Boss Kieran McKenna savoured “a performance to enjoy” after his team’s fifth successive win, a new club clean sheet record and a brilliant first Ipswich goal for George Hirst.
A pivotal second-half penalty save by Christian Walton from Dion Charles was another reason for McKenna to be thrilled after his team wrapped up a 2-0 success at Bolton in Sky Bet League One.
Cameron Burgess headed the Tractor Boys’ second goal to ensure the Papa John’s Trophy finalists suffered a first home league defeat since losing 3-1 to Oxford on October 29.
The one-time third tier leaders are now back to within two points of a top two spot and have current table-toppers Sheffield Wednesday back within touching distance.
McKenna said: “It was a performance to enjoy: full of determination, grit and organisation while producing and executing in the big moments when we needed to.
“It was probably never going to be free-flowing because of the conditions and because of the stage of the season with both teams fighting like mad for points.
“But there were so many good things from a mentality point of view, especially seeing the growth in the team and individuals since we started the season against Bolton.
“It can be a big one for the belief in the squad,” added McKenna of the win over a top-six rival.
“We have been close on quite a few occasions but against opposition of this level we haven’t done it and it is something we wanted to do.”
McKenna described Walton’s 51st-minute spot-kick save, after Burgess fouled Conor Bradley as “massive.” It also ensured a sixth game without a goal conceded by the visitors.
He added: “We have not had too many breaks or bits of luck that have gone our way in the first part of the season. But this was maybe one of those moments.”
Leicester loanee Hirst volleyed in a Wes Burns cross just before the break after Luke Mbete’s sloppy pass in the opposite half set the attack in motion.
Hirst’s finish justified McKenna’s decision to start the son of Sheffield Wednesday legend David Hirst ahead of 16-goal Freddie Ladapo.
“I think there is a good forward in there. Freddie came on and was good as well.
“It is a good decision to have two good strikers bringing different things to the group.
“Both understand the dynamic, both are going to have a part to play starting games and both are going to have a part to play coming off the bench.”
Bolton’s second defeat in three games dropped the Trotters to sixth, 11 points off the top two.
“Automatic promotion has gone,” insisted manager Ian Evatt. “We are all realistic here; we are just looking to cement ourselves in the play-offs.
Wanderers have a six-point cushion on seventh-placed Wycombe but have played two games more.
Evatt had no argument with his side’s latest setback, explaining. “I thought Ipswich deserved to win.
“They were more mature with their performance and we looked a little bid timid and nervous. Some parts of that I didn’t like so we need to be back to ourselves.
“But missing the penalty changed everything,” agreed the Trotters chief, whose side were also denied by Walton in the first half when he saved from Bradley.
“It sapped the life out of our fans and our players. After that they scored from a set-play and that was that.
“Over 90 minutes they deserved to win but if that penalty goes in it is a completely different game.
“We are going through a difficult moment so we have to ride out the dip and come again.”
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