Judging by the post-match reaction on social media (I didn’t listen to Canary Call, so am unable to comment) some of our number felt a draw at Suffolk’s home of football was almost akin to defeat.
Similarly, judging by the noises emanating from Ipswich one could be forgiven for thinking they had won 4-0.
‘Giving it large’ doesn’t even come close to describing the elation on one particular Town forum, with our friends in blue drooling over their performances both on and off the field.
To have pulled 10,000 fans out of a hat in the space of one month is, in fairness, a trick worth celebrating and the scenes that greeted Paul Anderson’s equaliser just before half-time were indeed worthy of an FA Cup Final last-minute winner, but for most of us the tie has reached half-time with it very much still in the balance.
And that was always going to be the case.
It was always difficult to imagine a scenario whereby the second leg was going to be a ‘dead rubber’, with neither side likely to capitulate in 90 minutes given their respective goals-against stats.
The smart money was on the game being tight, nervy, tetchy and error-ridden, and so it proved. Derbies are ever thus, so too play-off semi-final first-legs – throw the two together and we were virtually guaranteed one that would be ugly and stop-start.
For Town’s part, that’s what they would have wanted. Mick McCarthy post-match described it as “terrific” and given his obvious desire to break up City’s passing rhythm will have probably been telling his players it was a job well done.
Certainly McCarthy’s men gave their best performance so far in this season’s trilogy with City offering Alex Neil probably their weakest performance of the three, but true to form the Canaries’ boss was still in upbeat mood post-match and was happy with the control his team had for virtually all of the second half.
Of concern to him – and it was something that had George Burley positively salivating in his the Sky Sports end-of-game summary – will have been City’s difficulties in dealing with the high ball; in particular skipper, Russell Martin.
Russ will likely have been replaying that weak defensive header, which presented Freddie Sears with the chance to shoot, over and over in his head last night but alas it was not an isolated incident on an afternoon when Daryl Murphy offered him and Seb Bassong more than a few problems.
On too many occasions City failed in that basic function of getting height and distance on defensive headers and, together with some general hesitancy, they invited that period of Town pressure before half-time. Problematic too was their inability to pick up the second ball from those hurried defensive clearances.
While a relatively minor gripe, especially given the solidity City have shown since the Martin/Bassong combination was put together, it’s one that may be worthy of a question mark given the aerial dominance usually enjoyed by one Ryan Bennett. I’m not sure Murphy would bully him in quite the same way.
But, I expect few changes for next Saturday – I’m certainly not about to question the almost flawless decision-making of Master Alex – and if City can control of the game as they did in yesterday’s second-half and add a quality final ball then they will win the tie.
And there were still positives to be derived from what was a difficult afternoon. Jonny Howson again caught the eye when tasked with being the most attack-minded midfielder, capping it off with that sweetly hit 41st minute strike, and Cameron Jerome again successfully ploughed that lone furrow, giving both Town central defenders a rough ride in the process.
Nathan Redmond, despite some thinly veiled criticism, also did a good job for the team and, although unable to run the rings he and we wanted around Tyrone Mings, successfully halted the regular forward forays of Town’s left-back – a notable feature of their attacking play this season.
On that particular score I suspect Neil will consider it ‘job done’.
John Ruddy too was on the wrong end of some Twitter trolling as a result of his spilling of Sears’ shot that led to the goal, but was magnificent for the most part – in particular with that terrific double-save in the early exchanges. To have conceded early would have given the afternoon a very different feel and Ruddy’s reactions could well prove priceless.
On such occasions goalkeepers are obviously first in line for the wrath and venom of the home fans and, while it may be part and parcel of the job, Ruddy would have subjected to all sorts yesterday, most of it not stuff to go home and relay to the family. He handled it well, and I won’t be betting against a clean sheet next Saturday.
Wes’ cameo was another that divide opinion – adjectives ranging from ‘very good’ to ‘woeful’ – and as ever the truth was probably somewhere in-between the extremes, but he did possibly offer a glimpse of what lies ahead for Ipswich next week with his trickery and probing.
While he remains a frustration for some, I suspect McCarthy would prefer to face a City XI without Wes, given his ability to do the unexpected. The trick of course is to get him on the ball in dangerous areas and ensure he’s not swallowed up by by the bruising physicality of those in blue.
As ever, I trust Alex implicitly to make the right call.
So, six days time and we do it all over again, only next time round the shoe will be on the other foot, and those in yellow will be roared on by almost 25,000 voices, those in blue with the support of just 2,000. And it’s up to us to make sure those voices make a difference.
Yes they went over-the-top with the mutual back-slapping, but for 20 minutes at the end of the first-half Portman Road did vaguely resemble a cauldron. But we can do better.
Typically the week ahead will be jam-packed full of Town heroes of yesteryear giving it the ‘big ‘un’ – just as they did last week – with Burley not even waiting until the players had reached the Portman Road changing rooms before taking the first shot.
Whether it was due to sharing the afternoon with two City fans – Sky’s Simon Thomas and Darren Eadie – or he saw it as his duty to fight the blue corner, but Norfolk’s least favourite Scot was positively bristling in the Sky ‘box’ post-match, citing City’s vulnerability at the back as one that offered Ipswich genuine hope.
Eadie for his part offered little by way of bravado and played a beautiful, classic forward defensive – just perfect in the circumstances.
The Blues will do the talking in the next few days – that much is guaranteed – and hopefully City will continue to keep their own counsel as they have done for the last week and a bit. Mind games are one thing, but what happens between 12:15 and 2:00 next Saturday is all that matters – and we can only hope it ends with no regrets.
I’ll leave the final word to Anglia TV’s, Malcolm Robertson who summed up the thoughts of many when he tweeted post-match: “… a bit disappointed. We can play better – not sure they can.”
Well said that man.