Report: Ipswich Town Under 23s 0 Blues Under-23s 3

Odin Bailey and Corey O'Keeffe celebrate the opener
Odin Bailey and Corey O'Keeffe celebrate the opener

Blues raced into a two-goal lead inside 25 minutes, putting them in command of the PDL Play-Off Semi-Final

Blues Under-23s powered their way into the PDL Play-Off Final with a superb performance at Portman Road.

They were worthy winners against the PDL South Champions, scoring early on and thereafter dominating.

Corey O'Keeffe, 16-year-old Adan George - on his first start - and Kyle Hurst got the goals and Blues could have had more were it not for 'keeper Harry Wright.

It was one of their best - if not the best - all-round performances of the campaign. In every department they were better, they played with great intelligence, sharpness and the quality of their attacks was a joy to behold.

Blues now travel to meet Leeds United Under-23s in the Final, at Elland Road, on a date to be confirmed.

Blues got off to a dream start, scoring inside the first two minutes.

It was a lovely crafted move down the left-hand side that undid Ipswich.

Ryan Burke and Hurst combined before the ball was shifted precisely for Caolan Boyd-Munce to hit a sweeping first time shot at goal from the edge of the area.

Wright made a clawing, springing save but could only parry it down into the six-yard box and there was O’Keeffe, reacting far sharper than Corrie Ndaba, to nick in and force a stooping header home.

Burke then had to be alert to clear a good ball into the heart of the area away from Armando Dobra before Blues came forward again, with an attempt from range by Odin Bailey bouncing just wide.

Brett McGavin – son of former Blues striker Steve McGavin – stuck a carefully hit free-kick just wide of the post from 25 yards as Zach Jeacock dived at full stretch.

It was certainly a busy opening to the Semi-Final with both sides eagerly getting at one another.

In the 14th minute Jeacock made a key save, from a right wing Ipswich corner.

The delivery to the front post was hit well on the volley by Idris El Mizouni and Jeacock kept the ball out as it flew towards the opposite top corner.

In the 25th minute Blues double their advantage when George swivelled and shot just inside the post.

It came after a period of Blues pressure, the visitors keeping Ipswich pinned in and around their own box.

Remeao Hutton’s deep cross from the right was half headed clear; the ball came back to Burke who fired first time with his left foot from the edge of the box.

The shot had the sting taken out of it by the close attentions of a defender and that in turn saw it spin into George, with the goal at his back some 12 yards out.

He swiftly got the ball out of his feet and turned a low shot beyond the despairing dive of Wright.

The youngster thus continued his rich vein of form - he finished the season with eight goals from five Under-18s appearances.

As the half continued, Blues exacted total control. They could easily have extended their lead.

From a left wing corner by O’Keeffe, a firm header by Joe Redmond into the thick of things almost resulted in George nudging it past the ‘keeper from close range.

Then a searching pass in behind the defence saw O’Keeffe, as he did so often, come storming from out to in to take advantage; as the ball bounced he lobbed it over the oncoming Wright but it went just too high over the crossbar.

Half-time: Ipswich 0 Blues 2

Blues made an assured start to the second period as a fired-up Ipswich tried to change their fortune.

Wright came to the home side’s rescue in the 55th minute when Blues recycled possession from an attacking free-kick. Bailey clipped a lovely cross back in from the left and captain Geraldo Bajrami came in with the run on his marker and headed powerfully down; the ball
bounce up and Wright spectacularly tipped it away from goal.

Next, from a corner on the right, O’Keeffe snaffled a loose ball after Redmond rose to meet the deep kick; he chested it under controlled and let fire with a fierce shot that Wright, springing to the left, pushed away brilliantly.

Blues were continuing to play some lovely stuff and controlling proceedings as the tie entered its last quarter.

In the 70th minute there was a rare moment of alarm – and lapse in Blues concentration – when Joshua Emmanuel got free, on the right of the defence. Fortunately the full-back lashed at his attempt at goal from a good angle and it flashed past the other post, out of harm’s way.

Blues went straight down the other end and carved open Ipswich once more but this time, after checking onto his right foot, Hurst hoisted a shot over from just inside the box.

Wright, once more, denied Blues by diving low to the left to parry out a low attempt by Ryan Stirk, from 16 yards, after the midfielder had calmly created space.

Ethan Patterson headed not too far over as Ipswich tried to muster a last hurrah before Blues brought on Jude Bellingham and Josh Andrews.

With 13 minutes left Hurst was teed-up at the far post after Bellingham fed O’Keeffe on the overlap and he clipped a lovely cross over but, again, Wright was equal to what came, swiping the shot away – another impressive save.

From a zipped defence-splitting pass by Burke, Bellingham took the ball in and then proceeded to tease Ipswich's defence with some deft, sublime footwork as he waltzed,  weaved and chopped his way towards goal, turning defenders this way and that on four occasions. In the end he was crowded out and his eventual close range attempt was blocked.

In added-time, O'Keeffe chipped down the right channel and a defensive error from Patterson, as the ball skidded on, let in Andrews but he struck the 'keeper's legs from the angle of the six-yard box.

With 90+4 minutes on the clock Blues finally added to their tally, via Hurst, who embarked on a mazy dribble coming in off the left.

He slalomed his way through and across diagonally and received a bit of good fortune when his shot on the run came off a defender's legs and looped beyond Wright.

Regardless, it was a welcome full stop to what was a magnificent display by the Under-23s.

Ipswich (4-1-4-1): Wright, Emmanuel, Webber (Clements 74), Patterson, Ndaba, McGavin, Dobra, El Mizouni, Z Brown, Crowe (K Brown ht), Kasinga-Madia (Oppong 59). Subs not used: Egan, Scott.

Blues (4-4-2): Jeacock, Hutton, Burke, Stirk, Bajrami, Redmond, O’Keeffe, Boyd-Munce, Hurst, George (Bellingham 76), Bailey (Andrews 76). Subs not used: Bradley-Hurst, Baker, Forrest.

Goals: O’Keeffe (2), George (25), Hurst (90+4)