IPSWICH Town produced a much-improved performance but left themselves with a mountain to climb as they slid to a 2-1 defeat at home to Bristol Rovers.

It continued a miserable week for Paul Lambert’s men, who crashed out of the FA Cup by the same scoreline at the hands of Coventry City on Tuesday.

However, whereas they were abject in midweek, this was a much better performance and they were unfortunate to finish empty-handed.

They were made to pay for a dreadful start and found themselves two-down in 23 minutes.

Shell-shocked Town then sparked into life, had the bulk of the possession and created enough chances to rescue a point, at least.

James Norwood’s close-range header handed them a lifeline but despite pushing and probing in the second period, the Pirates, who defended stoically, held on for their first victory at Portman Road since Boxing Day 1958.

Lambert shuffled his pack again, making six changes from Tuesday’s limp cup display against Coventry.

Stand-in captain Cole Skuse started in an unaccustomed role at right-back, alongside centre-halves Luke Woolfenden and James Wilson and left-back Luke Garbutt.

Flynn Downes, Andre Dozzell and Jon Nolan made up the midfield trio, behind a three-man attacking unit of Kayden Jackson, Will Keane and Norwood.

Town’s first-half performance was far from perfect but, on the balance of play, after a rousing finale, they were unlucky to be behind.

Defensively, there had been some wobbles and the back four were breached twice inside 23 minutes.

Luke Leahy’s throw caught them napping and Ollie Clarke cleverly shielded the ball into the path of Tyler Smith, who blasted past Tomas Holy.

Worse followed midway through the period when Alex Rodman chested down a powerful cross and lobbed the ball to the far post, where Tom Nichols calmly headed home the Pirates’ second.

The alarm bells were ringing – as were the boos – but, in fairness, Ipswich responded positively and, with time on their side, looked far from down and out.

Nolan and Garbutt had efforts blocked before a slick move down the left resulted in a wonderfully worked goal for Norwood.

Downes and Dozzell cleverly helped the ball on before Jackson delivered a sublime cross for his attacking team-mate to nod past keeper Anssi Jaakkola.

Holy was called into action, diving to push away Smith’s header, while at the other end Rollin Menayese nearly turned the ball into his own net from Jackson’s cross.

Town continued to push in the closing minutes and the fact they had 68 per cent of the first-half possession confirms they were unfortunate to be 2-1 down.

That theme continued straight after the interval and Norwood put a gilt-edged chance onto the bar from Downes’ cross.

Thankfully for him, an offside flag spared his blushes.

Nolan then saw a header spin over the bar and Norwood’s precise shot from the left, arrowing towards the far corner, was tipped over by Jaakkola.

Town continued to attack and their chances received a boost 13 minutes from time, following a second yellow card for Clarke.

However, they were unable to grab a leveller and are now without a win in four League One outings.

They stay second, although Peterborough United and Rovers closed the gap, while leaders Wycombe Wanderers stretched their lead by beating Burton Albion 1-0.