Norwich City 3 Ipswich Town 1
NORFOLK had the better of Suffolk last night in a fierce set-to of much more than parochial interest - victory taking Norwich to the top of the First Division.
Ipswich, unbeaten in seven previous games, improved on a poor first-half performance, but were killed off by John Polston's first goal for almost two years. The attendance of 20,256 was the highest at a buoyant Carrow Road since Liverpool's visit in the Premiership 18 months ago.
If East Anglia does not rival the North-East or North-West as a hotbed of football, passions still run unexpectedly high on nights such as this.
Some of the tension - but not much - was defused by Norwich's decision to leave Ian Crook on the substitutes' bench once Darren Eadie, Andy Johnson and Robert Fleck all passed fitness tests. Crook caused much acrimony south of the county border when he agreed to join Ipswich last summer before reverting to Norwich once Mike Walker returned as manager. The League and the FA have still not ruled on Ipswich's complaint.
Crook's ability to get the ball down and pass it was initially missed, but after 18 scrappy minutes his team scored in the game's first attack of any threat. Fleck, fully rehabilitated after his demoralising period at Chelsea, played a smart one-two with Johnson, then unselfishly squared the ball to the same player, who side-footed in.
Eadie, well positioned, miscued after electing to shoot with his favoured left foot, then put it to better use with an inswinging free-kick that Johnson headed past Richard Wright. That was in the 35th minute. Two minutes later Johnson almost completed a hat-trick from an identical move, again beating Tony Mowbray in the air, but heading wide.
Ipswich had been outplayed and it was an altogether unexpected turn of events when they scored while tea bars were still doing their half-time trade. Less than a minute had been played after the restart when right back Mauricio Caricco's free-kick was headed down by James Scowcroft and volleyed in by young midfielder Danny Sonner, whose delight was soon marred by a yellow card for diving and another Norwich goal on 67 minutes.
Eadie's corner was played short to Neil Adams, whose curling cross was glanced in by the unmarked Polston.