For bit part players in The Ipswich Town Story we’re doing rather well.
With Sky’s team doing their very best – with obvious exception of Darren Eadie – to big up the hosts and skip over the deficiencies in their crude brand of football, it must have crushing for them to look on as City ruined what was supposed to be the day the tide finally turned in favour of the history-makers.
Daniel Farke in the exhausting pre-match build up spoke fairly and professionally, as ever, and refused to go ‘too deep’ into City’s unbeaten run in East Anglian derbies that stretches back to 2009; citing the Premier League years as mitigation for our friends in blue.
But I’m neither fair or professional and am more than happy to point out that in that time we’ve played Ipswich nine times; winning six, drawing three and with cumulative ’19 for/6 against’ goal difference. While we’ve managed only a modest three clean sheets in that time, our friends from the south have not scored more than a single goal in any of those games.
All they have to show for it is ‘the best four minutes of their lives’, a pair of auctioned shorts and ‘a small part of Norwich that will always be Ipswich’ – apparently. That’s until the next time – in February – when we have to go through it all again.
To offer a reluctant modicum of balance, their time is edging closer and but for David McGoldrick’s missed header and Jonas Knudsen’s (with a K) shot hitting the wrong side of Angus’s post it could quite easily have been today. But the header only troubled the bloke in row J of the Churchman’s Stand (is it still called that?) and K-nudsen’s shot flew back into play rather than into the net.
The margins are getting finer and the gap in quality is unquestionably closer than it has been for some time, but for all Mick McCarthy’s pained expressions and logic the scoreboard at the end read, ‘Ipswich Town 0, Norwich City 1’. And, for all the hand-wringing south of the border, that’s not about to change.
As Mick was quick to point out, no-one’s about to argue that those in blue marginally had the better of the first half – particularly the final 20 minutes of the half when we struggled to get out largely due to being unable to keep the ball – but in those moments of pressure those in yellow were unbowed. Waghorn and Garner, despite their best efforts, were unable to bully and bash and niggle in the way McCarthy demands but it is fair to say the half-time whistle was a welcome sound for Team Farke (and all of us).
It’s also fair to say we did ourselves few favours by giving away a series of free-kicks in the final third to invite said pressure. Yet, despite Danny Higginbotham postively willing a blue head to get a final, decisive touch, Angus was spared having to even make a proper save.
Typically these occasions hinge on a mistake or a moment of exquisite skill and luckily in James Maddison we have someone capable of the latter, and someone who’s in the richest vein of form of his young life. The calmness he showed to use Webster as a shield and then bend the ball into Bialkowski’s net belied his tender years; so too his ‘sshh’ celebration in front of those who’d spent the game calling him unholy names.
Until the goal the fate of those much-lauded bragging rights hung in the balance but with a lead to protect this team comes into its own. Game management is something at which we currently excel and despite lot of huffing, puffing and hoofing from Mick’s men they were countered with another masterclass in squeezing the life out of a game of football; an art that had seldom been witnessed in these parts since the Lambert years but which is now a staple of our away performances.
That Angus had only two saves to make in the maelstrom of El Tractico (I hate it too) was a credit to those tasked with protecting him, including Grant Hanley who, despite appearing a little laden with rust, was in the right place at the right time on a few crucial occasions. He now will feel part of the group having been on the fringes and it was heart-warming to see him play his full part in the celebrations at the end.
There is a clear togetherness right now that is seeing us through times of crisis and pressure. Five straight away wins is not something that happens by accident and it’s certainly not something that occurs when the dressing room is fractured and disharmonious. We are nearly all pulling in the same direction right now and it feels like the few stragglers who were awaiting a downturn to unleash further wrath on those in charge have had a collective arm placed around the shoulder and been brought back into the fold.
Few things can bring us together like a win on enemy soil; when that soil is in Suffolk the impact is tenfold.
So let’s enjoy the moment and spend the next couple of days milking it for all it’s worth. The prospect of defeat, while unpalatable, was something I had prepared for – and I’ll hold that thought in readiness for when it does happen – but for now we’re fulfilling our little cameo role rather well.
?All the Germans…?