Portsmouth 0 Ipswich Town 1
IPSWICH TOWN sealed a place in the Division One play-offs last night with their fifth straight victory all but seeing off Portsmouth's own challenge.
James Scowcroft's 37th-minute header, supported by defensive efficiency which ensured a fifth successive clean sheet, took a team who had been acquainted with the division's bottom six this winter into third place.
It had been a night poised with promise for Portsmouth. Earlier plans were unveiled for a £2.5 million redevelopment that will turn Fratton Park into a 20,000 all-seat stadium by October.
They went on the offensive from the start, playing three out-and-out strikers with orthodox midfielders pushing on from the wing-back position. A flowing 20th minute move ended with Paul Hall missing his kick from eight yards out.
Alan McLoughlin went much closer when, after Ipswich goalkeeper Richard Wright dropped Sammy Igoe's centre under pressure from Deon Burton, the Republic of Ireland midfielder drove the loose ball goalwards. But the outstretched legs of Chris Swailes came to Ipswich's rescue.
It was a timely interception as the visitors took the lead after 36 minutes. Alan Knight, already displaying the sharpest of reactions with a double save from Neil Gregory, again defied a double-barrelled effort, this time from Paul Mason, at the cost of a corner.
Mason's flag-kick was perfectly flighted for Scowcroft, the England under-21 striker, to time his leap well and head beyond Knight for his 10th goal of the season.
Ipswich dug their heels in, leaving Portsmouth facing a do-or-die second half.
While Portsmouth were urged forward by an impassioned home crowd, Ipswich soaked up the pressure and broke with penetration and purpose.
After Micky Stockwell drilled a 58th-minute shot narrowly wide, Scowcroft was allowed to run all the way down the left flank deep within his own half before his shot from an acute angle required another excellent stop from Knight.
As Portsmouth's attacks, so deadly in the midweek victory over Barnsley, started to lose their shape Neil Gregory shot against Knight's post after a run from right back by Gus Uhlenbeek on 67 minutes.