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Report: Bristol City 2-1 Ipswich Town

Two Aden Flint headers from two Luke Freeman corners ensured a winning start to Lee Johnson’s reign as Bristol City head coach.

The big defender rose twice in the space of 15 first-half minutes to score almost identical goals and leave visitors Ipswich Town gasping for breath in BS3.

But familiar super sub Brett Pitman rekindled his happy habit of coming off the bench to score at Ashton Gate to give the play-off chasers a foothold.

Tommy Smith twice came close to a late equaliser, but City stood firm to record their first back-to-back victories of the season.

Johnson named only one change for his first game in charge, replacing one Bristolian with another as Joe Bryan took the shirt of Bobby Reid in midfield.

With Bryan on the left and Freeman on the right it was very much 4-4-2 under the new regime, with Lee Tomlin supporting Jonathan Kodjia up front.

Ipswich, meanwhile, were without injured former City duo Dean Gerken and Cole Skuse, while Pitman was only on the bench for a visiting team who adopted a 3-5-2 approach as old met new on the tactics board at Ashton Gate.

Johnson had every reason to be satisfied with the opening exchanges. City passed the ball with confidence and looked sturdy out of possession.

In truth the game was following a familiar pattern until Flint headed home his third goal of the campaign in the 20th minute, with some easy-on-the-eye approach play not necessarily rewarded with a flurry of clear-cut chances.

Korey Smith was publicly delighted with Johnson’s arrival, having been handed the captain’s armband by the new boss in their time together at Oldham Athletic, and was playing with noticeably more freedom.

Twice he must have thought he had ended his long wait for a first league goal in red and white.

First he connected sweetly with a half-volley from 20 yards that took a deflection and forced an outrageous stop from Bartosz Bialkowski – only starting due to Gerken’s shoulder problem – who flung himself to his left and miraculously tipped the ball over his crossbar.

Then Smith got himself into the box and hit a curling effort towards the far corner that only whistled fractionally wide.

But in between times, cries of “Johnson says bounce around the ground” were reverberating around BS3, as Flint climbed highest to nod home Freeman’s corner from six yards via the upright.

Ipswich were due a good spell and it duly arrived after Marlon Pack’s low drive flashed past the post.

Richard O’Donnell showed great confidence to rush from his goal-line and connect with a dominant punch as the visitors hoisted a high ball into the box, before a rare lapse saw the City keeper clear the ball against Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who could not quite get it under control.

The hosts were defending in numbers and proving a tough nut to crack. There was no way in behind the backline for nippy striker Freddie Sears, leaving Ben Pringle and Smith to try their luck from the edge of the area without success, before Flint pounced to score his second with an almost exact replica 15 minutes after his first.

Again it was a Freeman delivery from the right, again Flint jumped to meet it and again he found the far corner – this time without the need for a brush with the post.

City had a two-goal lead in a home game for the first time since October and it was time to relax, as some intricate play in and around the 18-yard box culminated in a fierce strike from Smith that was blocked before the home support stood to a man to applaud the build-up.

As with City’s last home encounter against Birmingham City, there was always likely to be a reaction from promotion-chasing opponents after the interval.

Pitman’s introduction on 53 minutes seemed to spark it, as Town switched to their usual 4-4-2, paving the way for O’Donnell to be called into further action.

Twice he saved very smartly from Daryl Murphy, Ipswich’s talisman who hit 27 Championship goals last season, and has shown signs of rediscovering his form in recent weeks.

The Irishman thundered a bouncing ball towards the near post that O’Donnell did well to turn aside before a header from six yards looked certain to find the net until the keeper intervened.

Then Pitman got a glancing touch to a dropping ball only to see it fall wide of the post, before escaping the City defence to latch on to Murphy’s pass and finish coolly with a left-footed shot perfectly placed inside the far post that for once left O’Donnell stranded as it dribbled in.

But City’s response to seeing their lead cut in half was admirable. Johnson switched his front two, introducing Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard for Tomlin and Kodjia, and his team were soon back on the front foot.

A teasing Freeman cross from the right was intentionally left by Wilbraham but ran just beyond the far post, while Bialkowski got down quickly to palm away Agard’s low curler.

Meanwhile, Smith continued to search for league goal number one on his 73rd appearance, drilling one low shot across goal before being denied by a tremendous last-ditch tackle.

But Mick McCarthy was prepared to throw caution to the wind and ended the game with five forwards on the pitch in search of an equaliser.

Ironically it was a defender who came closest to finding it, as Smith’s placed shot from 20 yards just did not curl enough to sneak inside O’Donnell’s right-hand post before his late header eluded the same upright, much to the relief of another sell-out crowd at Ashton Gate.