Bolton Wanderers 2 Ipswich Town 2
IPSWICH'S record of one previous win in eight play-off games was not improved by this result, but the two goals from Marcus Stewart must make them strong favourites against a Bolton side who squandered a two-goal lead - through Dean Holdsworth and Eidur Gudjohnsen - when Ipswich's season was about to fall apart.
Abandoning most principles of sound defending, Ipswich hauled themselves back into contention on a dry and unhelpful pitch by dint of sheer bloody mindedness and two cool finishes from Stewart. Yet there is still much to do before George Burley's team can bid farewell to Sunday lunchtime kick-offs and a league poignantly summed up by one supporter last weekend with a banner reading: "We hate Division One."
Within 35 minutes, injuries had claimed both their key central defender, Tony Mowbray, and top scorer David Johnson with a neck injury. Johnson went to hospital for X-rays but there was no serious damage and he has not been ruled out of the second leg. More pressingly, they had conceded two goals.
Johnson enjoyed the first chance of a hugely open game in the opening minutes, driving his shot against goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen's legs.Ipswich had little more than a minute to reflect on what might have been before Holdsworth stole between two defenders to angle Claus Jensen's corner between Richard Wright and Fabian Wilnis, who was covering the post, with a deft header.
Bad swiftly became worse when Mowbray departed with concussion and when Johnson limped off after Gudjohnsen's expertly taken effort. The Icelander's 22nd goal was a match for any he has scored this season, finding the bottom corner with an unerring shot.
Ipswich might have been forgiven for wilting in the stifling conditions. Instead, they moved James Scowcroft to centre-forward and immediately found a far more cohesive formation.
The chief beneficiary proved to be Stewart, a scorer in his first two games following his £2.5 million move from Huddersfield but out of position and out of goals for the past three months. His first was a volley which dipped and found its way into goal via Jaaskelainen's palms and the underside of the crossbar.
When Gudjohnsen limped off just past the hour, Ipswich were already powering towards an equaliser and it came after a superb counter-attack. Stewart had the composure to go past Jaaskelainen on his less-favoured right side, before checking back and curling the ball beyond the two covering defenders.