Opportunities for new heroes in much-changed Norwich and Ipswich squads
The battle lines are being drawn up for the 90th league derby between Norwich City and Ipswich Town. It's a scrap which players on both sides have little experience of though.
There were five derby debutants among City’s starting XI in September, with Ben Godfrey and Louis Thompson making that seven when he replaced the injured Timm Klose at half-time.
Tim Krul, Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki were all new recruits, while Max Aarons was making the first league start of his professional career and Jordan Rhodes was also making his derby bow, having made just 10 appearances for Town as a youngster.
It was the same story in the Ipswich squad, with Matthew Pennington, Gwion Edwards, Jon Nolan, Jordan Graham and Kayden Jackson the five derby debutants in the starting line-up, with Trevoh Chalobah and Ellis Harrison making their total seven from the bench.
That was a Paul Hurst squad though. The former Shrewsbury manager’s wholesale summer changes fell flat and he was sacked in October with the Blues bottom of the table after just one win in 14 Championship games.
That heralded the surprise appointment of former Canaries boss Paul Lambert, who has picked up two wins and three draws from his 14 league games in charge.
The Scot has managed the same return of points, just nine, from the same amount of games as Hurst but did have to wait until the January transfer window to make changes to his squad.
Six new faces arrived, with the experienced of former West Ham defender James Collins signed on a free and Brentford midfielder, signed for a nominal fee on a short-term deal, brought in.
That was alongside four loan signings: Huddersfield forward Colin Quaner, Hull striker Will Keane, Leicester left-back Callum Elder and Aston Villa defender James Bree.
So which squad has the most East Anglian derby experience?
Based on the teams who represented both clubs last weekend, it’s Town, just.
Collectively the 14 players who were involved in Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday have 30 derby appearances between them for Ipswich.
The most experienced was midfielder Cole Skuse, who has faced City in nine matches, while goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski has played in seven and forward Freddie Sears in six.
Lambert could bolster that with a healthy addition of experience of the big day though, with skipper Luke Chambers (nine derbies) racing to recover from a foot injury, and Denmark international left-back Jonas Knudsen (five) potentially returning after failing to make his expected January exit.
However, that clutch of players with experience of the tension of a game against the Canaries are tainted somewhat, having all played major part’s in Town miserable 11-game winless run against Norwich – the longest streak in the long history of the fixture.
Daniel Farke’s promotion hopefuls don’t have a great deal of derby day experience either though, with the team which romped to an impressive 3-1 win at title rivals Leeds on Saturday including a total of 24 appearances against Ipswich.
The main man is of course long-serving midfielder Alex Tettey, a veteran of the 2015 play-off battles with eight derbies on his CV, and he was only a substitute at Elland Road.
Christoph Zimmermann, Jamal Lewis, Mario Vrancic and Onel Hernandez all have two Ipswich battles each, while Timm Klose is fighting to shake off a knee injury so that he can add to his five.
How about on the sidelines? Well, City fans don’t need to be reminded of Paul Lambert’s record, beating the Tarctor Boys 4-1 at Carrow Road and 5-1 at Portman Road.
Canaries boss Farke will be keen to improve his record against the Suffolk boys though. His first taste of the intensity of derby day brought a 1-0 away win, thanks to a sumptuous strike from James Maddison, but the second needed a Timm Klose equaliser deep into injury-time.
Ipswich were again desperate to bring an end to the club’s miserable record against Norwich back in September, when Hurst was trying to kick-start a new era, only for Gwion Edwards’ opener in the 57th minute at Portman Road to be cancelled out 14 minutes later by a sweet Moritz Leitner strike.
That relative lack of experience on both sides leaves opportunities for new heroes on both sides of the divide, with so much at stake in terms of promotion and relegation, as well as those all important local bragging rights.