‘Top of the league at Portman Road’ as Grabban’s first-half strike seals the deal in feisty Old Farm derbySat 23 Aug 14 by Gary Gowers
A close range Lewis Grabban header was enough to ensure the East Anglian bragging rights remained north of the border.
In the end one was enough for City but it could have been so much more comfortable. An imperfect but dominant display saw them create several good chances but wastefulness in front of goal and in the final third meant the faithful had to endure a few nervy second half moments.
For Grabban it was a day to remember and continues his hot streak in front of goal. His 24th minute strike made if four goals for the season, but the main culprit of City’s second-half profligacy could have easily departed Portman Road with the match ball; casual finishing and good goalkeeping denying him a hat-trick.
But it mattered little. Once City had recovered from the early loss of Ryan Bennett, due to a nasty looking ankle injury, and had edged themselves ahead the game was theirs to lose. They didn’t and, in truth, never looked like doing so.
The loss of Bennett after just three minutes was an early blow for Canaries, especially with Neil Adams having opted to slot him in alongside Michael Turner – at the expense of Javier Garrido – to counteract the expected aerial bombardment from Mick McCarthy’s men.
The reshuffle in City’s back-four – with Russell Martin and Steven Whittaker shifting to right and left back respectively – was therefore short-lived, with Adams resisting the temptation of throwing Carlos Cuellar into the fray so soon. Instead he turned to Garrido, who was given a chance to test out his tight hamstring in the back line that started against Blackburn.
For Town, David McGoldrick was given a start after a recent injury.
The Ipswich plan became clear very early on: to use their considerable height advantage with plenty of long diagonals into the City box and to press the Canaries high up the pitch. And for the opening fifteen minutes they had some joy.
On 10 minutes Wes Hoolahan lost possession under pressure and from the resultant McGoldrick cross Daryl Murphy toe-poked the ball over John Ruddy’s bar. City has been warned. More Town pressure followed but Russell Martin and Michael Turner held firm under the early examination.
Having survived the early pressure the visitors began to impose themselves on the game; Alex Tettey, Bradley Johnson and Hoolahan gradually gaining control of the central areas.
The game’s pivotal moment arrived courtesy of a City corner from their right flank taken by Hoolahan, who was subjected to some high-spirited ‘jibes’ from the home faithful as he swung the ball in.
His inswinging corner was initially headed clear from the Ipswich six-yard box but Tettey’s header back into the danger area was met by the unmarked Grabban, who steered his close range header beyond keeper Dean Gerken. Town arms were raised hoping for an offside flag, but it never came.
Town’s response was instant and from a well-worked training ground move, McGoldrick flashed a shot just wide of Ruddy’s left-hand upright.
An underlying edge pervaded for most of the first-half with the ongoing battle between Johnson and Luke Hyam typifying it. They were to see the whites of each other’s eye several times.
Kyle Lafferty too reveled in the spirit of the Old Farm derby and picked up a yellow card for his efforts, but the Northern Irishman also had three presentable chances to extend City’s lead. That none troubled Gerken was a source of City frustration.
The biggest threat to the visitors’ lead invariably came through McGoldrick, whose twisting and turning on the edge of the City box caused the Adams brow to furrow, but his shooting was wild and off-target.
Anderson was also to fire one into the top tier of the ‘Churchmans’, but City were good value for their interval lead.
As a spectacle the second-period was better. Town played with greater intensity; City with more intent on the break.
Ipswich’s best chance of the match came on 50 minutes. Jay Tabb’s nicely flighted cross in from the left found Murphy with a yard of space, but the big striker guided his header a yard wide of Ruddy’s right-hand post. It was the closest the home side would go all afternoon.
For City’s part, the three chances that fell to Grabban were equally as presentable. The first, by virtue of an exquisite Garrido through ball, was lazily clipped over Gerken and the crossbar with the Yellow Army expecting to see the net bulge. The second was closer.
A bobbling ball was met with a fine first touch by the City striker and his goal-bound effort was met with an equally fine save by the Town keeper. His third spurned opportunity was a one-on-one with Gerken but a heavy touch took him too wide and the chance was lost.
Still the chances kept coming for City – and even a triple change by McCarthy failed to stem the tide – but none of the opportunities were taken.
The excellent Hoolahan was sacrificed for the experienced Gary O’Neil late on, and the ex-QPR man’s cameo was a useful one. But with the lead being so slender a stirring Town finale appeared inevitable.
When it came City were thankful to the dependable Turner who, ably assisted by Martin, was able to use his aerial prowess to counteract the threat posed by McCarthy’s posse of six-footers. When called upon, Ruddy controlled his six-yard box with the authority the Yellow Army has come to expect.
The scenes at the final whistle were reminiscent of those from April 2011, even if the scoreline was less emphatic. A fist-pumping Paul Lambert was replaced by an equally pumped-up Adams, and three wins in a week and a place – albeit possibly short-lived – at the top of the table marks a promising start for the City manager.
In conversation with Sky Sports afterwards the City boss declared his team ‘full value’ for the win, but was also keen not to allow the focus to shift from the huge task ahead.
“It’s three points, that’s what it is”, said the City boss,”… and we’re going to have to be better than that over 46 games.”
All true, and there will be even greater tests ahead for City, but they should enjoy this one. Today has been a good one.