AND so, after 44 games of an absorbing season, the dream lives on – just.

Eddie Howe’s heroes threw everything but the kitchen sink at play-off rivals Ipswich and will count themselves unfortunate to have left Portman Road with just a point.

It was scant consolation for their efforts as the visitors dominated possession for long periods and created the lion’s share of the chances, only to twice concede the lead.

But this resolute team which never knows when it is beaten twice hauled itself off the canvas to restore parity and was by far the likelier of the two competitors to land a late knockout blow.

Talk of Cherries reaching the Premier League would have been fanciful 12 months ago. It would also have been pretty far-fetched at the start of March when they trailed the chasing pack by 13 points.

But an inspired run has seen them dispel thoughts of simply playing out the season, with the comfort of mid-table clearly the furthest thing from the minds of the players.

This performance typified the season as Howe’s men again showed oodles of endeavour and character to come back after suffering two body-blows.

And while this was a result which did little for either teams’ chances of securing sixth place, it was also one which kept them both in the hunt.

Cherries, three points adrift but with an inferior goal difference, will need to win their final two games of the season and then hope for the best.

And while they laid siege to the Ipswich goal for the final 15 minutes and committed men forward in search of a winner, their efforts ultimately went unrewarded.

Defenders Elliott Ward and Charlie Daniels returned to the starting line-up as boss Howe made two changes following Cherries’ 4-2 defeat by Sheffield Wednesday on Good Friday.

Ward and Daniels, both sidelined for around three months, replaced Tommy Elphick and Ian Harte, who dropped to the bench, while Harry Arter was ruled out due to a thigh injury.

Simon Francis was handed the skipper’s armband with captain Elphick taken out of the firing line having been playing through the pain barrier in recent weeks with a back problem.

Although chances were in short supply during the early stages, Cherries started in confident mood and enjoyed the better of the midfield exchanges.

Ipswich goalkeeper Dean Gerken had to race off his line to save at the feet of Lewis Grabban after Eunan O’Kane’s pass had split the hosts’ defence on 13 minutes.

Grabban then screwed wide after taking aim with a right-foot shot from 20 yards before a well-worked corner taken by Matt Ritchie ended with Andrew Surman’s shot being deflected past the post.

Ward’s thunderous strike from 35 yards flew over the crossbar, while a header from Yann Kermorgant went wide after the Frenchman’s neat pass had started the move.

Kermorgant nodded a Marc Pugh centre on to the top of the net before O’Kane blazed a presentable chance high into the stand after Ritchie’s fly-kick had fallen invitingly for him.

Ipswich fashioned their first shooting chance after 34 minutes, although Aaron Cresswell’s speculative effort failed to trouble Cherries goalkeeper Lee Camp.

However, the hosts opened the scoring against the run of play when Paul Anderson stretched at the far post to poke Cole Skuse’s cross into the roof of the net.

Buoyed by the goal, the Tractor Boys went close to doubling their lead, with Camp pulling off a top-drawer save to push Cresswell’s free kick on to the post.

Grabban’s snapshot was deflected past the post before Cherries deservedly levelled on the stroke of half-time through Steve Cook’s acrobatic scissors kick.

Gerken was powerless to stop the defender finding the back of the net, Cook swivelling to rifle his shot past the Blues goalkeeper after he had reacted quickest having headed a Daniels free kick into the air.

Pugh’s shot through a crowd of players was blocked at the start of the second half before Ipswich regained the lead 11 minutes after the break.

Another Cresswell free kick caused problems for Cherries and substitute Paul Green applied an unstoppable header from close range after it had been helped on at the near post by Tommy Smith.

Pugh squandered a glorious opportunity to fire Cherries back on level terms for a second time when he lifted his shot from a Francis cross over the bar with the goal gaping.

Ritchie threw Cherries a lifeline 10 minutes from time when his free kick took a wicked deflection off the Ipswich wall and flew past a wrong-footed Gerken to make it 2-2.

Blues substitute Tyrone Mings glanced a header narrowly past the upright as Ipswich looked to again wrest the advantage before Grabban’s hesitancy saw his shooting chance bite the dust at the opposite end.

Kermorgant went close to snatching a dramatic late winner when his rasping volley was beaten away by Gerken before the Ipswich goalkeeper was forced to push Grabban’s low drive round the post.


Cherries: Camp, Francis, Cook, Ward, Daniels (Smith, 66), Ritchie, Surman, O’Kane, Pugh (Rantie, 66), Grabban, Kermorgant.
Unused subs:     Elphick, Harte, MacDonald, Fraser, Allsop (g/k).
Blues: Gerken, Richardson, Chambers, Smith, Cresswell, Anderson (Nouble, 53), Skuse, Wordsworth (Green, h-t), Hunt, Williams (Mings, 77), Murphy. 
Unused subs: Tabb, Taylor, Marriott, Loach (g/k).
Referee: Andy D’Urso (Essex).
Attendance: 20,356 (including 890 away supporters).