BATTLING Middlesbrough are refusing to bow out of the race for a place in the Barclays Premier League.
Boro won a point at Ipswich last night and now look forward to a vital trip to fourth top Brighton on Saturday.
Grant Leadbitter and Lukas Jutkiewicz both went from villain to hero as Ipswich and Middlesbrough shared the spoils at Portman Road.
An ordinary first half produced next to nothing in the way of excitement in what was a rearranged npower Championship fixture which was abandoned back in February due to a frozen pitch.
But the encounter came to life within minutes of the restart as Boro substitute Jutkiewicz, a replacement for Seb Hines who was forced off due to injury along with skipper Matthew Bates, registered his contender for miss of the season.
Town midfielder Leadbitter soon had his head in his hands as well as he watched his penalty turned away by Jason Steele.
Yet Jutkiewicz made amends in the 63rd minute when he converted from close range, with Leadbitter also redeeming himself 11 minutes later with a blistering shot from 30 yards.
It was a third successive draw for promotion-chasing Boro, who are now winless in five, and keeps them in fifth while Town – denied a sixth straight home win – have suffered just two defeats in 12.
Leadbitter returned from suspension to replace Andy Drury as Town’s only change, while Boro boss Tony Mowbray, formerly of Ipswich, brought in four new faces – Richard Smallwood, Julio Arca, Barry Robson and Marvin Emnes all starting.
The first half produced plenty of flowing, passing football although clear-cut openings were few.
The returning Leadbitter fashioned the first chance, his 25-yard strike tipped over by Boro goalkeeper Steele.
Mowbray was forced into an unwanted early change after 17 minutes, Tony McMahon replacing the injured Bates in defence.
All in all, there was very little for the 18,727 present in Suffolk to get excited about during the opening 45 minutes.
Boro enjoyed a short spell of pressure as the first half drew to a close, McMahon’s long-range free-kick forcing a save from Alex McCarthy.
Hines was duly forced off at the interval to be replaced by striker Jutkiewicz, with Nicky Bailey reverting into a makeshift central defence alongside McMahon.
Jutkiewicz was guilty of a glaring miss within minutes of coming on, McCarthy only managing to parry Barry Robson’s shot into the path of the former Coventry marksman who somehow blazed over from a matter of yards.
Out of nowhere Town were handed the clearest chance of the encounter when Emmanuel-Thomas was adjudged to have been brought down in the area by Smallwood, yet Leadbitter saw his spot-kick palmed away by Steele.
Boro soon made the most it as Jutkiewicz converted from close range after Ipswich had been forced to clear their lines on more than one occasion in a swift attacking move from the visitors.
But, like Jutkiewicz, Leadbitter made up for his earlier miss with a scorching shot from distance 16 minutes from time.
Mowbray said: “We came to counter-attack. Ipswich had won five on the bounce at home so we didn’t come here to be over-expansive.
“We’ve won a lot of games on the road by trying to do that, being solid and not giving many goals away – as teams do at the Riverside.
“We probably had the best opportunities and our dressing room was disappointed to only get a point.”
Ipswich: McCarthy,Edwards,Delaney,Smith,Cresswell, Emmanuel-Thomas,Bowyer (Drury 64),Leadbitter, Murphy (Scotland 68),Martin,Chopra. Subs Not Used: Lee-Barrett,Stevenson,Sonko. Booked: Smith.
Middlesbrough: Steele,Hoyte,Bates (McMahon 17), Hines (Jutkiewicz 46),Bennett,Hammill,Robson,Bailey,Arca, Emnes (Thomson 85),Smallwood. Subs Not Used: Zemmama,Ogbeche. Booked: Bailey.
Att: 18,727 Ref: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).