Norwich made it three straight Sky Bet Championship wins and claimed local bragging rights by securing a 1-0 derby success over arch rivals Ipswich, with Lewis Grabban netting the crucial strike on 24 minutes at Portman Road.
Theoretical equality there may be in East Anglia for the first time in four seasons with these two old rivals back in the Championship together but on the evidence thus far Norwich City are a cut above Ipswich Town.
That is not entirely surprising. In three seasons of Premier League riches they were able to build a squad without paying ridiculous wages, and despite losing a couple of players as relegated sides do, in Robert Snodgrass and Leroy Fer, they have brought in new blood too. Lewis Grabban cost £3million from Bournemouth and the winning goal yesterday was his fourth in eight days.
Having secured Cameron Jerome and Carlos Cuellar in midweek, they should not need much further strengthening but if they do, now or in January, there is the first instalment of what could amount to an astonishing £60m in parachute payments over four years. That is something that irks Ipswich, whose own compensation money has long disappeared, relegation having struck them as long ago as 2002. “Financial fair play? That’s bollocks, isn’t it?” said the ever forthright Mick McCarthy. “We’re operating within it but listen, it makes it all the more rewarding when you do well without it. They’re a good side and they’ll be competing at the top so it’s no disgrace. It’s just difficult when it’s your nearest and not so dearest.”
The Ipswich manager had been less than chuffed as well when his opposite number Neil Adams went onto the pitch to celebrate victory without shaking his hand. Adams, to his credit, admitted later: “I was out of order. I should have shown more respect and I apologise unreservedly.”
The visiting yellow hordes he was celebrating with did not seem too concerned with the niceties of local derby etiquette. “Is this a library?” the noisy Norfolk neighbours were able to inquire after Grabban’s header muted the home crowd, followed by the declaration, “We are top of the League”; which at that pre-prandial point they were, although by the end of the afternoon they were third.
From being outplayed away to Wolves on the opening weekend, they have recorded three successive victories and simply have greater quality than their neighbours from the England international goalkeeper John Ruddy through Wes Hoolahan and Alex Tettey in midfield to Nathan Redmond and Grabban.
Perhaps only David McGoldrick in the home ranks can match them. Used sparingly so far after a bad injury last season, he remained Ipswich’s greatest threat, but was well policed by Michael Turner and Russell Martin, two other experienced Premier League hands.
It was even more disappointing for Ipswich that they have had to wait such a long time for a chance to avenge the shocking 5-1 defeat on Norwich’s last visit. None of the home players that day three years ago is still at the club – although that is presumably not the reason – and the result, added to a 4-1 home win that season had the Canaries’ singing all the way to the Premier League, where they survived comfortably until dropping out in May.
“Norwich is a Premier League club,” said their manager Neil Adams; not technically true, but you knew what he meant. “We said all along we didn’t have to sell players, only if it was right for the club.”
As well as the missing handshake there was a suitable touch of controversy surrounding the goal. Grabban may have been standing fractionally offside as McGoldrick’s clearance from a corner was headed back towards goal by Tettey. As Grabban nodded it in, the assistant referee’s decision was made harder by the fact that Ipswich’s centre-half Christophe Berra had slipped and was stranded by a post, apparently playing the striker onside.
Other than McGoldrick’s drive wide after a neatly worked free-kick, Ipswich’s reply before the interval was muted and summed up by an effort from Paul Anderson hit so high that it was caught by a man in the front row of the upper tier.
They improved in the second half, when Daryl Murphy should have done better with Jay Tabb’s cross than head it back beyond the far post. Norwich, however, were allowed far too much scope in counter-attacks and the lively Grabban had three more chances in seven minutes; one saved, one chipped too high and one cleared off the line by Tommy Smith.