Ipswich Town began the new campaign with a point after Lee Evans’ first-half goal saw the Blues come from behind to draw with Bolton.
Optimism was in the air at Portman Road as Town began their fourth attempt at promotion from League One, but things didn’t go according to plan as new signing Leif Davis gave away a penalty which was converted by Aaron Morley to give Wanderers a deserved lead .
Town had struggled to get going during a tough first half but scrambled level by the interval, as a clever set-piece routine saw Evans convert well from Conor Chaplin’s low corner.
From then, Kieran McKenna’s men wrestled control of the contest and had much the better of the play during the second period, but couldn’t find the second goal the 26,000-strong Portman Road crowd so craved.
McKenna’s changes in the second period gave Town a new edge, as Kayden Jackson’s pace and the guile of Tyreece John-Jules and Sone Aluko asked Bolton new questions, but the visitors held firm as both sides left with a point.
Next up for Ipswich is a trip to Forest Green Rovers, to face one of last season’s promoted sides.
McKenna went with the same side which started at Millwall in the Blues’ penultimate pre-season friendly, aside from the left flank, where Davis came straight into the Ipswich side for his debut.
Freddie Ladapo and Marcus Harness also started at the first time of asking, with the rest of the side the core of last season’s side.
Christian Walton was in goal behind Janoi Donacien, George Edmundson and Luke Woolfenden, with player-of-the-year Wes Burns out at the right. Sam Morsy and Evans were in midfield, with Dominic Ball injured, and Chaplin linking up with Harness and Ladapo.
But it was the visitors who came out the blocks quickest, winning an early corner and then finding space for Declan John to send in a shot which needed to be blocked behind by Donacien.
An Ipswich break saw Evans play a ball over the top for Ladapo to chase, which Bolton keeper James Trafford only just stretched to reach with his head to remove danger. The stopper was involved again soon after, with a poor clearance straight to Burns, which saw big defender Ricardo Santos head behind as he was forced to defend the Welshman’s cross.
Burns was again the crosser as he wriggled free down the right, following a nice one-two with Chaplin, but his low ball in couldn’t quite find Harness, before the Blues fell behind.
Bolton had enjoyed regular spells of pressure throughout the opening 25 minutes and it eventually told, when Conor Bradley ran across the toes of Davis, with the Town man bringing him down inside the box and prompting referee Samuel Barrott to point to the spot. Morley made no mistake, as Walton went the right way but couldn’t keep the well-struck shot out.
It was a lead the visitors deserved and looked like they might add to as they continued to apply pressure, though Town were looking dangerous at times on the break, with Chaplin having a shot superbly blocked by George Johnston as the Town attacker let off a rocket which looked destined for the net.
Ladapo, who had worked hard for a little reward, had a clipped shot blocked behind for a corner which soon led to the first goal of Town’s season.
It was a perfectly choreographed routine from the training ground, as Chaplin’s low ball into the box was perfect for Evans, who curled his shot into the top corner of the net.
The goal came at a time when frustrations, both on the pitch and off it, were beginning to grow, with the Blues struggling to settle into the possessional comfort we’ve become used to under McKenna’s guidance.
A nice opening saw Burns and Morsy combine to give Ladapo the chance to shoot from inside the box, but the striker’s effort was deflected up into the grateful hands of Trafford.
The two sides went in level at the break, with Town perhaps fortunate to be on terms, but the Blues came out on the front foot and soon creating an opening, as Chaplin fired over the top.
Chaplin and Evans tried the same corner routine which led to the Ipswich goal at the start of the second period, only for Evans’ shot to be blocked behind, before the pair connected again from the following corner, only for the Welshman’s header to be clawed away by Trafford.
McKenna turned to his bench for the first time on 59 minutes, with Tyreece John-Jules and Greg Leigh replacing Harness and Davis, with Leigh involved almost immediately with an excellent defensive header to take the ball off of Bradley at the far post.
The left-back then threatened at the other end, with a right-footed volley from outside the box which wasn’t too far away when it flew over the bar, before Burns had a shot blocked after a beautiful touch from John-Jules teed him up inside the area.
McKenna’s second round of changes saw the Town boss introduce Kayden Jackson and Sone Aluko, in place of Ladapo and Chaplin, with Jackson quickly involved as he charged down another delayed Trafford clearance. Fortunately for Bolton, the ball fell safe.
John-Jules turned well inside the box but couldn’t get the shot off to end a clever move, but Town’s big chance of the closing stages came in stoppage time, when Burns’ break down the right ended with Morsy hitting a shot from inside the box which he really should have converted.
Trafford was grateful to have the chance to make the save which, at the end, ensured his side left with a point.
IPSWICH TOWN (3-4-2-1): Walton; Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson; Burns, Evans, Morsy, Davis (Leigh 59); Chaplin (Aluko 71), Harness (John-Jules 59); Ladapo (Jackson 71).
Subs: Hladky, Burgess, Harper.
Booked: Davis (43), Woolfenden (75).
BOLTON WANDERERS (3-4-1-2): Trafford; Jones, Santos, Johnston; Bradley, Williams, Morley (Thomason 83), John; Lee (Bakayoko 70); Charles (Bodvarsson 77), Afolayan (Kachunga 77).
Subs: Aimson, Sadlier, Iredale.
Booked: John (33), Bradley (63).
Referee: Samuel Barrott.
Attendance: 26,688 (1,392).