Another loss hurts

EVERYONE connected with Ipswich Town FC will wake up this morning with a gut-wrenching ache deep inside after this defeat. Every loss hurts but it is even worse against the old enemy and more so when it means they extend their lead at the top of Division One.

EVERYONE connected with Ipswich Town FC will wake up this morning with a gut-wrenching ache deep inside after this defeat.

Every loss hurts but it is even worse against the old enemy and more so when it means they extend their lead at the top of Division One.

What make this loss even more galling was the Blues could have been out of sight by half-time.

Darren Bent and Ian Westlake both hit the woodwork, Matt Richards went agonisingly close and Shefki Kuqi had a decent effort well-saved.

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Furthermore, on the evidence of the first half especially, Ipswich look a better side with more quality on the whole, while Norwich are extremely average.

But what the crowing Canaries have got is consistency, confidence and the sort of luck that goes with top-of-the-league sides as well as deeply ingrained belief.

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Not for the first time this season Ipswich self-destructed while Norwich pulled off a result they probably didn't really deserve.

Fair enough, they recovered from a first 45-minute battering to hit Town where it hurts and just when it looked as if they might be pegged back in the final five minutes, they managed to ensure victory.

If any one of those first half chances had gone in then it would be fair to assume Ipswich would have had enough impetus to go on and win.

Instead they went in at half-time having subdued the home crowd but with a gnawing feeling among the travelling Blues contingent, and those watching the "beam-back" at Portman Road, that they would rue the scorned opportunities.

And so they did five minutes after the break. Ian Westlake was penalised for a challenge on Ian Henderson even though he appeared to have won the ball – firmly but fairly. City skipper Malky Mackay escaped marker Shefki Kuqi to head in Henderson's free kick from close range and a collective "hear we go again" could be felt among Town fans.

Kuqi compounded that lapse of concentration by again allowing Mackay freedom to knock in a Paul McVeigh free kick, which had been carelessly conceded by Tommy Miller.

The big Scot could barely believe his good fortune on his 200th league appearance for Norwich.

"Give it to Malky!" called the Carrow Road faithful when it appeared City had won a penalty after Drissa Diallo clipped an otherwise well-contained Darren Huckerby making him tumble in the area.

Frenchman Diallo was shown a straight red card as he was deemed to be the last man while a free kick was awarded and the Town wall blocked substitute Phil Mulryne's effort.

Norwich had their tails up and forced Kelvin Davis into a couple of decent saves but Ipswich refused to lie down as manager Joe Royle replaced Kuqi with Richard Naylor. Royle later sacrificed the excellent Fabian Wilnis to put on Pablo Counago and go with the three forwards.

Naylor won a penalty when he was nudged by Jason Shackell as he got away from Mackay at a corner and Miller beat City 'keeper Robert Green with a powerful conversion for his ninth goal of the season.

Not unreasonably the 2,000 Blues contingent sensed a comeback but that was dashed when, for the second game running – an offside decision went against Town and Huckerby sprinted clear of Santos.

The much-travelled striker went to pull the ball back from near the dead ball line but instead it deflected off Santos, who tried to block the cross, and the ball spun in past Davis.

It was typical of Town's luck.

In the first half, when Green had saved a low Kuqi effort, Bent's follow- up, six yards out and in the middle of goal, was blocked by Mackay but looped up softly for the keeper to gather. Bent had a terrific game, especially in the first half – but how he needs a goal to give him the sort of confidence strikers thrive on.

The first great chance came in the 20th minute following excellent work from Wilnis who then played the ball in for Bent. The striker flicked it on for Westlake who cut inside and unleashed a low drive which came back off a post.

Town hit the woodwork again when Miller, delivered a terrific ball over the top for Bent to sprint on to. He hit it early, lobbing Green but the ball crashed back off the crossbar.

In between those efforts Matt Richards almost topped a wonderful run with a goal, after completing a one-two with Bent, but his right-foot shot inched wide.

While it may be true that good players and teams create their own luck, Town could not have done much more in the first half. The Blues showed the commitment, desire, determination and passion demanded of them but the rub of the green was definitely against them.

Livewire midfielder Westlake recovered from a dead leg to keep his place so Ipswich were able to start with two banks of four, with French duo Drissa Diallo and Georges Santos preferred in central defence and the unfortunate Richard Naylor starting on the bench once more.

City skipper Adam Drury failed to recover from a bruised hip Jim Brennan moved back into defence and his place on the left wing was taken by Paul McVeigh while Ian Henderson was drafted on to the right flank.

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