It’s 50/50 – George Burley says Ipswich Town v Norwich City play-off semi-final is too close to call
The two-legged Championship play-off semi-final between East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town and Norwich City is too close to call.
So says George Burley, the man who guided the Blues to the top-flight via the end of season lottery in 2000 and who suffered disappointment in five play-off semi-finals either side of that.
Having secured their first top-six finish in a decade, fate has pitted Mick McCarthy’s men against their cross-border rivals – the first leg at Portman Road on Saturday and the return match at Carrow Road seven days later (both 12.15pm kos).
Sixth-placed Town finished eight points behind the third-placed Canaries in the table and lost both league games against the Norfolk outfit – 1-0 at home and 2-0 away.
The Canaries went into the season as promotion favourites following three years in the Premier League, while Ipswich – playing in the Championship for a 13th consecutive campaign – started out as dark horses at best.
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“Both teams have had their ups and downs this season and both are there on merit. Now it’s a case of may the best team win,” said Burley, the Scot very much part of Ipswich folklore having made close to 400 appearances for the club during the halcyon days of the 70s and 80s.
“The play-offs are so unpredictable. I’ve been there and I know that everything goes out of the window. It’s a clean slate for all teams.
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“Current form, the league results between the two sides, where each team finished in the table, the derby element, who is home second – none of that matters now.
“Ipswich weren’t favourites for promotion at the start of the season and have proved a lot of people wrong. Norwich were among the favourites and missed out on automatic promotion.
“I don’t think you can have favourites for these sort of games though. At this stage it comes down to who plays well on the day, a slice of luck or a decision going your way.
“I would say this is a 50/50 tie. I really do think it could go either way. And I just hope it is Ipswich that go through.”
Having lost play-off semi-finals with Ipswich in three consecutive seasons (97-99), twice missing out on the now defunct away goals rule, Burley finally led the Blues to Wembley glory with a scintillating 4-2 win over Barnsley in 2000.
Later in his career he suffered Championship play-off semi-final disappointment with both Derby and Southampton, the latter on penalties.
“It was such a good feeling to finally do it with Ipswich,” said Burley. “Losing play-off matches is not a good feeling. It’s a real test of character to regroup and go again.
“Everyone just has to try and enjoy it. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Mick would get everyone going again next season just as we had to keep dusting ourselves down after all those near misses.
“No-one in that camp will even be considering failure though. I can’t see anything being decided by the end of the first leg. I think it will all be to play for at Carrow Road.”