IT WASN'T easy and it wasn't pretty, but Ipswich Town secured the win last night which makes them the favourites to join Sunderland in gaining automatic promotion from the Nationwide League First Division.
Thanks to Jim Magilton's first-half goal, they dislodged Bradford City from second place. Ipswich are three points ahead with both side having three games left to play.
George Burley's men dominated against an unambitious Stockport side and they clearly have some quality players, but such is the gulf between the top two divisions that it is hard to be optimistic about their prospects should they reach the Premiership.
The Ipswich manager was not looking that far ahead last night. "We played some good stuff," Burley said. "Stockport can't have any complaints. Hopefully we can keep it going right through to the end of the season."
Conditions were less than perfect thanks to a strong wind and heavy showers, but the Portman Road pitch was in good condition and did not hamper the home side's passing game.
David Johnson, newly capped by Jamaica, was involved in most of Town's threatening attacks before he tired late in the game. Quick and direct, he was unlucky not to score on several occasions.
After Johnson had gone close with three early efforts Magilton tried his luck from 30 yards, but the ball skidded a yard wide. Stockport's first chance did not arrive until the 36th minute, when a Tony Ellis shot was gathered at the second attempt by the under-employed home goalkeeper, Richard Wright.
Two minutes later Ipswich earned the breakthrough. The excellent wing- back Jamie Clapham advanced down the left and, when challenged, slipped the ball inside to Magilton. The Northern Ireland midfielder's low shot from 25 yards sped past the unsighted Carlo Nash, the County goalkeeper.
Stockport made a change at half-time, bringing on a forward, Ian Moore, for a midfielder, but most of the attacking still came from Ipswich. The ever-dangerous Johnson had one shot deflected wide and another, after a thrilling run, saved by Nash. He also set up the creative Kieron Dyer, back after seven weeks out with a broken fibula, for a drive which was charged down.
Johnson, who had earned a rest, was replaced late in the game by Richard Naylor. The substitute sent a close-range header wastefully wide, but the miss was not crucial as Stockport never looked like scoring. If they do go up, Ipswich will face many tougher tests next term.
Ipswich Town (3-5-2): Wright; Thetis, Mowbray, Venus; Stockwell (Petta, 83), Dyer (Cundy, 89), Magilton, Holland, Clapham; Johnson (Naylor, 72), Scowcroft.
Stockport County (4-4-2): Nash; Gannon, Flynn, McIntosh, Dinning; Cooper (Moore, h-t), Bennett (Matthews, 83), Smith, Woodthorpe; Ellis, Angell.
Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).Reuse content