There have been some curious going-ons in Suffolk as Ipswich seeks to overturn a dismal derby record, which stems before their current operator took charge of the reins at Portman Road.
Long gone are the days of notes being waved in the direction of the Barclay as they (wrongly) thought wealth had arrived in the shape of businessman Marcus Evans.
If Ipswich weren’t the rivals of Norwich City supporters, many would feel a great deal of sympathy for those in Suffolk.
Mick McCarthy has stabilised a ship that was in disarray prior to his arrival. McCarthy has been solid if unspectacular, and outsiders looking in would applaud the job he has done while operating within tight financial constraints.
Aesthetically pleasing he is not however. McCarthy’s traditionalist approach and tactical stubbornness has seen attendances drop dramatically. Those wearing yellow and green glasses may chuckle, but this is a football club stagnating and rotting in the second tier.
His approach was needed following the lacklustre reigns of Roy Keane and Paul Jewell – lacklustre with regards to both finances and application of tactics. Upon his arrival, McCarthy was the remedy many Ipswich supporters craved after two questionable managerial stints.
On Sunday, for all intents and purposes, the pressure lays firmly at the door of the visitors as they seek to end a period of prolonged derby hurt. With the sides sitting comfortably in the middle of the Championship table, pride is the only thing at stake, but that pride is motivation enough for both halves to come away with significant bragging rights.
For Ipswich, the future is dependent on an avant-garde approach under new leadership. McCarthy’s big chance to establish Ipswich as a Championship force came the season after the infamous two-legged playoff defeat to their biggest rivals. Yet his inability to fulfil aesthetic demands and to progress Ipswich has seen his popularity with supporters decrease.
Anyone who displays angst and frustration towards the hierarchy in place at Carrow Road need look at their neighbours as an example of gross mismanagement and lack of interest in a football club. Their anonymous owner has made the club dependant on his wealth and without him they would face extinction.
Ipswich is an epitome of a club decaying and rotting due to severe lack of investment and as such they are losing a generation of supporters, left feeling an acute sense of apathy at matters on and off the pitch.
Prior to that fixture that at Portman Road earlier in the season, there was a palpable sense of unease that that game would be their time following years occupying their neighbour’s shadow. James Maddison – who else – ensured that normal service was resumed.
Undoubtedly, City will start as favourites, a tag that Daniel Farke will be keen to play down. Norwich have seemingly thrived off being the underdog in this campaign, but after the performance seen at Derby, this squad is full of bottle and fight.
Our stock is rising, and, with it, this squad is proving capable at handling pressure and the psychological aspects of the squad – defensive concentration for one – have improved drastically after last season’s underwhelm.
This derby comes as Norwich are undergoing a period whereby the home form has improved and Ipswich come into it following a draw with relegation stricken Burton Albion.
Expectations are rising in NR1, with talk of the playoffs becoming whispers and those who felt anger now believing the impossible will be achieved. With Maddison fit, anything is attainable, yet the playoffs appear too distant for Norwich this campaign.
Rigorous and intense training regimes are beginning to become the norm. The philosophy has transitioned from planning paper into reality; it is not perfection but City now resemble a fully operational Championship side.
If Derby were a realistic yardstick of what Championship promotion contenders resemble, then those spearheading operations at Carrow Road aren’t a stretch away from what’s required to compete at the top end of the division.
That said, remedies need to be found for the struggles at the top end of the pitch.
Nelson Oliveira’s lack of goals is a cause for concern, but he will relight the touch paper and goals will follow as he simplifies his game once more and continues to get into the right positions. City simply cannot rely on the brilliance of Maddison because if an injury or goal-drought arrives the main source of goals and creativity will be dry.
Bring on the derby, and the ecstasy or despair of it.