IPSWICH Town’s survival chances are hanging by a thread after crashing to a devastating 3-2 defeat against Millwall.

Paul Lambert’s men saw their interval lead overturned during a morale-sapping second period and it now appears only a miracle will keep them in the Championship.

They are ten points from safety after an unthinkable defeat against one of the sides with them in the bottom five.

Other strugglers like Reading, Bolton and Wigan also lost but Rotherham won and there’s no disguising the scale of this setback – the worst possible start to 2019.

Yet things started so well.

Jack Lankester’s sublime early opener gave them an interval lead and they spurned glorious chances to double their lead – a failing that cost them dearly as Millwall fought back in the second half with goals from Shane Ferguson, Jake Cooper and Tom Elliott.

Kayden Jackson’s late strike offered hope but it proved scant consolation on a day that promised so much, started so well yet finished so depressingly.

LINE-UP: Lambert made three changes from the side that lost 2-0 at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Teddy Bishop returned in midfield, at the expense of the injured Jon Nolan, while Lankester started on the right, in place of Gwion Edwards, and striker Ellis Harrison was preferred to Jackson.

VERDICT: Town made the best possible start to the match – and their year – by scoring so early.

Kenlock fed Sears and just before the wide man was clattered, he managed to poke a pass out wide to Lankester.

The referee waved played on, Lankester cut inside from the right and fired a perfect effort across goal and inside the far post, past the despairing dive of Jordan Archer.

Town were brilliant in the early stages – not a sentence that’s been used many times this season – and they had chances to double their lead.

Sears had three of them – first seeing a close-range effort blocked by Archer after a low, deflected cross from the right by Harrison.

The keeper then denied him again with at effort at the far post, after Jordan Spence’s delivery, before a close-range effort was brilliantly blocked by Ryan Tunnicliffe, after a cut-back from Flynn Downes.

In between, Harrison had an effort blocked after swivelling in the box.

Town nearly paid a heavy price for their inability to grab a second when Bishop’s weak corner released Jed Wallace.

The wide man raced the length of the pitch – tracked by Bishop – but his low effort from the right was saved by the alert Dean Gerken.

The second half was a more even, scrappy and nervous affair and the Lions equalised after a clumsy challenge by Luke Chambers on Elliott.

Referee Stephen Martin had no hesitation in awarding a penalty and Ferguson confidently buried his spot-kick into the top right-hand corner.

Worse followed eight minutes later after a poor goal from a deep corner.

Steve Morison and Elliott both got their head on the ball before Cooper nodded home from close range. A body-blow.

Millwall hammered the final nail in Town’s coffin after a short back-pass from Pennington.

Elliott slid in to reach the ball before Gerken, Aiden O’Brien kept it in play and Elliott hammered the loose ball past Chambers, on the line.

Town threw themselves a lifeline when substitute Jackson fired home from the edge of the box, via the left-hand post.

However, it came too late to spark a grandstand finish and the hosts were left licking their wounds – again.

PLAYER WATCH: Kenlock made his first home start of the season, having been recalled for the Middlesbrough match. His only other minutes this season came as a late substitute against Aston Villa, in August.

The left-back looked a class act in the first half - every bit as good a defender as Jonas Knudsen.

His distribution was decent and he got forward at every opportunity, linking up well with Sears.

He had a hand in the goal and also delivered a peach of a cross for Harrison’s volley.

His attacking influence waned in the second half when everything that could go wrong did go wrong but he deserves a run in the side.

STAR MAN: I’m going for Lankester, for his glorious contribution in the first half.

Things turned sour after the break but the youngster lit up the early stages, scoring a brilliant goal and showing tricks, energy and industry that made him a joy to watch.

RATINGS (4-3-3): Gerken 6; Spence 6, Chambers 6, Pennington 6, Kenlock 7; Bishop 5 (Dozzell 65, 5), Chalobah 6 (Jackson 75, 7), Downes 6; Lankester 7, Harrison 7, Sears 6. Unused subs: Bialkoswki, Knudsen, Edwards, Roberts, Nsiala.

NEXT UP: Town put their survival crusade on the back-burner next weekend as they head to Accrington for an FA Cup third-round tie at the Crown Ground.

After that they return to Portman Road for another significant home game against Rotherham.