Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City let Ipswich Town off the hook
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Neil's expression after the final whistle summed up how far short Norwich City were and how big the gulf is in expectations between two bitter rivals.
Neil cut a frustrated figure at the painful realisation that for all Ipswich's endeavour and energy and commitment it was a self-inflicted blow which denied the Canaries a sixth win in seven derby meetings and more importantly two extra league points in the pursuit of promotion.
Town fans hailed their men at the finish for a shift dripping in honest toil. Mick McCarthy made a point of shaking all his players hands as the hosts exited the Portman Road pitch to a cacophony of clap banners.
Yet had Norwich been ruthless and closed out a first period when they appeared to be surprised by the ferocity of Town's early onslaught this could have been chalked up as another sweet Suffolk win to savour. Even an off-colour display was laced with enough latent attacking threat to have sealed the victory. Steven Whittaker replaced the injured Ivo Pinto at the interval and had arguably Norwich's two best chances of the second period. A miscued finish allowed Adam Webster to clear on his own goal line but a thumping angled hit beat Bartosz Bialkowski only to thud against the base of his left-hand post. Add Jacob Murphy's stoppage time burst and shot, which rolled the wrong side of Bialkowski's far upright, and for all Town's aerial bombardment Norwich looked the most potent.
It is not arrogance to suggest few of the men in blue would displace their opposite number in yellow and green. McCarthy, his players and many pundits across the border had queued up during the build-up to positively salivate at the quality in Neil's ranks. That was less an attempt to deflect the pressure onto the visitors and more a realistic appraisal of Norwich's collective strength. This is a group of players who, bar perhaps Nathan Redmond's summer departure, remain intact from the recent Premier League campaign, with some astute additions in the likes of Michael McGovern and Sergi Canos. That elusive search for a striker should not disguise the cold reality this squad is good enough to mount a serious challenge.
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Which perhaps was where the frustration lay for Neil. Norwich rightfully expect to compete for promotion. Ipswich hope to be on the periphery of the shake-up. Derbies are the great leveller but with the exception of a half in each of the play-off battles in 2015 this was the first meeting for many a year when Ipswich may justifiably feel they did enough to warrant a victory that would have exorcised some of the demons which fuelled such a potent start.
Town, for the vast majority, edged the dirty, uncultured, physical encounters for possession or aerial dominance; disrupting Norwich's attempts to impose their will and sparking wave after wave of assaults designed to produce profitable set piece opportunities. Norwich knew what was coming but seemed powerless to stem the flow at times.
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But context is everything when the dust settles and the clap banners fall silent. Norwich have another shot at Carrow Road later this season to wrestle back neighbourly bragging rights. By then they will expect to be firmly in contention for a Premier League return, and that remains the only measuring stick. City were fitful and sporadic. When they fired, it produced a superb opening goal slotted by Cameron Jerome and those later chances for Whittaker and Murphy. They were slim rations on an arduous afternoon. Ipswich's challenge is to muster the same intensity when they face the lesser lights. Norwich in the second tier will be a prized scalp most weeks, where rivals will seek to probe for weakness in the same direct manner as McCarthy's men. They better get used to it and develop an effective antidote.