Lee Johnson was forced into naming the same starting 11 for the fourth successive match, but the Sunderland head coach would have been grateful that he was able to name Lynden Gooch, after the wing-back passed a late fitness test, and was able to travel with the squad to East Anglia.
With Ipswich’s #PackOutPR campaign there was always going to be a thunderous atmosphere at Portman Road, and in the opening exchanges, the onslaught of Ipswich pressure left Sunderland struggling for options.
The Black Cats were finding it extremely difficult to deal with the Ipswich press, with the Tractor Boys throwing an abundance of blue-and-white shirts forward, and Sunderland struggled to gain any sort of possession.
Wes Burns was proving instrumental in the Ipswich attacks on the right, and had their first effort that fizzed his chance narrowly wide of the right post, before he crossed for Matt Penney who struck the ball over the bar on the half-volley.
The home side was also racking up their corner tally, and it only felt like a matter of time before they found their breakthrough. Injuries to Thorben Hoffmann, Gooch, and Leon Dajaku halted the flow of the game, with the latter proving the most serious, and was forced off on a golf buggy, with Denver Hume replacing the German.
It is another body to add to an already-extended injury list for Lee Johnson, just as it was seeming like we were starting to get numbers back from the treatment table.
From that point, Sunderland began to grow into the contest, but their only effort of the half failed to test Christian Walton, as Ross Stewart fired over the bar from about 25 yards out, but despite beginning to find their feet, Sunderland were undone, just before the half-time interval.
Sunderland were carved open as Sam Morsy’s direct pass cut through our defence for Macauley Bonne, whose deflected cross was nodded past Thorben Hoffmann by James Norwood. It was arguably a deserved lead for the Tractor Boys, after dominating most of the first half.
Sunderland were struggling massively and the break came at the right time for a side that was on the ropes and being dominated. Ipswich’s high and dangerous pressing system was proving extremely difficult for the Lads to deal with, and Norwood was providing one of those threats that have historically been hard for us to attend to.
Sunderland came out of the blocks after the half-time interval reborn and managed to transform the possession stats early on, and five minutes into the second half, they changed the outlook of the match, as they were back on level terms.
Dan Neil skipped past both Sam Morsy and Lee Evans, and threaded the ball through to Broadhead, who netted his sixth goal of the season, by side-footing his effort into the bottom right corner.
Ipswich were now looking like the ones on the ropes, as Sunderland applied more pressure onto the hosts after netting the equaliser, and carried more of a threat and urgency, with Ross Stewart’s golden opportunity being blocked by the hip of Christian Walton in the Ipswich goal.
An array of substitutes slowed down the rhythm of the match, as Sunderland’s pressure began to dissipate as the game was petering into a scrappy, but nervy, contest.
Ipswich sub, Conor Chaplin, came close for the Tractor Boys, but he drew a simple save from Thorben Hoffmann from his volley, and it was the home side that ended the match looking more threatening.
Sone Aluko had Ipswich’s two best attempts within injury time, as first, his shot was nodded away from danger by Tom Flanagan, before his effort sailed over the bar.
Sunderland’s unbeaten run in League One extended to seven matches, in a match where they ultimately gained what may prove to be a crucial point. Overall, it was arguably a fair result, and possibly one that will please both managers.,
For Sunderland fans, there’s a feeling of two points lost; we are now four points off the top, but after the poor first-half showing the Black Cats showed character and determination to claim a point that may be crucial come May.
It’s such circumstances that make the points gained more crucial. Yes, Sunderland have lost what may be significant ground to Rotherham and Wigan with this result, our promotion rivals picking up wins against Cambridge and Oxford respectively.
But it surely could have been worse, and after a second-half performance of character and fight, there is much optimism to take and the first-half showing points to the fact that there’s still a long way to go for Lee Johnson’s side.
Now, Arsenal awaits on Tuesday night – it’s a fixture to savour, and one where the stresses of League One football and promotion are off, and Sunderland can enjoy the occasion (if it goes ahead amid the rising levels of COVID-19 cases within the Premier League and a state of emergency being declared in the capital).
Sunderland’s league cup run over the last couple of months has put the Black Cats back onto the map after years of difficulty and demise to the third tier, and, if played, will ultimately be a huge test for this young crop of players.