Worthy hails curtain raiser

CHRIS LAKEY Nigel Worthington has welcomed the challenge that the fixture list compilers presented to Norwich City yesterday, in the shape of an opening day game against beaten play-off finalists Leeds United.


Nigel Worthington has welcomed the challenge that the fixture list compilers presented to Norwich City yesterday, in the shape of an opening day game against beaten play-off finalists Leeds United.

The Canaries face Kevin Blackwell's team on Saturday, August 5 - with the first home game coming three days later when Preston, the team Leeds beat in the semi-finals, are at Carrow Road.

It's a tough start by any standards, but City boss Worthington is keen to lay down a marker for the season ahead.

“It's a great game to start off with, a good start - you are better off playing the likes of those teams earlier,” said Worthington. “You can get yourselves set up and get ready for the mental and physical side of the season ahead and build on a good start.

“They finished as play-off finalists last season and we have got to go there and get a strong start to the season.”

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Blackwell said: “It's a good start for us against Norwich, and to be fair I think both sides are going to be contenders for promotion next season.

“It's as tough for them as it is for us, and we'll go into the season with a lot of confidence.”

The first of the big East Anglian derby games is on November 18, when Norwich travel down the A140 to Ipswich, with the reverse fixture booked for April 21 - although it is more than likely that those will be changed to Sunday kick-offs.

“You always look for the local derby dates and we are very much looking forward to playing them,” said Worthington, who will come up against former Northern Ireland team-mate and new Ipswich boss Jim Magilton for the first time.

City have been handed a home game against Southend on Boxing Day, but will travel to Crystal Palace on New Year's Day while the season ends, as it begins, in Yorkshire, with a trip to one of Worthington's former clubs, Sheffield Wednesday.

“It's good now the fixtures are out and we know what we are looking at and I'm looking forward to getting on with it,” he said. “It's nice going back to former clubs and I hope we can enjoy it and have some success.”

One look down the list proves what a difficult season it's going to be for Norwich, with a long list of teams all with legitimate claims to a top-six place.

“In football there are no easy periods at all,” said Worthington. “I think if you look at the way the fixtures have come out they are all pretty evenly spread - the teams who have come up and the teams who have come down and the teams who are spending big. They are all there and you have to deal with them.”

The run-up to Christmas would appear to be City's most testing time, with November carrying the prospect of Sunderland at home, followed by West Brom and Ipswich away. City could do with a repeat of last December's performances - when they won five on the bounce - before they face a quick turnaround in December against Sunderland as well as hauls to Southampton and Wolves. Should they get through that unscathed they can go into the New Year with some confidence - but hoping to avoid the awful start they made to 2005, which finally put paid to their promotion hopes.

The first sight of the Championship's new boys comes quickly, with the visit of play-off winners Barnsley, and possibly former Canaries striker Paul Hayes, on August 26, before City make the trip to League One champions up Southend in mid-September. Last year's League One runners-up, Colchester, are in Norfolk for Halloween.

Preston in February is the longest midweek trip by some way, while the journey down to Plymouth will be out of the way fairly early in the campaign, on September 23.

Ipswich start with a home game against Crystal Palace, followed by a trip to Wolves and then an away day in Leicester.

“There's no denying it's a difficult start for us, but it's certainly an exciting one and I can't wait to get going,” said Magilton.

“Palace at home is always a game you look forward to because they have good travelling support and that helps create a good atmosphere at Portman Road.

“There's always a special feel about the club on day one of the season and having attractive opposition will only add to that.”

As usual, the fixture list is subject to change, with Norfolk and Suffolk police forces having a say on the dates and kick-off times for the derby games, and Sky TV yet to announce their televised games.

The Canaries are unlikely to have any other major issues with the list, but the opener against Leeds is certainly one that would appeal to Sky TV to kick off their season.

“Clubs traditionally have until the end of next week to make representations to make alterations,” said club secretary Kevan Platt. “It's then that the list becomes more definitive, certainly for the first half of the season.”