Football: Ipswich don the survival gear

Portsmouth 1 Whittingham 48 Ipswich Town 1 Scowcroft 88 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 16,034
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The Independent Online
A LAST-GASP goal by the former England Under-21 striker Jamie Scowcroft preserved Ipswich Town's unbeaten record at Fratton Park yesterday as the First Division leaders battled back from the first-half dismissal of John McGreal.

A 48th-minute strike by the veteran Portsmouth striker Guy Whittingham looked enough to have sealed victory for Pompey, but Scowcroft latched on to a Mick Stockwell cross before waltzing around the Ports-mouth goalkeeper Andy Pettersen and striking the ball into the net in the 88th minute. In the event, the goal was justice for Ipswich and their manager, George Burley, who rightly felt aggrieved after his side had been reduced to 10 men.

International call-ups had hampered Burley's preparations, and Ipswich's seven-game unbeaten run looked at an end before the late equaliser. Matt Holland, Richard Wright and David Johnson had all been on international duty, and their laboured performances suggest Burley will need a bigger squad if the club are to realise their Premiership ambitions.

The Portsmouth manager, Alan Ball, backed by the club's new billionaire owner, Milan Mandaric, will feel let down by his players, who had worked hard to get their noses in front, only to see a lapse in concentration put paid to their efforts.

Ipswich were handed a cruel blow four minutes before half-time when McGreal, a pounds 650,000 summer signing from Tranmere, was sent off in controversial circumstances. Whittingham was bearing down on goal when the centre-back took him out on the edge of the area and the referee, Paul Alcock, opted to send him off even though the visitors had covering players.

Until then Portsmouth had rarely threatened, but the decision seemed to galvanise the team. Thomas Thorgersen's free-kick hit the angle of the post and the bar, and Stefani Miglioranzi's strike from just outside the box was unfortunate to go just wide of Wright's goal.

The game had been at boiling point from the very first minute. The Pompey captain, Jason Cundy, playing against his former team-mates for the first time since his Bosman transfer to the south coast in the summer, was booked when he hauled down Johnson. The League leaders exacted retribution and Fabian Wilnis, Jamie Clapham and Mark Venus were all booked for crude challenges. But it was the sending off of McGreal which upset the balance of Burley's side, as they had threatened constantly in the opening half- hour.

Johnson, scorer of eight goals in Ipswich's surge to the top of the First Division, missed an early opportunity when his volley flashed over the crossbar and his strike partner Richard Naylor had a shot well saved by Pettersen.

Burley made two changes at half-time - Stockwell replacing Wilnis and Jim Magilton coming on for Naylor - but within three minutes of the restart they buckled. Wright came racing out to the edge of his box to meet a right-wing cross but Whittingham surprised the goalkeeper on his blind side, getting to the cross first and steering his header into the net.