With neither team having much success this season both went into the East Anglian Derby playing for pride, and with only a single point separating the two, many saw the game as the decider on who would finish highest. The days leading up to the big match had been littered with rumours of an injury crisis for Norwich, but on the day we saw a pretty much regular line up, whilst Town only had one or two injuries to moan about. Town could be accused of being slow off the blocks and Norwich came at us from the start, and disaster struck within 5 minutes when the always troublesome Darren Huckerby got ahead of David Wright out wide and put in a cross which Dickson Etuhu comfortably headed home. It wasn't the start we wanted, but eventually Ipswich bucked up and worked their way into the match, not before the home side had created two or three good efforts though. We went into the dressing room at half time after a bright final spell which saw some action in the Norwich goalmouth, Jaime Peters and Gary Roberts having a go. The second half started better than the first, no doubt a kick up the backside from Jim at half time but also the team seemed more composed after finding their feet. Gavin Williams and Owen Garvan both had early chances although nothing too troublesome for the canary keeper, but you felt that we were starting to take the game by the scruff of the neck and that perhaps one or two players sniffed a goal. It took just over the hour mark for Ipswich to at last get their opener, and it came from the highly unlikely source of David Wright. Peters had given him a ball outside the box which Wright attempted to play into the centre, but a deflection saw the ball return into his path and he quickly punted it home for the equaliser. The travelling Tractor Boys were delirious, and as Wright celebrated in front of them the rest of the team piled in on top of him and he was carried into the crowd. It was perhaps a tad unfair that the ref saw fit to book him for this, given the situation and importance of the goal, but I doubt he's too bothered today. The introduction of Alan Lee for Walters helped to maintain a bit of momentum, but we were always under threat from the Norwich frontline and came close to conceding when Robert Earnshaw sent one over, Etuhu came close again too. There was always the thought in the back of my mind that Danny Haynes was still yet to come on the pitch, and that maybe he could repeat his heroics and snatch the game for us. He did come on with a quarter of an hour to go but could not continue his excellent derby scoring record. Shane Supple was between the sticks today and earned his pennies by stopping a late chance from Huckerby which, having been deflected wrong-footed him and forced him to scramble it away with his feet. Certainly a heart-stopping moment, but neither team was meant to win today and on balance draw was fair even if its not what people want from these games. A point was better for us than Norwich though, we remain above them with only two matches left, and have not been beaten by our Norfolk neighbours this season.
It's been a long time coming, but Town are now showing the sort of form we've know we are capable of all season. Perhaps the more fluid passing we have seen in recent games is due to the pressure being off, or maybe the new faces are more familiar with each other, certain players recovered from injury or a combination of all those. But its better and I hope it doesn't fizzle out between the end of this season and the start of next. Derby came to Portman Road with everything to play for, the chance to go top or at least regain an automatic promotion spot. But where were the Premiership hopefuls? Not this lot surely? They were lively, but from the start only looked a threat on the break, and even that faded quickly despite scoring a wonder goal to take the lead. Derby wilted and all the football was being played by Town who created chance after chance, we did everything but score in the first half. Francis Jeffers could've had four or five alone but his efforts were all close-but-no-cigar, some of them desperately close. Owen Garvan had a couple of good efforts just wide and both Jon Walters and Gary Roberts had shots. No surprise that most were confident at half time that we'd get back into the game. The most controversial moments were before the break though, and it was all of the refs making. After some very random decisions to the detriment of both team's, he had been in big danger of losing control of the game and maybe that was what he had in mind when he sent off Alex Bruce and Derby keeper Stephen Bywater when they did little more than square up to each other after a dead ball. Bywater did little to help himself or the situation when he chased after Bruce who was given his marching orders first. The goalie was shouting and pointing to the tunnel in what appeared to be a provocative "you and me, now, in the tunnel" type of way. Well, you get the picture, more handbags (which Bruce tried to turn his back on, initially at least) which lead to more players being involved, staff, and Rams boss Billy Davis being sent off too. Notably, recently reformed bad-boy Jim stood calm(ish) throughout. Our forced substitution saw Dan Harding replace unlucky Gary Roberts, all in all this lead to 7 minutes of added-time at the end of this half alone. Back to the footie, thankfully we restarted well, without Owen Garvan who had picked up a knock, George O'Callaghan coming on in his place. We took another 20 odd minutes to get the all important equaliser and it came deservedly from Francis Jeffers who raced after an alert ball through by Fabian Wilnis and slotted it past the substitute keeper from the left hand side of the box. We kept plugging away at Derby, who became increasingly dirty if that was possible, and 10 minutes after his goal Jeffers was replaced by Danny Haynes. Danny soopa-doopa-sub Haynes. As you'd expect he was his lively self and, almost inevitably, scored the very deserved winner. As he sprinted into the box from a wide-right position, he was felled by none other than former Town man Jay McEvely. The ref got the decision spot on for once. Haynes picked himself up (picked himself up, punched air, danced like a loon etc.) and slotted an effort just inside the post beyond the reach of the diving keeper. Soon after, the official announced a stupid 5 minutes added-time, but we weathered it comfortably and took the points. The atmosphere had built and built throughout the afternoon, and it was a cracking performance both on the pitch and in the stands. I felt a slight bit sorry for the large contingent of Derby fans as we've been in this position ourselves at this stage in seasons gone by and know how let down they'll feel, but as the North sang to them: "Where were you when you were shit?". If they do go up, it looks like it'll have to be the playoffs now, and given their display I just can't see it. Besides which they'd be torn to pieces.