All over bar the shouting

CHRIS LAKEY So that's it then. While the players still have two games remaining to prove they deserve to earn a living out of Norwich City Football Club, the season is surely now over for the fans.


So that's it then. While the players still have two games remaining to prove they deserve to earn a living out of Norwich City Football Club, the season is surely now over for the fans.

A home game against Southampton and a trip to Sheffield Wednesday on the final day may still carry some relevance for the opposition, but for City supporters it's probably more a case of "after the Lord Mayor's show" - in this case, after the East Anglian derby.

Last August we had hoped those games would provide a thrilling climax to the season: instead, they're as flat as a Norfolk Broad.

Thank goodness the fixture compiler didn't schedule the derby date any earlier - a scenario that might well have seen some embarrassing empty spaces on the terraces at Carrow Road in the final weeks of a campaign which in 13 days' time we can begin to try and forget.

Just to rub a little salt into City's wounds, at the same time as they were sweating it out for the admittedly not insignificant matter of derby supremacy, Birmingham and Wolves were going head to head 170 miles to our west in a match in which Premiership ambitions were on the line. And in front of Sky TV cameras.

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Instead, regional news might spare a minute or two for the derby tonight, tucked in around Colchester's play-off bid (Part IV), more on Luton's relegation and possibly even a piece on that most East Anglian of teams, the MK Dons.

Which is a shame, because while Ipswich and Norwich occupy 14th and 15th positions respectively, they actually turned on a half-decent show for the biggest crowd to cram into Carrow Road this season.

If you're a City fan you might point to a cracking first half-hour when your team, buoyed by Dickson Etuhu's fifth-minute goal, ripped into Ipswich. Darren Huckerby was tormenting former City loan player David Wright down the left, Etuhu was all muscle and guile in the middle, and Dion Dublin was proving that celebrating his 38th birthday doesn't mean his skills are diminished one iota.

Etuhu had a hand in the build-up to his goal, flicking on Andy Hughes' free-kick and then powering into the box to head home Darren Huckerby's cross.

He might have made it 2-0 on 10 minutes, heading Mark Fotheringham's corner just wide, while Huckerby cut in from the left to send a right-footer just over the crossbar. Etuhu and Huckerby had more difficult efforts while a linesman's flag denied Robert Earnshaw a run on goal just before half-time.

All well and good, but it was still only 1-0 at half-time and you just got the feeling City would regret not making the most of their performance.

Jim Magilton would doubtless have melted the paint on the dressing room walls with his "pep talk", while Grant could be forgiven for trying to get away with "more of the same, but with goals, please" line.

The Ipswich players were clearly more attentive, with the blue shirts taking over where the yellow ones had left off.

The excellent Gavin Williams tried a snap-shot from the edge of the box - not particularly dangerous, but compared to their first-half efforts, certainly a worry - and then Owen Garvan volleyed goalwards after a corner, Mark Fotheringham hacking the ball away from a post.

But while Ipswich were clearly on top, they could so easily have been two down had Chris Martin's volley from Huckerby's cross been just a foot or two lower.

How that might have changed things we will never know, nor did anyone have time to ponder as Ipswich went straight down the other end and scored. Wright overlapped well, but got lucky when his low cross from the right side of the area came back off the sliding Shackell back into his path - leaving him a toe-poke past Tony Warner.

Level pegging, Ipswich with their tails up - how would City's walking wounded react? To be fair, they did get something of a second wind, although when Lee Croft added a kick on the shins to his hip injury he could last no longer.

Huckerby prodded and probed down the left, but Etuhu saw an effort from one cross go wide, while Dublin couldn't stretch to reach another. The great man then saw a shot deflected - only for Shane Supple to save with his legs.

Ipswich enjoyed their share of possession in a match still high on energy, but fairly average on quality. And although the scaremongers always felt a blue goal was on the way, the reality was they only really tested Warner once after their equaliser, the loan keeper doing well to stop William's long-range effort.

That it ended all square was a fair result, of that there was little doubt, but Norwich might just make a case for a moral victory, given that most of the outfield players were carrying injuries of some kind or other.

It's amazing what you can do with a few dodgy bones and some sticky back plastic, as City's very own Blue Peter proved by fielding Huckerby, Croft, Dublin and Shackell, despite suggesting that all were borderline. Four out of four is some result, Peter.

Then you can add Adam Drury, who can't have trained that much given his recent frequent visits to the dentist, to that list plus Fotheringham - who Grant had declared fit last week simply by virtue of the fact that "he's walking" - and Earnshaw.

Which leaves precisely three outfield players who weren't affected by some sort of fitness problem or another.

This, by the way, isn't an excuse. It's a fact which needs to be taken into account when reflecting on the 76th meeting between these two teams. Earnshaw was clearly out of touch after three months out, Fotheringham struggled in the second half and ended the match wastefully sending free-kicks into the crowd while Drury just looked a bit knackered at times.

That Huckerby managed to play as well as he did is either testament to the healing powers of physio Neal Reynolds or proof that Peter Grant loves a bit of kidology now and again.

Neither was needed for Etuhu, who was excellent in the middle of the park where he was told to go in and make himself the boss, or Hughes, who has been criticised on the terraces and in these columns, but turned in arguably his best performance in a City shirt, full of the sort of character that has been missing from too many elements of the team this season.