Dean Bowditch, who joined Ipswich as a 10-year-old eight years ago, proved the hero of Portman Road as Ipswich came from behind to beat Gillingham yesterday.
Having dominated the opening stages of the match, the home side looked to be in trouble when Paul Smith fired the Gills ahead after 24 minutes. But Ipswich battled back well to level through Richard Naylor before Bowditch produced a first-class finish to seal the points just after the break.
Ipswich were dealt a major blow prior to kick-off with the news that their captain, Jim Magilton, was ruled out of the game with a thigh strain. Gillingham, meanwhile, fielded a new-look attacking partnership, with new signings Iwan Roberts and Darren Byfield handed their first competitive starts. Roberts, once of Ipswich's greatest rivals, Norwich, was immediately involved in the action as his foul on Drissa Diallo earned him a yellow card after just seven seconds of the new campaign.
Following a cagey opening littered with free-kicks, Ipswich took control. They carved out their first chance when Ian Westlake found space in the area but fired his shot straight at the Gillingham goalkeeper, Steve Banks. Then the same player tried his luck again with a shot that Smith did well to block.
Gillingham were struggling to make much of an impact, and it was not until the 18th minute that Byfield tested the home goalkeeper, Kelvin Davis, for the first time. But six minutes later the visitors found themselves ahead, rather against the run of play.
When Westlake misplaced his pass in midfield, the ball found Byfield out wide. With space to run into the striker stretched his legs, and after racing to the byline he squared the ball back across the box for Smith, who made no mistake with a cool chip over the advancing Davis.
Undeservedly behind, Ipswich pressed forward, and Shefki Kuqi almost pulled them level when he glanced a Kevin Horlock corner wide. Ten minutes before the break they did find the equaliser, when another Horlock corner caught the Gills defence napping and Naylor powered his header home.
Having made that breakthrough, the home side continued to press, with Westlake seeing a shot tipped around the post in injury time. And just a minute after the interval they broke through the Gillingham resistance again as Diallo's cross bounced around in the penalty area and Bowditch calmly stroked the loose ball home.
That signalled the start of an Ipswich onslaught, and three minutes later a six-yard snap-shot from Matthew Richards drew a superb reaction save from Banks before the Ipswich man blasted the rebound wide.
Gillingham, though, were not finished, and with time running out they almost snatched a point when Byfield's point-blank header was expertly saved by Davis. Finally, Tommy Miller went close to stretching Ipswich's winning margin with a volley against the post.Reuse content