No relegation fears for Norwich City, says intrepid cyclist Matt Jackson
Ex-Canaries skipper Matt Jackson is getting on his bike to see Norwich City in action on Sunday – but is certain there will be more Premier League action at Carrow Road next season.
The centre-back, who spent five years at City before a successful six-year spell at Wigan that ended in 2007, leaves the Latics' training ground on Wednesday morning to begin a four day 248-mile charity bike to Norwich.
All being well, Jackson will get to make an appearance on old home turf before the meeting between his two former clubs on Sunday afternoon – a game put back 24 hours for live television coverage, although Jackson still aims to arrive on his two wheels by Saturday evening.
And while top-flight basement boys Wigan head into the game in relegation mire, Jackson is happy to see the Canaries safe, sound and out of trouble.
'They're safe, absolutely,' said Jackson. 'They are not safe on 35 points, and they wouldn't accept 35 now if it was offered to them, but there is no way they won't be playing Premier League football next year.
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'It's been fantastic for Norwich and full credit to them. I saw them on the first day up at Wigan and thought then they might struggle a little bit, but I think the spirit they showed that day in going away with a hard won point probably set them up for the whole season. It gave them a bit of belief and they've just been incredible since then.
'It does come down to confidence and belief. The players have out-preformed themselves probably, considering how far they have come so quickly.
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'But that collective spirit with a bit of confidence injected into them and their natural ability – plus the good management right throughout the club, from board level right down through the manager – makes for a very stable operation and everyone benefits from it.'
A 2004 exhibition match and the Canaries' recent FA Youth Cup tie with Chelsea represent Jackson's only visits to Carrow Road since leaving in 2001 – and the 40-year-old cannot wait to complete his journey on two wheels to return.
'The county is fantastic and my family absolutely loved our time down there,' said Jackson. 'It will be good to see some old friends and nice to see Delia and Michael. With all that they have done, it has been fantastic and I'm delighted for how things have worked out for them as well.
'I probably won't be looking the best, but I will be looking forward to seeing everybody.'
Sunday's game may have looked like a relegation scrap when the fixture list first came out, but Norwich have risen above such worries. However, the same cannot be said for Wigan despite something of a recovery in recent weeks. Defeat at home to Swansea on Saturday prompted chairman Dave Whelan to publicly question the team selection of manager Roberto Martinez – but Jackson does not expect much fallout come Sunday's game.
'The chairman and manager are very close; certainly a lot more was made of the chairman's comments than was actually meant,' said Jackson.
'It sounds like it's a good story for people, but the chairman is so knowledgable about football. He's at the training ground all the time but those discussions go on pretty much on a daily basis.
'There was no difference in the routine of how everybody goes about their business. It was something of nothing but certainly the club knows it's in a really tough place and a real scrap at the moment.
'It's very tight and if you can win two or three games in a row, that gives you a massive boost. But you find the teams down there don't tend to have done that all season and suddenly have to start.
'Wigan have been through it all before and were very close (to going down) last year and still managed to survive and show great strength of character to do that, and they will be doing exactly the same again.'
Jackson will be cycling alongside former Wigan team-mate and Ipswich player Neil Rimmer and two Wigan academy coaches to help raise money for a selection of causes including Help for Heroes and four-year-old Wigan girl Emma Hoolin, who has been diagnosed with high risk neuroblastoma – an aggressive form of childhood cancer.
Ex-Everton defender Jackson is also taking on the journey in tribute to good friend and former Toffees team-mate Gary Ablett, who died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma on New Year's Day.
'We're not ready for it and it's been talked about for a while – and planning started with about three days to go so we're expecting it to be a proper shambles, but we will endeavour to be there,' said Jackson. 'We just want people to be aware of the cause and anything people can spare they can donate.
'All the original plans were to arrive on Saturday, so we thought we'd still do that. We have got Sunday morning now as a contingency but hopefully we'll arrive on Saturday evening at some point.
'It's going to be a struggle. We are not cyclist by any stretch of the imagination so this isn't people who know what they're doing. This is fat boys on bikes – it's going to be graft.
'It will be Neil and two academy coaches with me – make sure you include Neil's Ipswich bit so he gets booed when he comes on the pitch…'
• To help support Matt Jackson's cycle ride and donate to Emma Hoolin's appeal, visit www.emmahoolin.co.uk