City boss Glenn Roeder left the word “disappointing” to cover a whole multitude of sins after watching his Canary side be wholly out-played by their Suffolk neighbours at Portman Road this afternoon.
Ched Evans' fourth minute opener proved little more than a consolation as Ipswich hit their play-off stride again with a comprehensive 2-1 success that but for some wretched finishing from the home side and three, big saves from Canary keeper David Marshall could easily have been a far more painful reverse.
Inevitably one-time Norwich Academy triallist Danny Haynes had a ball at City's expense – pinging Town's leveller in off a luckless Alex Pearce for a 12th minute own goal, before slotting the winner beneath Marshall before the break as the Canaries struggled to get any real grip on proceedings.
Or, indeed, any grip on the surface as comedy slips from Ryan Bertrand (twice) and Gary Doherty managed to present the 20-year-old with chance after chance to rip into the Norfolk side. With Pablo Counago pulling all too many strings up front and Jon Walters adding genuine guile on his return from injury, Norwich barely created another chance after Evans' opener.
Bertrand had the kind of game that Ian Murray made a Canary career of and was spared any more discomfort by Mo Camara's second-half arrival. And minus the required promptings of injured skipper Mark Fotheringham from centre-midfield, Darren Huckerby's 200th game in a City short proved a real damp squib of an occasion – an outing marked by little more than a yellow card for an on-going spat with Town winger Alan Quinn.
It was Roeder's decision to hand Jamie Cureton the right-wing gig that prompted the most pointed questions in a testy Press conference afterwards as Roeder emerged 'fresh' from a lengthy post-mortem of his own in the Norwich dressing room.
“Where should we have played him?” was Roeder's response when asked whether or not Cureton was wasted away on the right. The options were to play Lee Croft from the start and then perm two from three from Cureton, Evans or Dion Dublin. Or perhaps start Mo Camara, push the hapless Bertrand up to left midfield and give Huckerby the run at right-wing. As ever, with four minutes gone Roeder had got it spot on; with 94 minutes gone and it was up for debate.
'Off Dion, I would have thought…' was the reporter's reply to Roeder's question.
“Where should we have played Evans then?”
'Well, maybe, Evans shouldn't have started…'
“We haven't got a big squad,” said Roeder, as the tennis match came to an end. “We've got a very small squad and we've been very fortunate with injuries. And that's the first injury we've picked up for a while [Fotheringham].
“So I was being as positive as I could with the three strikers. And we've only got three of them. Cureton's match fit at the moment; he's played in a wide position before and done very well; Ched Evans is an out-and-out striker – and will be a very good striker that scores plenty of goals – and you can hardly expect Dion Dublin to play wide on the right when he's 39 this week.”
Croft was the alternative. “Lee Croft hasn't played that much football recently,” countered Roeder, with Huckerby's return to form recently winning him the one-winger only gig.
“I wanted the players that were match fit; match hardened. And a goal threat – Lee Croft hasn't scored a goal this year.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of that debate, it wasn't exactly the only area of the pitch in which Norwich were distinctly second-best. Not for the first time, they never found an answer to Haynes.
If the lad had a consistent finish to add to his power, his pace and the fact that a City shirt appears to be something of a yellow rag to a bull, he would have already followed Darren Bent into the Premiership. One way or another, the 20-year-old could be there next August whether or not today's victory spurs Ipswich into a successful play-off campaign.
“It was a disappointing performance – especially after we took the lead so early,” admitted the Canary chief, suggesting that the club's rocky road to potential safety would, inevitably, include the odd, large pot-hole.
“People forget very quickly in football and we need to remind you that in the first week in November we had eight points – we've shifted up to 52 in a short space of time and you're going to get the odd poor performance and that came today, unfortunately.”
It wasn't helped by Fotheringham's absence. He had, both at Ashton Gate a fortnight ago and against Burnley last weekend, been at the heart of City's better moments; without him and the Canaries struggled to put two passes together. Huckerby barely saw the ball; Dion Dublin barely had a cross of note to attack.
“He picked up a neck injury on Saturday morning – and that's the first injury that we've picked up on the training ground,” said Roeder. “And that was very much bad luck for him because he's been such an influence lately.”
Did they miss him badly? “We did, but no excuse. We don't make excuses – it gave someone else an opportunity.
“We had a wonderful start; couldn't have asked for a better start to be one-up as early as that, but we didn't get a grip on the game. Very lucky equaliser and then that put us on the back foot. And it was a disappointing day – to say the least. For everyone at the club.”
Which was, it seems, the thrust of Roeder's post-match discussions with the players. What had he said to the players afterwards? “Basically that,” said the City chief, in little mood to elaborate on any answer as the Canaries kept everyone's interest in this season's relegation race alive for at least another week.
They may enjoy a four-point cushion on Sheffield Wednesday in 22nd spot, but The Owls have a game in hand; there may be the cushion of five other clubs between them and that final relegation place, but a home game against title-hunting West Bromwich Albion next Saturday isn't exactly one where three points come guaranteed.
Roeder would admit that as 2-1 scorelines go, the defeats against Bristol City and Ipswich Town were poles apart performance-wise. “We went to Bristol City and ripped them apart and we lose the game 2-1 in the last few seconds. Today we lost 2-1 – it's the same scoreline – but it's a completely different performance.
“It's probably the first game for four or five games where we haven't made chances and I think that was down to our poor performance than any great defending by Ipswich. Because we didn't put them under enough pressure anyway.”
It wasn't, however, as bad as it's got under his watch.
“Nowhere near. Plymouth, 3-0, was the pits.”