails were up and it was Southampton who were looking nervous and against the ropes. This is a Town side that doesn’t stop until the final whistle blows and, smelling blood, they were determined to keep testing the Saints’ goal.

Davis had a shot blocked and Morsy had a strike saved. At the other end, Adam Armstrong was twice denied from close range by Hladky.

As the fourth official’s board indicated seven additional minutes, very few souls dared leave their seats from what was guaranteed to be a nail-biting end to the clash.

Broadhead came close to being the super-sub with an effort from six yards that was saved on the line; instead, it was Jeremy Sarmiento, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion, who sent Portman Road into a frenzy.

The Ecuadorian international – replacing Conor Chaplin with a minute of normal time remaining – slipped at the first attempt to connect with Davis’ pull-back. But ingeniously he rapidly regathered his balance, finding time and space to compose himself and the ball with the inside of his left boot before stabbing the ball past a full-stretch Bazunu.

“They had relatively little until late on,” suggested ex-Norwich City defender turned Saints boss Russell Martin. “If you’re in the game, feeling it and watching it you know we were the dominant team and should go on to win.”

Sarmiento’s late winner was Town’s seventh goal scored beyond the 90-minute mark. Only Southampton (10) have found the net more in the latest stage of the game.

There is also the very healthy habit of Town’s substitutes contributing to their goal tally. Al-Hamadi (4), Sarmiento (4), Hutchinson (4) and Marcus Harness (3) are just some of those to help Town after coming off the bench.

The scenes of utter jubilation both on and off the pitch brought back memories of Pablo Counago’s dramatic winner to beat Coventry City 3-2 more than a decade ago.

Except this time it’s a goal that could prove to be monumental in Town’s push for promotion – and simultaneously carved a large dent into Southampton’s automatic promotion aspirations.

Martin said: “We played brilliantly. No one can say any differently. I’m not saying it’s not a blow – it hurts a lot. But we’ll know how much of a blow it is in four weeks.”

McKenna added: “I’ve honestly not had a thought about the table apart from when everyone asks me about it! Days like today with a full stadium, terrific atmosphere, going toe-to-toe with a fantastic team that were in the Premier League last year with the trajectory we’re on – it was a day to enjoy in itself.

“The effort, the performance, scoring a last-minute winner. These are things to enjoy and cherish in isolation. Everything else can take care of itself. We know we’ve got six more really big games coming up. I just want to enjoy this one and let the supporters enjoy it for a long time.”

Ipswich Town sit top of the Championship with just six games left – at least 540 minutes separates the Tractor Boys from a possible return to the top-flight. A top-four finish is guaranteed.

McKenna’s side are well positioned in a three-horse race for automatic promotion. Next up is the small matter (and big challenge) of a trip up the road to face arch-rivals Norwich City in a bid to end 14 years of yellow and green dominance.

If Town ends that dismal run at Carrow Road then it would all of a sudden feel as though back-to-back promotions could be on the brink of happening.

Ipswich Town XI: Hladky, Davis, Morsy (C), Woolfenden, Chaplin, Burgess, Jackson (Broadhead 61), Hutchinson, Moore (Al-Hamadi 36), Luongo (Taylor 61), Tuanzebe (Clarke 61).

Unused Subs: Walton, Edmundson, Harness, Sarmiento, Travis.

Southampton XI: Bazunu, Downes, Stephens (C), Aribo, Armstrong, Adams, Bree, Armstrong, Harwood-Bellis, Fraser, Bednarek.

Unused Subs: Lumley, Walker-Peters, Manning, Smallbone, Mara, Rothwell, Sulemana, Edozie, Brooks.

Attendance: 29,393 (1,161)


About Author

When not busy covering local news for EssexLive, Matt Lee can be found in the press box at Portman Road covering Ipswich Town's return to the Championship and push for the Premier League.

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