Day to forget has its reward

STEVE GEDGE Twenty-one years on, you might remember some elements of the 'friendly final' day out at Wembley, but precious few of them will actually relate to the game itself.


Twenty-one years on, you might remember some elements of the 'friendly final' day out at Wembley, but precious few of them will actually relate to the game itself.

It was a tradition that Norwich and Sunderland seemed happy to revive for at least 45 minutes on Saturday with perhaps the most underwhelming first half seen at Carrow Road in years.

As far as City were concerned, it wasn't so much 'pass and move' as 'hoof and stay still'. For all Roy Keane's deadline-day signings it was quite simply the clash of two very journeymen sides. Both might have recently played in the top flight, but on this showing the clubs' only future links with the Premiership elite would appear to be that their names will turn up on the same pools coupons as the Arsenals, Chelseas and Manchester Uniteds of this world should they start playing on a Saturday occasionally.No, it was absolutely dreadful. The only consolation to the 1,118 City fans who had been at Stoke the week before was that at least this time Norwich reached half-time with a clean sheet to their name. And that was as much to do with the equally timid approach of the visitors as anything the Canaries had to offer.

Okay, a bit of a tweak at half-time produced one sublime move and a well-taken goal. And 10 points out of a possible 15 from Peter Grant's time in charge shouldn't be sniffed at. Play-off form, you would say, although it's hard to imagine the 16 on duty at the weekend have any hope of taking City into the top six any time soon.

But Saturday's display shows just how much City's stock have fallen in the space of two-and-a-half years. The last meeting with Sunderland saw the Canaries lift the First Division title on May 4, 2004 despite a 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light thanks to West Brom losing at Stoke.

Most Read

Fast forward to the weekend, and how many of those triumphant Canaries were able to take to the field for the re-match? I make it three - Adam Drury (who has struggled for consistency in the intervening period), Darren Huckerby (still maybe not back to full fitness) and Paul McVeigh (a shadow of his former self).

Let's just be thankful for the two positives to come out of Saturday - a big, big win ahead of what could be a very barren pre-Christmas spell both in terms of fit players and points (if the showing of the incredible disappearing midfield is anything to go by), and Dion Dublin.

Okay, I'll admit to being bemused as anyone when he was signed by Nigel Worthington in a transaction which came across like a shopper not wanting to leave a supermarket empty-handed.

He's never going to offer you a lot up front now. But when your backs are against the wall, and you've fallen behind to an awkward Colchester side, or are struggling to hold on to a lead against the Sunderlands of this world, his motivational qualities are impossible to beat. When you're considering 'players of a certain age' on Saturday it was all too easy to forget that Dwight Yorke was on the field. That was never the case with Dublin. The man needs wrapping up in cotton wool; I fear for our defensive prospects at Portman Road without him.

And on the subject of derbies, one way of indicating just where City will finish in the Championship continued last Tuesday with that hard-fought (with the accent very firmly on 'fought' here) draw against Colchester.

Having eight local/regional derbies this season is going to make or break the Canaries' slim prospects of success.

In the past it was simple. You played Ipswich twice in a season, and whoever was most up for it on the day took the points. Regional supremacy assured.

Easy as that.

Now, though, the arrival of Luton, Colchester and Southend has rather complicated matters.

These are games which City obviously want to win - but not a much as their opponents, who, it would seem, particularly at home are spurred on by having vast numbers of away fans poking fun at the rather limited nature of their grounds' capacities.

While Watford are undoubtedly Luton's local rivals, in their three recent meetings with the Canaries you've got the impression that for their fans, if not their players, it is still a huge matter of pride to beat Norwich.

A sense that appears even more heightened for Colchester and Southend to put one over the supposed regional top dogs. And it's exactly the same for Ipswich - their defeat at Layer Road plainly meant so much to Colchester than you could almost imagine them now listing it among the club honours in their matchday programme.

In short, rather than lower-pressure fixtures against Brighton, Millwall and Rotherham, the three sides directly replaced by Colchester, Luton and Southend, City now have six games where their opponents are going to be really, really up to beat them.

As was the case last Tuesday at Carrow Road. It might have started out as a 'we all hate Ipswich' mutual love-in between City and Colchester fans, but once the, shall we say, robust approach displayed by the U's became apparent the atmosphere changed significantly among home fans, who filed the Essex visitors under 'more teams in blue and white to dislike'.

That perhaps played a part in the Canaries fighting back to level terms, but they were never sufficiently on top of things to go on and win the game.

Following the thrown-away two points at Southend, that's something that City can't afford to do again, not just at Portman Road in 13 days' time, but anywhere.

If Anglia TV still produced much in the way of regional programming, you could almost imagine them sponsoring the table elsewhere on this page, but for argument's sake let's call it the Pride of Anglia, based on results between the sides so far this season.

How many points City take from it will go a long way to determining how high up the Championship table they finish. Too many more dropped points against regional rivals and City are going to start having to go to places like The Hawthorns needing to win to make amends.

However, if they can deal with the heightened pressure and start winning these derbies - and there's another five still to come, remember - they can surely cope with anything else that the Championship can throw at them.