Derby day warming up nicely for City

STEVE GEDGE Time was when it seemed that the only way Norwich could ready themselves for a visit to Ipswich was by turning in a totally lame performance in the match beforehand - losing 5-1 at Crystal Palace and 3-0 at home to Cheltenham spring to mind.


Time was when it seemed that the only way Norwich could ready themselves for a visit to Ipswich was by turning in a totally lame performance in the match beforehand - losing 5-1 at Crystal Palace and 3-0 at home to Cheltenham spring to mind.

Saturday's outstanding win, however, was a far better preparation for the prospect of the white-cold Sunday morning atmosphere at Portman Road.

The main difference between this game and the last away fixture at Stoke? In a word - confidence. City simply oozed it.

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Never mind the difference in personnel and formations, at the Britannia Stadium the Canaries seldom looked sure of themselves. On Saturday you could be pretty sure from midway through the first half that City weren't going to concede.

You can't deny that there were the various West Brom efforts that hit the woodwork or were cleared off the line, but how nice to be able to enjoy a game when it was obvious that the Canaries' goal led a charmed life rather than all-too-many recent away matches in which the home side looked capable of scoring every time they crossed the halfway line.

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If I was a West Brom fan I'd be highly annoyed that all those openings had gone begging and that my side had been denied deserved points. But this was no fluke win. The only element of Saturday's game in which City were second-best was the number of chances created. Possession, for example, was a far more even affair, with City stringing together some excellent passing moves at times.

And as for the back, well, Peter Grant's record speaks for itself. Four clean sheets in six league games - I think he can be forgiven for City's off-day at Stoke and a Jamie Cureton goal for Colchester which was, frankly, even more inevitable than Andy Johnson winning a penalty after lining up for the opposition.

Grant might have posted a 'could do better' label on his first month in charge at Carrow Road, but the 13 points picked up since his arrival have done more than propel City into the top half of the table, they have probably saved the Canaries' season, or at the very least made it last a whole lot longer than what before seemed an inevitable slump into lower-half obscurity.

Three of his four victories have come against sides higher in the table and shown that the nucleus of his squad can help City climb even further.

Just how far remains to be seen in January. Look back to the tail end of the 2000-1 season and the names of those who were gradually deemed surplus to requirements - Derveld, De Blasiis, De Waard, Jackson, Walsh - and you can see the same sort of surgery being needed this time around. City have won their last two games, true, but they've been very hard work and that can only take you so far. Sooner or later City will need to call on a bit more quality to beat teams - something they're painfully short of at the moment, as demonstrated by the low number of clear-cut chances they created against Sunderland and West Brom.

But for now let's just revel in Saturday's win - and, incidentally, just how nice was it to enjoy an adventurous, attacking match at The Hawthorns with neither Gary Megson era negativity from the home side nor the undue caution that the Canaries displayed in their 0-0 Premiership draw at West Brom two years ago?

This was a huge victory. Another defeat and doubts would have started to form about the Canaries' away abilities, following on from the losses at Port Vale and Stoke. It would also have made the victory at Birmingham seem like a total one-off, achieved by a dispirit group of players only interested in impressing their new manager to prolong their Carrow Road careers.

Instead, City looked quite at home on the stage of a big ground, if not a crowd, and shrugged off the special attention given to Robert Earnshaw and Darren Huckerby by their markers - exactly the sort of thing they can expect at Portman Road.

A month ago, this looked like being the first derby in years that meant nothing in terms of the league table, providing only the consolation of local pride to the winners.

Thanks to Saturday's battling victory, another three points at Ipswich and City could go back into the top six on Sunday, Unlikely, but not impossible - the play-off slot, that is, not thee Canaries' ability to beat Ipswich providing they follow the example of past visits and are right up for it from minute one.

Neither Bryan Hamilton nor Nigel Worthington ever lost a league match at Portman Road. At the end of only his fifth week in charge, and with the effort he's put in so far, Grant doesn't deserve to fail to continue a tradition set by his predecessors.

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