From despair to delight for Blues

Ipswich Town 1 Norwich City 1: HERMANN Hreidarsson left his post as sweeper and moved menacingly into attack as Ipswich Town needed something special to save themselves from a defeat that would have seriously dented their pride to say nothing of their hopes of automatic promotion.

Ipswich Town 1 Norwich City 1

HERMANN Hreidarsson left his post as sweeper and moved menacingly into attack as Ipswich Town needed something special to save themselves from a defeat that would have seriously dented their pride to say nothing of their hopes of automatic promotion.

The old enemy from north of the Waveney were leading with a 79th-minute goal from skipper Malky Mackay.

Time was running out and the Icelander took the responsibility of trying to find a lifeline.

There was suddenly panic in the Norwich defensive ranks as Hreidarsson closed in.

Mackay pushed him in the back but the ball was too high for either of them and penalty appeals were turned down.

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Then Pablo Counago crossed from the right by-line. Adam Drury handled. It was blatant enough but the referee did well to spot it.

A penalty was awarded but Norwich delayed matters as much as they could.

Paul Heckingbottom lay flat on his back in the penalty area. It was said to be an attack of cramp but referee Paul Durkin was wise to the ploy and booked the former Darlington man for time-wasting.

In the meantime 18-year-old Darren Bent, who cracks in spot-kicks on the training ground as a matter of course, sent his low shot against the post.

Darren Ambrose was first to the rebound, but Robert Green brought off a reflex save. Then it was Counago who made no mistake from close range with the Norwich defenders hoping the flag would go up for offside.

The flag stayed down, the goal counted and there was jubilation in the North Stand with one or two fans getting carried away and landing themselves in hot water for running onto the pitch.

It was a dramatic climax to a match which could have gone either way. The Norwich goal came when Andy Marshall, a former Carrow Road favourite, seemed to have a high ball from Phil Mulryne firmly in his grasp. Then Iwan Roberts bundled into him, he lost possession and Roberts flicked a pass out wide to Paul McVeigh on the right.

He crossed for Mackay to head into the net. Some referees would have awarded Ipswich a free-kick for a foul on Marshall because goalkeepers are often regarded as a protected species. Mr Durkin let play continue so the goal stood.

If Mr Durkin did Ipswich no favours on that occasion, he certainly took a lenient view when Darren Kenton and Counago had a bit of a skirmish five minutes from the end.

On this occasions two yellow cards were shown. The colour could so easily have been red. Counago could have been back in the dressing room before being able to make his crucial late contribution.

There was a great atmosphere. Ipswich saw more of the ball, as one might expect, but Norwich settled down to defend well after a nervous start.

Ipswich needed to make effective breaks down the wings but were seldom able to push behind the City back-line.

Town's cause was not helped when Marcus Bent seemed troubled by his hamstring from the second minute. Although he lacked total freedom of movement he produced an excellent shot in the 39th minute which Green saved. He tried to set moves going without being able to develop the sort of understanding with Darren Bent that may only come with time.

Norwich, whose squad has been kept together for a season and a half, showed the better teamwork. They were prepared to shoot from long range with McVeigh sending one effort curling just wide after 15 minutes with Marshall off his line.

Three minutes later Alex Notman charged down a free-kick from Mark Venus.

One had to feel sorry for him. Not only was he booked for encroachment and the free-kick brought forward, but he jarred his ankle so badly that he was carried off.

As it turned out the introduction of Darel Russell in midfield made Norwich look an even better unit. Apparently he reserves his best displays for the television cameras.

It took 27 minutes for Ambrose to make an impact. Gary Holt followed him all over the field but when he escaped his marker with a piece of individual skill he crossed forcing Darren Kenton to head over his own bar.

Roberts tested Marshall from long range with the keeper making a one-handed save, but Norwich might well have taken the lead on the half-hour. A slip by John McGreal let in McVeigh who released Roberts through the inside-left channel. The Welshman unleashed a cracking shot that hit the crossbar.

After the interval the match went through a quiet spell when one could almost feel the anxiety emanating from the ranks of the Ipswich supporters.

Ironically it was route one football, a long ball from Jamie Clapham chased by Darren Bent, that caused Norwich the greatest problem in the 50th minute.

There was nothing too special about the Ipswich shooting despite the non-stop work from skipper Matt Holland who was trying everything he knew in an effort to unlock the Norwich defences.

If Marshall comes under fire for the Norwich goal, he must be credited with a couple of top class saves before that.

In the 71st minute he was at full stretch to deal with a cannonball shot from Russell.

Seven minutes later he was equally agile when he coped with a header from Kenton from a free-kick by Mulryne.

By this stage Ipswich had introduced Alun Armstrong in place of Marcus Bent.

The former Middlesbrough man aimed a right-foot shot for the far top corner only to see the ball lift narrowly over the bar. McGreal had crossed to create the opening.

Green saved an angled shot from Armstrong who looked to be on his way back if he can steer clear of injury.

In the old days an East Anglian derby match was good for a bit of banter. The occasional £10 note might change hands as a result.

Now, with the financial implications so great so far as clubs are concerned, it is far too serious to be much fun for those closely involved. Three points out of a possible 12 is not the sort of return that David Sheepshanks and his Board wanted. It makes victory at Stoke next Sunday crucial.