There can be few derby games in recent memories where the expectations of the City fans were so pessimistic. Most were resigned to losing the 14+ year unbeaten run. Like most, I feared a Plymouth-style humiliation.
A late injury to Dimi Giannoulis meant that Sam McCallum made a rare start for City – a switch that was pivotal at both ends of the pitch.
The game started with a succession of clumsy fouls from both sides as players sought to impose themselves upon their opposite number. City provided the first threat as Adam Idah powered forward on the left. The ball was played inside to Jon Rowe whose ball forward was cut out and it was Ipswich’s turn to break.
The game then settled into a pattern. City were content to retreat to the halfway line and allow the Town back four to play in front of them. When City had it at the back, the home team pressed high and City played around them in a now familiar fashion.
Already on the right, attention was focusing on the battle between Wes Burns and McCallum. After five minutes, a foul was given against the City full-back when he stumbled and cleaned out the attacker as he fell. The free kick was swung in from the right but headed well over.
Shane Duffy then hit a long ball out of defence. As keeper Hladky tried to shepherd the ball out, Ashley Barnes slid in with a tackle that riled the locals.
A spell of possession for the home team followed, with City compact and organised in defence. After 14 minutes, the attack broke down and a long ball to Idah was headed down to Barnes. He played it wide to Idah again and the Irishman’s cross was cut out for the first corner of the game.
The goal line was packed as the corner was swung in under the crossbar but the ball was hacked away as far as Marcelino Nunez who hit a long shot that was deflected clear.
City then had their first spell of meaningful possession, playing the ball patiently at the back waiting for an opening. The spell looked to have ended when a long McCallum throw was cleared, and the ball back in by Nunez was claimed by the keeper.
City pressed high for the first time and forced the error from Hladky as he played it out. However, Chaplin easily beat McCallum high up the pitch and the home side broke with menace. As the ball came in dangerously, Duffy made a great block with blue shirts looming to make a tap in.
Buoyed, Ipswich came forward again. Broadhead weaved through three City players and found himself through on goal with only Angus Gunn to beat. As the City keeper dived to protect his near post, Broadhead somehow pulled his shot across goal and wide of the far post.
Town came forward on the right again, in what was a torrid period for McCallum at left-back. This time the ball came all the way across to Davis who drove his shot straight at Gunn.
City regained possession and tried to slow the game down, but a lazy Gabriel Sara ball to Barnes was cut out and Town came again – Broadhead shooting wide again.
On 27 minutes, it was the turn of Rowe to give the ball away in the City half. The home side had a player over and worked the ball across the area to Burns, who hit his shot wide.
Finally, City got up the field. Idah held the ball up well, played it wide to Jack Stacey who won a corner. The first ball was headed clear and the Nunez volley back in deflected out for a second corner. This corner was flicked at the near post and McCallum met it on the volley, which was blocked.
City pressed high again. McCallum cut out a ball to Burns and set off a counter. The ball was crossed into the Town box twice before Borja Sainz was given the benefit of the doubt for keeping a ball in tight to the line.
Town cleared the ball and broke rapidly in numbers. Kenny McLean was covering and made a good tackle, conceding a corner in the process.
The corner was swung in from the City left. Duffy looped a header clear but Rowe misjudged the flight. His late correction meant he didn’t get a challenge in as the ball was headed back in. McCallum then went down too easily as the ball was nodded down and Broadhead hit a bouncing half-volley past Gunn.
It was a goal that was deserved and had been coming for a while as City rode their luck. The home crowd were rocking.
The goal forced City to be a little more ambitious – or perhaps the home team backed off a little to ensure they stayed in a goal up. City got Sainz forward in a decent position, only to be tackled by Clarke, which ended in a bout of pushing and shoving.
Then Idah found himself in space on the left, only to be levered off the ball by Burgess as he weighed up his ball into the area.
Sainz then did well and played the ball to McCallum, who played a first-time dangerous cross across the six-yard box. Rowe dived – any contact would have seen the net bulge but somehow the ball evaded him, but came wide right to Stacey.
The right-back played a looping cross back in. Rowe half scrambled to his feet and hit a bicycle kick goalwards that was blocked. The ball fell towards the City man who half got up before sticking out a leg to loop the ball over the keeper to equalise.
The ground, previously so noisy, was stunned into silence, save for the City fans celebrating loudly.
Town had further chances to go into the break ahead, Chaplin shooting weakly wide, and Broadhead missing again as he was through, having been played onside by Stacey.
There were no personnel changes at half-time, but City emerged as a different team. McCallum looked like he had been the recipient of an almighty lecture and imposed himself on Burns in a manner lacking in the previous 90.
It paid dividends, as for the first time, Sainz found himself with the ball in dangerous positions twice in quick succession.
Then Sara found Barnes, who played Sainz in again. His driving run was going nowhere and he played inside to Rowe, who was blocked and the ball went out for a throw. Nunez took it and looped a long ball into the box. Duffy, grappling with Hirst, flicked the ball for Rowe to lash a shot goalwards. A slight deflection may have unsettled the keeper but somehow the shot squirmed under his legs and City took an improbable lead.
Predictably, Town came forward again, driving through the City midfield, winning a corner. Sainz then fouled Burns, and the free kick was headed over. But City had a bit of confidence now. Sainz did well again, finding Stacey on the right. His cross found Idah who couldn’t get enough on it.
On 56 minutes, Sainz was fouled. From the free kick, the home team won the ball but gave it straight back to City. For the first time, there were murmurings of discontent from the home support.
By the hour mark, City had reverted to dropping deeper, looking well organised. The ball was played out of defence to Barnes who was easily dispossessed as three Town players closed him down. The ball was played inside to Burns who hit a shot through McCallum’s legs, giving Gunn no chance. 2-2.
Burns was pumped after this and embarked on a succession of ever more aggressive fouls on McCallum, leading to a lengthy break whilst the City player got treatment.
City were now sitting very deep and had abandoned all pretense of going for an unlikely victory. Rowe gave way for Hernandez with 20 minutes to go – ironically despite scoring two, the youngster had had a pretty quiet game.
Town won a free kick on the edge of the D after minimal contact by Barnes, but Chaplin hit it high and wide.
A succession of changes for both sides followed, City ending up with Danny Batth and Przemysław Placheta joining the fray at the back and Tony Springett replacing Idah up front.
Ultimately, despite six minutes of added time, City were able to see the game out without offering any more serious chances to Town meaning that, at the final whistle, City fans can now look forward to Ipswich representing 15 years of local dominance.
This was everything a local derby should be. A buoyant home team had the bulk of the possession and the chances. City were pretty well organised and made the most of their chances. You couldn’t fault the effort or application of the City players. McCallum, rusty in the first half, was vastly improved in the second. And it seems churlish to criticise the coach or his tactics on a day like that.
For me, this was the most satisfying derby since that last-minute Timm Klose header. Fifteen years and counting…