Norwich City must quell signs of Ipswich resistance

Norwich midfielder Bradley Johnson was unable to add to his 15-goal tally this season against Ipswic

Norwich midfielder Bradley Johnson was unable to add to his 15-goal tally this season against Ipswich in the Championship play-off semi-final, first leg. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The wall of sound that greeted Norwich City's entrance at Portman Road told you Ipswich will not go quietly back into the Championship hinterlands and allow the Canaries a safe passage to Wembley.

All that pent-up frustration and sense of inferiority against their dominant Norfolk neighbours in recent times needed an outlet and those in blue found their collective voice after being silent for too long.

Norwich's travelling minority played their part, and must do so again at Carrow Road, swelled by a home fanbase set to witness an East Anglian derby of mountainous proportions.

Alex Neil and his players knew what was coming, given the ferocity of Ipswich's efforts on and off the pitch. City stood firm in those close quarters exchanges but there was a palpable desperation to the hosts' play which set this contest apart from those recent derby skirmishes.

Ipswich's own play-off hopes hinged on halting Norwich's momentum at Portman Road. Had Norwich maintained their winning habit in Suffolk you sense the peak would have been too much to scale.

McCarthy's troops were predictably physical but admirably energetic and committed to the cause, fuelled it seemed by an inner belief which must surely stem from their wily manager, that they can turn the tide in these parts.

Daryl Murphy, flanked by Freddie Sears and Luke Varney before his injury exit, swarmed from the front to prevent City trying to engineer phases of controlled possession in a fraught opening half.

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Alex Tettey was a reassuring presence for the visitors, as the Norwegian strived to nullify the influence of Cole Skuse and Paul Anderson, who seemed determined to deny City's creative midfielders time and space to weave their patterns.

It was a suffocating, furiously-paced duel where only Varney's prolonged injury delay and the half-time whistle provided any respite.

Norwich went longer in their pursuit of an attacking edge to try and test Bartosz Bialkowski, and were rewarded when Jonny Howson superbly swept home Cameron Jerome's cross.

Ipswich's heavy armour had pounded away but John Ruddy's fine early double stop to foil Sears and Varney, prior to Howson's intervention, was the one potentially calamitous moment averted.

Norwich needed to protect their keeper for an extended phase of injury time following Howson's clinical counter; instead they contributed to their own downfall.

Russell Martin had already been harried by Murphy once in the build-up to Ruddy's defiant brace of early saves, but there was no such reprieve when his miscued header was drilled goalwards by Sears and Anderson lashed home Ruddy's attempted clearing kick, under pressure from Murphy, after the keeper initially parried Sears' low shot.

It was a messy, self-inflicted blow that triggered another explosion of noise just minutes after silent protest had greeted Howson's finish from everyone bar a pocket of away supporters at the opposite end of the stadium.

Ipswich may rightfully contend they deserved something for their whole-hearted brand of endeavour, but that did not lessen the sting from City's own culpability in Town's leveller.

Fulham's two goals the previous weekend, in an otherwise positive play-off platform, owed much to individual errors. Norwich had improved markedly in defensive soundness since Neil's arrival, triggered by the resumption of Seb Bassong's City career, but they need to re-discover that frugal streak to quell Town and then prevail at Wembley.

Middlesbrough's league win at Carrow Road last month was rooted in Norwich's slackness at an early set piece; they can expect to be tested again in that regard this weekend.

There is little devil in the detail to the Blues' work, but it is mightily effective and difficult to thwart.

City looked far more at ease after the interval when the home fire subsided. Ipswich appeared incapable of maintaining the same frenetic pace to the bout, but, as Neil alluded to, Norwich's goal threat also declined in proportion to their dominance of territory and possession.

City attempted to move Town's backline out of position and predictably it was Bradley Johnson who proved integral to their most promising second half moments, but Bialkowski was only belatedly pressed into service in stoppage time to help Nathan Redmond's looping header over his own bar.

The real intrigue is yet to unfold after a fascinating first leg. City will aim to control the ball but the likes of Murphy, Sears and a fit-again David McGoldrick offer a counter-attacking presence.

Predicting the respective styles is easy, who retains their composure as the minutes tick by at Carrow Road and the pressure and anxiety grows remains the big imponderable.

Town's fearless approach to the task of bridging the quality gap in Suffolk deserved respect. Now Neil and his squad have to decisively prove they possess the nous and the nerve to edge past the Blues and target an even greater prize.