A Michael Chopra brace helped fire Ipswich Town to a 3-0 opening day victory at Bristol City and put the Blues top of the Championship table for the first Saturday of the new season.
Having been satisfied with his team’s friendly display against Wolverhampton Wanderers last week, Ipswich manager Paul Jewell named an identical side for the trip to Ashton Gate. David Stockdale started in goal with Ivar Ingimarsson and Aaron Cresswell in defence, while Mark Kennedy provided the support behind Lee Bowyer and captain Grant Leadbitter in midfield. Meanwhile Jay Emmanuel-Thomas lined up on the right leaving Michael Chopra as a lone striker.
Emmanuel-Thomas showed some of his skill to set up Kennedy for the first shot of the game on 7 minutes, the veteran midfielder firing over from 18 yards. A minute later, Edwards rolled the ball to Leadbitter whose effort appeared to clip the top of the crossbar as it curled over.
With a quarter of an hour gone however, the Blues were in front. David James came out to collect Kennedy’s long ball forward but Michael Chopra managed to reach it first and found the perfect touch to lift the ball over the onrushing Bristol keeper into the net to make it 1-0.
Kennedy had a shot blocked after more good work from Emmanuel-Thomas as the Blues kept up their bright start, but City gradually began to get into the game as the half wore on, Marvin Elliott forcing a good save from Stockdale who tipped his header around the post.
Chances were few and far between for either side as half time approached, Liam Fontaine heading wide of the near post from Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s corner before referee Mark Haywood blew for the end of the first half.
Bristol had slowly begun to put pressure on Ipswich after Chopra’s opening goal, but the Town defence was holding off the danger reasonably well, young full-back Cresswell putting in a particularly impressive display along with Lee Martin on the left.
Neither manager made any changes at the break as the second half began, Bristol’s Nicky Maynard having a goal ruled out by the offside flag shortly after the restart.
Five minutes after thinking they had found an equaliser, the hosts instead found themselves 2-0 down. Emmanuel-Thomas played a superb through ball along the floor to send Lee Martin dashing towards goal, the winger shrugging off pressure from two City defenders before slotting coolly across James and into the far side of the net.
Eager to get themselves back into the game, Bristol started to up the pressure, Elliott heading wide on 53 minutes. Stockdale was then forced into a diving save low to his right from Campbell-Ryce before Albert Adomah volleyed wide from Ingimarsson’s nod on at the subsequent corner.
Right on the hour mark however, Town extended their lead. With Michael Chopra keeping up the pressure, a poor backpass put James in such a muddle that he hit his attempted clearance into the Town striker’s body, allowing him to roll the ball into the empty net for his second goal of the day – and sixth in eight matches including pre-season.
Ipswich were now cruising to a win that was temporarily putting them top of the Championship table by virtue of goal difference, something which the 1,700 travelling Blues fans in the Wedlock Stand were making plenty of noise about. Meanwhile on the pitch, Brett Pitman and former Town transfer target Neil Kilkenny replaced Jon Stead and Campbell-Ryce for the hosts while Tommy Smith came on for Damien Delaney after the Blues defender suffered a minor knock.
Maynard curled a shot into the arms of Stockdale and Elliott headed wide from a corner as the hosts tried to salvage something from the game. The Blues were then left thanking their new keeper for preserving their clean sheet with a fantastic save from point blank range to deny Maynard.
Robins boss Keith Millen made his final chance with Martyn Woolford replacing Jamie McAllister, but Town were still threatening further goals, Leadbitter dragging a shot wide on 75 minutes. At the other end, Adomah and Elliott spurned chances before Leadbitter again found the woodwork, his low drive hitting the foot of the near post.
With 5 minutes of normal time left, Emmanuel-Thomas was taken off to applause from the away supporters to replaced by Josh Carson. Four minutes later, goalscorer Chopra recieved a rapturous sendoff as he left the field to be replaced by fellow summer signing Nathan Ellington.
As four minutes of injury time arrived, Bristol City continued to waste chances from set-pieces with Carson in particular threatening on the counter attack for Town. However, there were to be no further goals as Haywood sounded the final whistle to wrap up an excellent first day win for the Blues.
Boss Jewell will be delighted to see Chopra opening his account so quickly, his two goals demonstrating his natural ability to capitalise on the opportunities given to him. Emmanuel-Thomas offered plenty of attacking threat as well as height whilst youngster Cresswell – despite being only 5ft 7in – was able to get his head to just about every long ball by the hosts.
Stockdale impressed with a couple of key saves to ensure Town kept the clean sheet, while Martin’s goal capped off an excellent performance overall and Leadbitter will consider himself unlucky not to have made the scoreline even more emphatic.
Although meaningless at this stage, Ipswich fans will no doubt take delight at seeing their team finish a Saturday at the top of the Championship table for the first time since February 2005. There will of course be far tougher games to come, but at least Jewell can take satisfaction in seeing his team get off to such a perfect start to his first full season in charge.
Bristol City: James, Spence, McAllister (Woolford 72), Fontaine, Nyatanga, Elliott, Skuse, Campbell-Ryce (Kilkenny 63), Adomah, Stead (Pitman 63), Maynard – Not used: Gerken, Carey.
Ipswich: Stockdale, Cresswell, Ingimarsson, Delaney (Smith 64), Leadbitter, Edwards, Bowyer, Emmanuel Thomas (Carson 84), Martin, Kennedy, Chopra (Ellington 88) – Not used: Lee-Barrett, Healy.
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