Conor Chaplin’s rocket header ensured Ipswich Town moved back into the Championship top two with victory over play-off chasing Sunderland.
Southampton’s win against Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the day had enabled them to leapfrog Kieran McKenna’s side, but Ipswich ended their five-game winless run in impressive style at Portman Road.
Leif Davis curled in a perfect free-kick for Tractor Boys forward Chaplin to beat Anthony Patterson with a powerful finish, after Adil Aouchiche made a silly challenge on the wing-back.
It was a winner that came just minutes after Sunderland had fluffed their own big chance, with substitute Aouchiche’s miserable couple of minutes compounded when he failed to hit the target with the goal gaping.
Sunderland had taken the lead in the firsthalf when Jack Clarke hammered the ball beyond Vaclav Hladky following a pass from Abdoullah Ba.
Town levelled when new signing Lewis Travis slid a ball through that Chaplin helped into Kayden Jackson’s path with a cute touch, and the forward curled smartly beyond Patterson.
Chaplin’s header put them ahead and there might have been even more for the home fans to cheer but for Luke Woolfenden only turning onto the post from another Davis free-kick.
Ipswich answered a few questions about their strength of purpose with this result, beating a side with ambitions of a top-six finish and coming from behind in order to do so, following their recent sticky patch.
Four draws and a thumping by Leeds with an injury-stretched squad had tested the resources but with some key players back like Newcastle-born Davis and new blood introduced in Travis, they showed the required mettle to earn maximum points.
Chaplin, in particular, was key, not only with his goal and assist, but his leadership and forward prompting, and might have had had one earlier but for Patterson.
Wes Burns also caused problems with a stinging cross, while Jackson fired over another chance over the bar and Davis had a ferocious effort well saved.
Sunderland were thrashed in a Tyne-Wear derby against Newcastle last time out and hoped to put that disappointment behind them by gaining a result in Suffolk.
They showed positive signs, notably in a first-half purple patch when they dominated possession and Jobe Bellingham was denied by Hladky.
But Michael Beale’s side will feel this was an opportunity missed, particularly given Aouchiche’s failure to find the net and the subsequent punishment Chaplin delivered.
They remain outside the top six on goal difference, with Coventry currently occupying the final play-off place after their early-afternoon victory over leaders Leicester.
Sunderland boss Michael Beale said:
“It’s really naive from us, it’s a poor free-kick to give away. The boy was facing away to the stand, and then the smallest player on the pitch gets a free header for the goal.
“We’re bitterly disappointed because we come away from home, go 1-0 up and playing well in the game albeit a bit sloppy at times and causing Ipswich problems. They’re a good side but we’ve more than matched them.
“We had enough chances tonight to win that game. I’m really disappointed.
“You can’t control an opponent through the whole game but for the most part we gave them as many problems as we got back. In one sloppy moment we’ve thrown away three points.”
Ipswich defender George Edmundson said:
“We don’t want to keep going 1-0 down and having to come back and win the game, so obviously there is a positive in it, but also a negative.
“I didn’t think it was a must-win (game) but we had a tough Christmas period when games come thick and fast.
“We played well at Wimbledon in the FA Cup and it can end up snowballing, you get your next win and then next minute you’ve put a run together.
“We’ve just got to take it game by game and we’ve got a week of training now to get ready for the big one (against leaders Leicester).”