Norwich v Ipswich
Play-off Semi-final second leg
Saturday 16 May, 12:15
Live on Sky Sports 1
As we suggested would be the case, everybody seemed to go home relatively satisfied from Portman Road after an entertaining game last Saturday. Both sides went at it hammer and tongs in a lively first-half which could have seen more goals than one apiece. Fortunately, the second 45 minutes were a lot quieter and it ended 1-1 meaning we also had a smile on our faces after two winning tips.
Alex Neil played it safe starting with Alexander Tettey to help shield his centre-backs rather than the talented Wes Hoolihan in midfield, who offers much more of an attacking threat. His team selection for the second-leg will tell us a lot about how it could pan out.
Russell Martin again looked vulnerable at the heart of the defence, his poor headed clearance leading to the home side’s equaliser, and faces another uncomfortable 90 minutes (or possibly longer) against Daryl Murphy.
Mick McCarthy was pretty upbeat after the first-leg, knowing that his men are still very much in the tie, which was always his priority, given Norwich had won both of the two sides’ clashes earlier in the season.
I don’t think we’ll see quite such an attacking 4-3-3 formation at Carrow Road, even allowing for the fact that Luke Varney is out for some considerable time, having ruptured his ligaments in a freak accident with no opponent anywhere near him.
Town’s approach is more direct than their opponents’ and we should expect to see them setting about the home side from the off here, though it would be remiss not to mention that their away form was the least impressive of any of the top eight this season, with just two wins from their last ten.
The Canaries are [1.82] with the market seemingly confident that home advantage will see them through to the final, while the visitors can be backed at [5.0] to cause an upset and beat their bitter rivals for the first time at the fourth attempt this season. I don’t think that will happen but the draw catches my eye again at [3.75].
Coming back from a goal down to level things up in the first leg will have given McCarthy’s side a huge psychological boost and once again showed that what his team lack in quality they make up for in character. The Ipswich boss obviously has a huge edge over Neil in play-off experience and that could be crucial on a night like this, balancing the home side’s superiority on the pitch.
Admittedly on all known form you have to say a home win is the most likely outcome – Norwich have the strong home record you would expect from a side finishing in third place – but all the pressure will be on the Canaries. Derbies are always special affairs; one in a play-off situation especially so. I think back to Crystal Palace upsetting the form book to overcome Brighton over two legs, two years ago and have a real hunch this game will be a lot closer than the prices suggest.
We know Town are always a threat from set-pieces with players like Murphy and Christophe Berra and I won’t be surprised if the tie is still level after 90 minutes, giving us neutrals an extra half-an-hour (and possibly longer!) to enjoy.
The first leg was a tight affair and as outlined above I can’t see why this will be any different. As the game progresses, the tension will increase with both sides aware that one mistake could prove fatal and the difference between a shot at the Premier League seven days later and another season in the second tier.
If you offered McCarthy a penalty shoot-out before the start here, he’d bite your hand off and if we do see the game go to extra-time expect his side to commit less and less men forward as they prepare to take their chances in a lottery from 12 yards – I’d take any price offered that he’s had his men practising penalties in training this week.
I’m going to back each side to advance by penalties to half-stakes and if it does come down to who can hold their nerve from the spot then we, at least, can sit back and enjoy the spectacle knowing that the money is in the bank!
Back the draw at [3.75]Back Norwich to qualify on penalties at the best available price *to half-stakes
Back Ipswich to qualify on penalties at the best available price *to half-stakes
Staked: 146 pts
Returned: 140.41 pts
P/L: – 5.05 pts
*2pts best bet if stated
1pt other recommended bets