Oxford United's ten-game unbeaten run was brought to an end this afternoon as promotion favourites Ipswich Town delivered a Suffolk Punch to their play-off hopes.
First-half goals from Freddie Ladapo and Wes Burns and a late third from Conor Chaplin handed the U's their biggest defeat of the season in front of a packed Portman Road crowd.
It all started so promisingly, despite injury and illness leaving the U’s without Simon Eastwood and Lewis Bate and meaning a league debut for Ed McGinty in goal. McGinty was largely untroubled for half an hour as United created the better goalscoring opportunities during their best spell of the match, only for their failure to capitalise on that period ultimately costing them the game.
Djavan Anderson, pushed into a more advanced role, smashed an early chance against the stanchion, Matty Taylor got in behind the defence and was denied by keeper Christian Walton who then saved well from Billy Bodin.
Marcus Browne hobbled off after 15 minutes to be replaced by James Henry, but the chances continued to come and Taylor fired into the side netting as the U’s found space and refused to let the home side settle.
However, from the half-hour mark onwards the danger increased by the minute. McGinty was finally called into action to save a Ladapo header, also fielding a Leif Davis header ten minutes later, and then on 39 the deadlock was broken when Conor Chaplin’s shot was saved by McGinty only for Ladapo to pounce on the rebound and make it 1-0.
Had United held out at just one goal down til the break it might have been a different story, but right on the whistle former Oxford loanee Burns got in front of his man to flick home a corner and the U's were two down and the Tractor Boys were pulling away. Indeed, but for a smart block by McGinty in injury time, it could have been three and fully game over.
The home side moved up a gear after the break, drawing admiring gasps from their biggest crowd of the season and turning on the style as United did all they could just to stay in the game.
Josh Murphy was given 45 minutes to try and find a goal that would give his side hope, Yanic Wildschut and Gatlin O'Donkor half an hour each, but the two-goal gap was just too great and the chances simply dried up.
Marcus Harness fired over when he should have extended the home side's advantage, wide men Davis and Burns exploited space and ran at United's backline, and on 81 the game was up when Chaplin, Ipswich's great dictator all afternoon, turned and fired past the exposed McGinty to end the contest.
The first time United have lost by more than one goal in the league this season and on this performance if anyone finishes above this impressive Ipswich side this season they will be promoted.
United well beaten on this occasion but now with an immediate chance to bounce back with two home games in quick succession.
See you against Charlton on 29th.
Report by Chris Williams, photos Steve Edmunds, stats by OPTA