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Ipswich Town progressed to the second round of the Carabao Cup for just the second time since 2018/19 after beating Bristol Rovers 2-0 at Portman Road.
The Blues returned to their home stadium for the first time since winning promotion from League One at the end of last season, having played the entirety of pre-season and their opening Championship game on the road.
The game started lethargically, which was no surprise. Kieran McKenna named an entirely different lineup to the one that won against Sunderland, handing Cieran Slicker, Jack Taylor and Omari Hutchinson their first competitive starts for the club.
Town players played on the new pitch at Portman Road for the first time against Bristol Rovers (Image: Stephen Waller)
The latter was involved in the first chance of the match, taking a free-kick from the left after Greg Leigh was fouled. His delivery was spot-on, with the ball landing perfectly on the head of Elkan Baggott, but Lewis Gordon was able to clear the danger.
The visitors tried to react quickly, but their counterattack was sluggish, leading to Jevani Brown rolling a tame shot into the gloves of Slicker in the sixth minute.
The pace of the game didn’t improve, but Ipswich were able to open the scoring with an intricate move in the 12th minute. They sustained their pressure in the final third, with Lee Evans playing a long ball out to Kayden Jackson to create space. The attacker fired a low cross into the box, which Hutchinson dummied for Taylor to calmly tuck into the net from close range.
Jack Taylor scored on his first competitive start for Ipswich Town (Image: Stephen Waller)
The Gas didn’t look for an instant response and Town weren’t interested in pushing bodies forward either. The Blues did, however, come close to doubling the lead in the 24th minute when Hutchinson laid the ball off to Jackson, allowing him to hook a cross into the box for Freddie Ladapo to head over the crossbar.
It began to look very comfortable for Ipswich, who were under little to no pressure as the half wore on. A mix-up at the back almost saw them get their second goal when Ladapo robbed goalkeeper Matthew Cox of the ball, allowing Taylor to chip it over everyone and towards an empty net. Tristan Crama was able to rush back and head it off the line, sparing the visitors’ blushes.
In fact, they came close to equalising nine minutes before the half-time break when former Ipswich midfielder Grant Ward was given too much space on the edge of the area, allowing him to launch a deflected effort towards goal. Slicker was able to get down quickly to parry it wide, however, with Town clearing the danger quickly.
The Blues threaten from a free-kick during their Carabao Cup tie against Bristol Rovers (Image: Stephen Waller)
Bristol Rovers looked more comfortable after the restart, almost capitalising on a heavy back pass that Slicker couldn’t keep in play in the 49th minute.
It was Town who almost found the back of the net just a few seconds later when Marcus Harness’ through ball played Ladapo into the left side of the box, with the striker forcing Cox into a good save.
Opportunities were sparce around the hour mark, with Ladapo’s wild shot from just inside the penalty area the closest that the Blues came to extending their advantage.
A quick counter from Bristol Rovers caused problems soon after as Luke Thomas played Jevani Brown into space, allowing the former Exeter City man to fire a deflected shot that wrong-footed Slicker. The goalkeeper was still able to keep it out, pushing the ball away with his feet as he dived.
George Hirst provided his third assist in an Ipswich Town shirt on Wednesday evening (Image: Stephen Waller)
Town just weren’t able to finish the game off, with the Gas growing into it despite looking poor in front of goal. As a result, McKenna moved to bring on George Hirst and Conor Chaplin for the final 15 minutes, which proved to be decisive.
It was Hirst who was involved, picking up the ball down the left and working it to the byline before cutting it back into the box for fellow substitute Sone Aluko. The 34-year-old was in a perfect position to slot it into the bottom corner, wrapping up the game in the 76th minute.
Hirst had one last chance to add the cherry on the cake after Chaplin wriggled free from his man and picked the striker out from the left flank, but he fired well over the bar. Town still ran out as comfortable winners, earning their place in the hat for the second round.
Town XI: 4-2-3-1: Slicker; Ball (Clarke 73′), Edmundson, Baggott, Leigh; Evans, Taylor (Humphreys 66′); Jackson, Hutchinson (Aluko 66′), Harness (Harness 73′); Ladapo (Hirst 73′)