Michael Bailey: Norwich City's invisible Elland Road effect and unspoken derby expectation
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In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey looks through his fingers to Sunday’s East Anglian derby with Ipswich and reminisces over a Leeds masterpiece.
They have been epic. Season-defining. The only relevance left. Something of a distraction. This one however? This one just feels all a bit weird.
It’s almost come to the point that the situation around the 107th East Anglian derby will do Norwich City a favour. After all, imagine the context and expectation of this weekend’s fixture had it involved everything but the words ‘Ipswich’ and ‘Town’.
At least this way there is almost no chance of anyone at Carrow Road and Colney taking things lightly – and the doubts can switch to the expectancy on trips to Preston and Bolton next week.
But those two words are indeed there. The sole factor that City supporters will fear – with the myriad of subplots that feed into it: be it sod’s law, the presence of City’s nearest and dearest or the former manager inexplicably arriving as Ipswich boss.
Creating the theories to fear and loathe is the easy bit. Just ask Leeds supporters. They’ve been at it since Saturday evening.
I’m not sure there is a single football argument I can put forward for an Ipswich win this weekend. On all stats, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, fitness and personnel, most recent form – it feels like trying to tee up an FA Cup mismatch.
That in itself will sound the alarms. If only football was so reliably logical.
Again, the very nature of it being a derby means there is no chance anyone behind the scenes will take it lightly – certainly Mario Vrancic and Tim Krul had a determined glint in their eye as I brought up the subject with them, within minutes of wrapping up such a hugely impressive victory over Leeds at Elland Road.
I appreciate this column at the moment is more akin to a nervous ramble ahead of an inexplicable 90 minutes. It’s what makes this game so hard to preview given there feels like so much is riding on it – and of course, Mr Lambert will be sitting in the away dugout waving at the visiting fans. Not in a Mick McCarthy way – or least, I’m sure he won’t plan to.
Lambert’s rise at City was so, so special. And he has been back before, of course. Plenty of times. City supporters will know all too well what fires him up.
Likewise, they will also know just what is at stake for the Canaries over the remainder of this season. How the results shape up elsewhere before Sunday’s kick-off at Carrow Road, may serve as a welcome reminder.
In reality, any desire to turn up the heat will be so much more effective if on the pitch, City have already given themselves a platform. Never will a first blow feel so sweet.
Normality for both clubs this season is what has happened for all but one weekend since August. Normality for both clubs this season is what will most likely continue beyond Sunday and into May. Especially, we hope, for Norwich City.
But for one weekend only, all bets are off – in the hope that the form book arrives, stands up to dish out its expectations and then watches on as it all plays out to perfection. An East Anglian derby like no other – and for that very reason, one to savour.
• And so it goes on – the world’s longest whinge as Leeds fans, podcasts and bloggers bemoan the conspiracies, corruption, referees and authorities that exist solely to prevent the Yorkshire giants from winning a Championship match, never mind promotion. Querulants in the extreme.
Given their side can be so good to watch and Marcelo Bielsa has achieved so much already with the squad of players at his disposal, you would think somewhere – and certainly by midweek – the mardy marvels might have actually managed to move on from what happened on Saturday evening.
In truth, it is of course irrelevant to here and up to them what they do with their time and minds. It’s just white noise compared to the job Daniel Farke’s men did at Elland Road, leaving another side to wonder how they mysteriously underperformed – in turn disregarding the basic analysis that there are in fact two teams on the pitch.
How Leeds’ season evolves now will take care of itself. Spygate is merely a vehicle for others to quiz what United have been up to. Any effect on the pitch is purely self-harm – not so much falling apart as tearing away at themselves.
And judging by some of the reaction since the weekend, it feels like a default position they almost invite. It’s borderline weird.
That Middlesbrough now have their own implosion on a Welsh ploughed field to deal with come Saturday, should help Leeds out and in turn make for a fascinating clash at The Riverside.
Indeed, it feels like the battle for automatic promotion is about to hit another gear altogether.
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