Paddy Davitt: Pressure is firmly on Ipswich Town to end Norwich City derby curse
PA Wire/Press Association Images
That sense of dread enveloping any pessimistic Norwich City fan who fears all good things must come to an end in the East Anglian derby should relax. The pressure is firmly on Ipswich Town.
City have a new head coach, a new football structure and a set of new players who have little or no experience of this neighbourly squabble. Of the starting line up who took the field against Hull City last weekend only Ivo Pinto, Timm Klose and Cameron Jerome had previous with the Blues.
Contrast that with Ipswich’s XI, who lost 1-0 up at Sheffield United, a team which contained seven players on derby duty last season; led by a manager in Mick McCarthy who is firmly back in the spotlight after a blistering start to the new campaign gave way to six defeats in the last eight.
That irritable, anxious seam of frustration appears to be growing again over the border.
The old barbs and criticisms thrown in McCarthy’s direction at his functional, cautious approach seemingly masked rather than forgotten in the midst of a winning surge that briefly propelled them towards unfamiliar terrain around the top of the Championship.
Make no mistake the pressure is on ahead of this weekend’s Portman Road tussle. Fuelled in large part by a palpable feeling this game offers Ipswich perhaps the best chance since a last derby win in 2009 to halt Norwich’s unbeaten run; to finally wrestle bragging rights away rather than seeking solace in history.
City remain a work in progress, a club undergoing a renewal after embarking on an ambitious change of course headed up by sporting director Stuart Webber.
It has been anything but plain sailing to this stage, following those chastening experiences at Aston Villa and Millwall, but there is a freshness that contrasts with the stale air around Suffolk’s premier club. City’s attendances remain buoyant.
Town failed to sell out this fixture last season and you suspect Sunday’s home attendance may be even lower. McCarthy, his players and the Ipswich public crave a spark. Beating their arch rivals could offer that elusive catalyst.
Look back through Town’s previous eight winless derby duels and the playing field has never felt more level. City’s thumping Championship wins in 2010/11 under Paul Lambert and the ‘Laughing Cavalier’ Grant Holt helped propel them into the Premier League.
Norwich raised the stakes even higher when the clubs met again, following a lull in hostilities while City attempted a sustained tilt at top flight consolidation.
A Championship league double under Alex Neil in 2014/15 laid the foundations for those epic play-off semi-final clashes. Portman Road was rocking when Paul Anderson cancelled out Jonny Howson’s strike in the first leg, but it was the Norwich fans dancing on the pitch at the end of the Carrow Road return.
Beating Middlesbrough at Wembley a week or two later merely underlined the sense of two clubs moving in opposite directions.
Parity may have been the overall outcome last season, after two hard-fought draws, but for most neutrals Norwich were still seen as the superior squad with stated aims from the club’s top brass to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Town managed to punch above their collective weight during a lower mid-table Championship finish to capitalise on City’s defensive vulnerability, which was so prevalent as a season of early promise unravelled before eventually claiming Neil.
Despite Nelson Oliveira’s abrasive assertions in recent days there remains clear blue water between old foes, the scale of City’s overhaul in the summer should not be underestimated when assessing where the balance of power now resides.
Farke is moving his club in the right direction, on the evidence of an eight-match unbeaten run and progress to the last-16 of the League Cup. The size of the travelling contingent poised to head to Arsenal next week signals there is a growing mood of optimism.
But favouritism is not a tag you would attach to the German’s squad on the eve of his maiden journey into the relative unknown this Sunday.
Those who rally behind the Blues’ cause know the dynamic has shifted.
The plucky underdogs trying to bridge the divide against the odds will not wash for this latest renewal. They have to embrace the expectancy and handle the pressure.
Norwich have nothing more to prove in the quest for local pride.