A time for bravery and guts. And time to channel the inner spirit of Forbes, Johnson and HuckerbySat 25 Feb 17 by Gary Gowers
We no longer tend to do match previews per se on MyFootballWriter – at least not regularly – partly because others do them and do them well (and there’s only so much preview one can take).
But this week feels different and not just because the editor has a Saturday ‘void’ to fill.
Personally, I’m not one to indulge too much in the pre-derby social media toing and froing and if 40 plus years of supporting City has taught me anything it’s not to crow too loudly when the going is good.
The cyclical nature of football and the twice-a-season proximity of a derby – at least when we are in the same division – means realistically a slap in the face is never too far away.
And when it’s been the turn of our friends from the south to shout (which they invariably do) dry powder is usually my weapon of choice.
But the bragging rights have been ours for so long they’ve been handed to us for good (Jules Rimet-style) and while we’ve been braced for the aforementioned slap across the chops for some time it’s just never materialised.
And not since that League One inducing 3-2 defeat at Portman Road in April 2009 have we had to swallow that bitterest of pills.
Yet, and it pains me to say it, it is only a matter of time. Sorry. A new shiny set of bragging rights have been issued and they’re up for grabs as of midday tomorrow. What’s gone before counts for zilch.
It’ll be tough. Almost certainly ugly. And if there’s one thing we’re not very good at right now it’s ugly.
What does of course count in City’s favour is that we’re at home – and home is most definitely where the heart is. But [cliché klaxon] form counts for little when derby day comes around and therefore so too does an impressive run of home form.
And what further heightens the jeopardy level is that Mick McCarthy’s bunch of scrappers and battlers are perfectly equipped to put the skids under Alex Neil’s men; a better fit you’d be hard pressed to find.
City struggle when offered little time to settle in midfield,when the opposition are ‘in our faces’ and make it a physical battle – McCarthy’s men will work, work and work harder still, will look to disrupt our passing rhythm and look to turn it into a scrap.
We struggle when faced with those who go back to front in one pass and who pressurise our centre-backs – McCarthy’s troops will do both of those things and be acutely aware that Timm Klose and Russell Martin both ‘have a mistake in them’ when the pressure is cranked up.
And we struggle when faced with intensity, hunger and desire – Big Mick’s boys will…….. (you know the rest).
Throw into that same mix that – like it or not – the boys in Blue, buoyed by some decent January loan signings, are starting to play a bit and there’s a logic to the palpable nervousness north of the Waveney.
The crux of course is if Neil’s men can successfully buck the trend and are able to handle all of the above and the occasion itself. That tired old saying about ‘earning the right to play’ has been prevalent throughout this season but will be more apt than ever tomorrow; so too the one about being dead-eyed rather than wide-eyed.
Because, as highlighted so eloquently by my colleague Steve Cook yesterday, we, the fans, feel like we are owed one. To date this season has been a litany of disappointments punctuated with intermittent moments of exhilaration, but the kicks in the teeth and blows to the solar plexus have come thick and fast and invariably strike when optimism levels are rising.
To get turned over by the old enemy would, for many, be a blow too far, especially with it likely killing off our lingering hopes of gate-crashing the top six. Wounds that had started to heal following the mini-revival could, or probably would, be re-opened in an instant. The mood would be ugly.
But no-one this side of the border, whether home is boardroom, changing room or terrace, wants that. The positive air that’s pervaded Carrow Road over the last few games is infinitely more enjoyable than the alternative.
So it essentially boils down to which iteration of Alex Neil’s Class of 2017 turns up tomorrow.
As alluded to above, the one that recognises the need to roll up the sleeves and get stuck in ahead of weaving the pretty patterns has a more than decent chance of derby glory, but the one that deems itself too precious for a battle and dislikes it up ‘em will likely suffer Burton and Rotherham flashbacks and worse.
As ever, it’ll not be a day for faint hearts but instead one where the players need to channel their inner Johnson, Holt and Roberts. To am man this trio of derby day warriors understood perfectly the magnitude of such an occasion and its place in the hearts of the Y’Army.
It needs to be a day when the niggles, gripes and moans are set to one side and the front is united. A day when crowd inspires player and player inspires crowd; neither awaiting the other for the signal to ignite. And it needs to be a day when a setback, if it arrives, is a trigger for the volume to increase.
And if all of the above happens, we’ve done our bit. It’s then over to Neil and the players to to theirs.
We expect them to battle, not to shirk and to show bravery, both in and out of possession. And we expect those in the dugout to have a plan but then be prepared to tweak and react without indecision.
Please, please don’t let us down.
“Never mind the danger…”