Sarmiento’s late winner propels Ipswich past Saints and to Championship peak

No wonder the Portman Road fans went ballistic at the final whistle. Almost every minute of this absorbing, frantic match between the ­Championship’s top scorers and a free-flowing ­visiting opposition intent on catching them pulsed with the vibrancy of an encounter deserving of the top flight in which they both aspire to be.

By the end of it, two automatic promotion possibles had surely been whittled down to just one. Ipswich remain the ­standard‑­bearers; ­Southampton are now not far off clutching at straws.

It was a result that had seemed entirely unlikely for most of the game, so much so that Russell ­Martin refused to accept it. “We were the best team,” the Southampton manager insisted. “We didn’t deserve to lose, for sure.”

That assertion is debatable, but there could be no denying his side’s dominance for so much of the game. Cruising at 2-1 up, they wasted multiple chances to put the result beyond doubt – a scenario all too familiar to the travelling fans this season – and paid the price in the last of seven additional minutes.

Reduced to 10 men after James Bree’s late dismissal, the visitors were unable to stop Jeremy Sarmiento, on as a substitute, from poking home to snatch the points and propel Ipswich back to the top of the table after Leicester’s earlier win. The noise from the watching home fans, who included their famous shirt sponsor Ed Sheeran, was deafening.

“If you can’t get lost in that moment you’ll probably never get lost in anything,” an elated Kieran McKenna said.

The Ipswich manager’s triple substitution on the hour had altered the course of the match. With his side a goal behind and weathering constant pressure, he summoned the type of resolve from his players that may yet lead to them being crowned ­cham­pions in a few weeks’ time.

Two of the replacements combined for the equaliser, with Jack ­Taylor laying off to Nathan ­Broadhead, who curled expertly into a bottom corner. With Bree shown a straight red card for hauling down Leif Davis as the Ipswich full-back threatened to burst into the Southamp­ton ­penalty area, the hosts then managed to exploit their numerical advantage in the nick of time.

With seconds remaining, Sarmiento recovered from a slip to prod into the far corner and spark pandemonium.

It was not the first time Ipswich had left it late to ­triumph this campaign. “It’s a good habit,” McKenna said. “It doesn’t ­happen by chance. It’s a great way to win the game. A wonderful moment for everyone involved.”

Not so for an indignant Martin. His side had deservedly fought back to lead after an early Ipswich opener from Davis, who had buried the ball past the helpless Gavin Bazunu after 13 minutes. Goalkeepers are not supposed to be beaten at their near post, but such was the venom behind the shot that the Irishman stood no chance.

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Nathan Broadhead curls in Ipswich’s equaliser for 2-2. Photograph: John Walton/PA

That lead lasted a matter of ­seconds. Southampton quickly returned fire when Ché Adams eagerly gobbled up the ball inside the Ipswich six-yard box and tapped home amid a host of players. Soon after, Stuart ­Armstrong drove at pace down the left flank before identifying – and, significantly harder, executing – the perfect, laser-guided through ball behind the Ipswich defence and into the path of his namesake Adam Armstrong. On the run, he struck it first time low into the bottom corner.

Despite Southampton continuing to dictate, those goals were to prove in vain as Jan Bednarek saw a header well saved and Flynn Downes’s ­decision-making meant another golden opportunity went begging.

“If you’re watching it, you know we were the dominant team and should go on to win the game,” a defiant Martin said. “I’m so proud of the players. A brilliant performance.”

After the match, McKenna insisted he continues to ignore a league table that has his team top. Although Southampton are now 11 points off them, Martin’s grasp of the mathe­matics showed he is fully aware of the viable scenarios.

“We have eight games,” he said. “If we play like that I really think we can win all eight and that will put us on 98 points. I don’t think ­anyone’s not been promoted with that. It gives me a huge amount of confidence and ­encouragement about what’s to come.”

The Guardian