Match report: Norwich City 3 Ipswich Town 1 – Berra red card the turning point
Christophe Berra’s red card early in the second half proved to be the turning point as Ipswich Town lost 3-1 to rivals Norwich City, at Carrow Road, in the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-final.
With the first leg having finished 1-1, the tie remained on a knife’s edge following another very even 45 minutes of football.
Then Berra was given his marching orders for clearly handling Nathan Redmond’s shot on the goalline in the 50th minute, Wes Hoolahan converted the spot-kick and the Blues were left facing an uphill battle.
Showing typical never-say-die spirit, Mick McCarthy’s men drew level when Tommy Smith produced a fine poacher’s finish on the hour mark.
The tie was level for less than four minutes, however, with Redmond’s low shot squirming under the dive of Bartosz Bialkowski.
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And Norwich’s progress to Wembley, to face Middlesbrough on May 25th, was effectively sealed when Cameron Jerome latched onto a through ball and added a killer third in 76th minute.
The tie had remained very much in the balance at the halfway stage of the second leg.
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Indeed, the Blues went into the interval with plenty to feel good about following an opening 45 minutes that they probably shaded.
Mick McCarthy’s men snapped at heels, kept possession well and striker Daryl Murphy looked a real threat. Norwich, by contrast, were below-par.
Town created the first opening of the match when Murphy headed a Kevin Bru free-kick delivery over the bar.
The Canaries struggled to find any sort of rhythm, but it required a Paul Anderson goalline clearance to deny them in the 16th minute. The winger’s intervention came after a corner was half-cleared and Russell Martin’s shot through a crowded box was destined for the bottom corner.
Ipswich continued to press the ball quickly and force mistakes.
Teddy Bishop was sent sprawling in the area by the slightest of Redmond touches with no huge penalty appeals. Then Bradley Johnson went in the referee’s book after clattering into Bru moments after a fine Cole Skuse slide tackle.
City players were not on the same wavelength but they created a golden opening on the counter-attack in the 41st minute after Jerome beat Smith in the air. Hoolahan got away from Skuse and picked out the late run of Jonny Howson, the latter’s goalbound shot brilliantly blocked by Tyrone Mings.
Norwich came flying out of the traps after the restart and Town lived dangerously when Jerome received the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the six yard box.
Then, after Mings’ tackle in the middle of the pitch saw the ball spin free, disaster struck.
Hoolahan found Redmond free down the left, he cut inside Luke Chambers and curled a shot beyond Bialkowki. The back-tracking Berra stooped to clearly keep the ball out with his arm on the goalline, a penalty was awarded and the Scottish defender was given his marching orders – Town’s first red card of the season.
Hoolahan coolly sent Bialkowski the wrong way from the spot and Town’s reshuffle saw Anderson go to right-back, Chambers moving inside.
Carrow Road was bouncing, but the atmosphere quickly went flat when the 10-men of Ipswich – out of nowhere – scored an equaliser in the 60th minute.
Bishop launched a long free-kick into the area, Murphy won the headed flick on and Smith showed remarkable composure to nick the ball away from keeper John Ruddy and roll a shot into the empty net.
Town were level on aggregate for less than four minutes, however, with City again having joy down the left.
This time Hoolahan cut inside Bru and found the under-lapping Martin Olsson. After his angled shot was beaten away by Bialkowski, Howson picked out Redmond with a square pass and, though the winger’s low shot was well-hit, it did go straight under Bialkowski’s dive at the near post.
The home side’s tails were up and their killer third arrived in the 76th minute. After sub Jay Tabb lost an aerial duel with Alex Tettey in the centre circle, Redmond produced a wonderfully weighted through ball between the centre-backs and Jerome beat Bialkowski to it and toed home first time.
It required a fine piece of recovery work by Mings to deny Redmond racing clear one-on-one in the 80th minute after another brilliant through pass, this time from Howson.
From then on it was damage limitation for the visitors, with the home side intent on compounding their misery.
The time for proud reflection on this season will come. Right now, everyone associated with the boys in blue are feeling pretty gutted.
NORWICH CITY (4-2-3-1): Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin (cpt), Bassong, Olsson; Howson, Tettey; Redmond, Hoolahan (Dorrans 74), Johnson (E Bennett 87); Jerome (Hooper 83).
Unused subs: Rudd, Josh Murphy, R Bennett, O’Neil.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-3-3): Bialkowski; Chambers (cpt), Smith, Berra, Mings; Bishop (McGoldrick 71), Skuse, Bru (Tabb 71); Anderson (N.Hunt 83), Murphy, Sears. Unused subs: Gerken, Clarke, Parr, S.Hunt.
Referee: Roger East.