This time the derby is just one out of four
There comes a point with most Norwich City managers when they say something that is never forgiven or forgotten by some, if not all, fans.
You know the sort of thing…
'On the lap after the game I thought the true supporters were there…'
'We needed a bit of help. They (the supporters) got their (the players') commitment, they got their passion, they never got anything back in return, not for 94 minutes did they get anything in return. For me that's a disgrace.'
'The one thing that has changed over the last 10 years or so is that most supporters think they are good judges.'
Incidentally, one of these comments was uttered after Nottingham Forest's last visit to Carrow Road, which just shows you how far we've come in the intervening two-and-a-bit years.
But topping any of these would be the moment that any City manager ever dared utter the sentiment that maybe, just maybe, a forthcoming fixture against Ipswich was, in fact, 'just another match, really'.
- 1 Vehicles worth £50k stolen from Royal Norfolk Show
- 2 Blaze sees 20 passengers evacuated from city bus
- 3 First-time publicans transform their local and are already winning awards
- 4 Primary school left without governors after mass walkout
- 5 John Bailey: Lord Botham, our cricketing angler/conservationist
- 6 All of the Norfolk streets that won the Postcode Lottery in June
- 7 'Significant construction' on A47 to begin in 2023
- 8 Protests planned against soaring fuel prices
- 9 Parked cars prevent buses from serving north Norfolk village
- 10 Farmers could be paid to leave fields fallow to end homes limbo
Until this season, that is. In recent years derby day was often all we had to look forward to for much of some fairly forgettable campaigns, and you really did count down the days to it.
If it wasn't for the process of having to apply for a ticket this latest trip to Portman Road would have really crept up on me unnoticed, such has been the general intensity of all things NCFC-related of late.
Now, however, it really is just one of four crucial games standing between us and the possibility of an unprecedented – for us, at least –second successive promotion.
If we were to take nine or 10 points from this run-in it might be enough, and while, given a choice, I'd rather we won at Portman Road, but if we were to get well beaten, yet find ourselves in the Premier League as a result of what happened in both our other three fixtures and in our rivals' matches, you know what? I could live with that, all things considered.
Just so long as it wasn't 5-0 – one of those is quite enough for a lifetime, thank you very much, and I suspect it wouldn't have been any better if I'd have been in the away area that day rather than a 'home' seat. (And to anyone doing that on Thursday all I can say is: 'Good luck.' You'll certainly need it.)
Not that I expect that to happen for a moment, for two main reasons.
Firstly, this column's oft-repeated view that Paul Lambert 'gets' big games and he and his team can perform accordingly on the big stage – most notably away to Colchester and Charlton last year and at home to Ipswich this season.
And secondly, the general level of performance against Forest and the mood at Carrow Road on Friday. Both highly intensive and the ideal dress rehearsal of what we can expect at Portman Road.
And City, ultimately, came through with flying colours.
Whichever way you look at it, the visit to Swansea was little short of disaster, yet we've bounced back by taking something out of each of our next two fixtures – the sort of consistency that the Swans have been unable to show.
And winning on Friday in particular was crucial. Our general spirit and tempo will have given others food for thought, and going to Portman Road on the back of such a stirring display and atmosphere – and with a full-strength squad – could make Thursday night very special indeed.
Because, when all's said and done, there's really no such thing as a run-of-the-mill City v Town game.
• One final thought about Friday night – quite apart from saying whoever came up with the notion of keeping Grant Holt's full fitness under wraps is an absolute genius, because it changed the mood at Carrow Road at a stroke from nervy to almost triumphant: it was probably the most action-packed Carrow Road match not involving Ipswich since Wolves were beaten 5-2 two-and-a-half year ago.
And you have to wonder if we haven't seen the last of Billy Davies yet. If we have to settle for the play-offs Forest have four quite winnable games left if they can start sticking some of their chances away and they could be back here in four weeks' time.
But what do I know? A week ago I thought Millwall might be well placed for a play-off push, since when they've picked up more red cards than points.
• TOWN'S CHANCE TO MAKE AMENDS
It's impossible to tell what will happen on Thursday because, as much as anything, you have no idea what the atmosphere will be like.
A decade of Sunday lunchtime kick-offs has all too often killed it stone dead; indeed, the last time there was an evening fixture was in 1998, so you'd hope that the buzz around the ground will be as inspiring as Friday night's against Nottingham Forest.
However, the first in the regular run of Sunday kick-offs should act as a reminder of what a team with, supposedly, nothing to play for can achieve in this fixture: March 19, 2000, Iwan Roberts double day, when City, 15th in the table, went to second-placed Town and won 2-0.
'If you can't get yourself up for this game then you shouldn't be playing football,' the big Welshman said afterwards. 'We owed our supporters a performance and I think we've given them that today.' Quite so.
Thursday represents, like for us 11 years ago, the best chance for Ipswich to achieve something of note in a season of managerial transition. Meanwhile, the promotion-chasing losers regrouped in some style to win seven of their last nine games, but the derby-day defeat effectively cost them automatic promotion and they had to go up via the play-offs.
It's a lesson from which we should learn. Defeat on Thursday won't end our season, but it might well make our task much harder.
If we can repeat the spirit of January 16, 2010 at Colchester and win it's a huge step towards automatic promotion. It would put big pressure on Cardiff to beat QPR and Reading to win at Leeds, but, more tellingly, leave us to think that if we can win at our bitter rivals the final three fixtures should hold no fears whatsoever.
• FOR �33 IT HAD BETTER BE GOOD
Due to work and other commitments I don't get to every away league game.
Some years are better than others – last season it was 21, this time around it will be 12 – so, as a result, I can't claim this to be an exhaustive study.
But I suspect that the �33 price of my space – I would use the term 'seat', but I suspect I won't be doing much sitting – at Portman Road on Thursday is among the highest prices I've paid to see a regular NCFC league fixture.
All in the 2004/5 Premier League season, too: �33 at Arsenal, �35 (�35! �35! I still can't get over this six years on!) at Crystal Palace and �40 at Chelsea.
Now, I know it could be worse – I could have found myself with a �39 ticket for Thursday, while visiting Derby and Coventry fans will be charged �33 at Carrow Road in the coming weeks.
It undoubtedly would get worse were we to be promoted, but all I can say is that Portman Road had better provide more value for money than the aforementioned matches – two heavy defeats and a draw snatched from the jaws of victory with a little help from a home forward who couldn't stay on his feet.
• BOOKING FEE IS MISSED PR OPPORTUNITY
On the subject of ticketing for Thursday, there's a part of me aggrieved at being charged a booking fee for both the Ipswich and Portsmouth games.
Given how the club were quick to salute the part played by away supporters when the Swansea travel offer was wheeled out – issuing Paul Lambert quotes along the lines of 'The fans have been absolutely brilliant for us this season, home and away. We need them, I can't put it simpler than that.' – it might have been nice if they'd swallowed the administration costs themselves from the recent glut of television money, which they surely couldn't have budgeted for, as a thank-you for such highly-valued backing.
These are two away fixtures which have not been without difficulty in the past.
How many high-ranking club officials have had to endure the complete Portman Road matchday experience – from the moment you get off a train at Ipswich to the point where you're frogmarched back to the station afterwards?
And how many had to experience our last visit to Fratton Park on the day of the great 2005 New Year's Day deluge?
I realise these fees add up to only �3, but such a gesture would still have been a huge PR triumph to give something back to the many away fans who don't use official club travel for away matches.