Friday 24 November 2017

Norwich joy unbridled as McCarthy left sick as a seaside donkey

Norwich 3-1 Ipswich

Mick McCarthy's Ipswich went on to lose their play-off semi-final match with Norwich
Mick McCarthy's Ipswich went on to lose their play-off semi-final match with Norwich

Dion Fanning

"The eyes of the world are watching," the PA announcer roared before kick-off at Carrow Road yesterday, and while it was tending towards the hyperbolic, for Norwich and Ipswich there wasn't a bigger game in England yesterday.

Both sides played as if the world was watching, and maybe it was impossible to play any other way. This was the biggest East Anglian derby in history, a play-off semi-final which would move the winners one game closer to the Premier League.

The tension drew the life from the game but it also made all the feelings more pronounced. At the end, when the Norwich supporters ran on to the pitch, it seemed as if they had already been promoted.

"The important thing was that we didn't lose to Ipswich," a local commentator said afterwards as Norwich, guided by Wes Hoolahan - who scored the opening goal in the 3-1 win from the penalty spot - in the second half, prepared for Wembley but Alex Neil's side still have that hurdle to clear.

"This weekend I've seen two teams cock-a-hoop on the pitch, Middlesbrough and Norwich," Mick McCarthy said afterwards, "and one of them is going to be as sick as a seaside donkey, just like I feel now."

McCarthy spoke of the pride he felt in his squad which had been assembled at a fraction of the cost of their opponents but he also noted that play-offs, for Ireland and at club level, haven't been good to him.

Ipswich should have had a penalty in the first half when Teddy Bishop was tripped as he ran into the box.

The half had belonged to McCarthy's side, with Daryl Murphy a danger and an uncomfortable presence. Norwich looked nervous. "Everyone keeps telling us how good a squad we have but the message was always stay calm, ignore the crowd," Neil said later.

The crowd's tension transmitted itself to the home team in the first half and even when a Russell Martin shot was cleared off the Ipswich line, it was only a brief change of direction.

Ipswich had the ball but they couldn't create too many chances and they began the second half with a lack of intensity, which cost them.

Hoolahan was involved as Norwich came forward and Nathan Redmond cut inside Luke Chambers too easily and his shot was blocked by Christophe Berra's hand on the line.

"Should he have pulled his hand away?" McCarthy asked afterwards. "Of course he should, in the cold light of day, but we're hard-wired to stop the ball going in the net. Christophe has been brilliant. It's one of those things."

Ipswich kept fighting but the sending-off was the end. Hoolahan had space to play and that was devastating. Tommy Smith's equaliser might have made a difference but within four minutes Nathan Redmond gave Norwich the lead again. Ipswich remained willing but it wasn't enough. Cameron Jerome scored a third and all that remained was a pitch invasion which was understandable, even if a few fans decided to abuse Ipswich's players.

"There are always some muppets who want to abuse you, but from a distance," McCarthy noted wryly before reflecting on his players' achievements.

"I'm immensely proud of them," McCarthy said. "They have been fantastic all season. They are low maintenance, hard-working and professional and we've shown today why we're in the play-offs."

He was asked if their performances this season encouraged him for next season. His answer told the brutal truth of this defeat. "At this moment, not in the slightest."

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