City boss Glenn Roeder this morning gave his derby squad a completely clean bill of health as the Canaries began to gear up for this weekend's “FA Cup final” against their nearest and dearest neighbours.
The Canary chief also insisted that the ever-willing Sammy Clingan was far too important in centre-midfield to step into the suspended John Kennedy's shoes at centre-half.
Which, in turn, then ensures that Gary Doherty will have either Elliot Omosuzi or Adam Drury in alongside him for a game that, potentially, could decide exactly where the rest of Norwich's season is head.
Given that both Drury and Omosuzi have been carrying various knocks of late, the fact that Roeder was busily insisting that both were ready for the derby fray is one, small silver lining to some dark-looking clouds.
The loss of Kennedy was, he admitted, a “body blow” after the on-loan Celtic star became the latest Canary player to see red – this time in the midst of the depressing shambles that was the second-half at Hillsborough last weekend.
“We're all OK – everyone,” was Roeder's simple response to the traditional 'Bumps, knocks and bruises?' opener at Colney this morning.
“Adam, Ryan [Bertrand], Elliot – all OK,” confirmed the City boss, with Bertrand's return to fitness giving him the option of playing the on-loan Chelsea starlet at left-back and pushing Drury inside alongside Doherty.
It would be a prospect that a certain Danny Haynes would recommend after he gave Bertrand such a torrid time in their meeting at Portman Road last season. Rarely used by Magilton this season, it would come as no surprise to see the Town boss whistle up Haynes' services as a derby horse for a derby course – albeit from the bench.
Which may yet ensure that Omosuzi steps in alongside Doherty.
Either way, Roeder insisted that there was a real optimistic air about the camp after a good, heart-to-heart session with the players yesterday.
“I sense a feeling of real optimism – that they're looking forward to the game,” he said, a sentiment not universally shared among the supporters some of whom would admit to a gnawing sense of dread as to what the next week might bring given that away trips to first Watford and the Reading will follow.
But then if it is always good to talk, another team meeting might have – hopefully – started the process of righting some of the current wrongs on the pitch as the Norfolk club blow so hot and then so cold. And concede soft goals for fun in the process.
“We had a good meeting yesterday and spoke about a lot of things,” said Roeder. “And I believe that these games bring out the very best in people.
“I'm very much with that famous rugby guy who said: 'The greater the challenge, the greater the response…' And when you play in a local derby, there's not a greater challenge. So we expect a great response.”
And there needs to be. Last weekend's latest second-half surrender left the Canaries perched all-too alarmingly above the bottom three.
By the time they play host to the neighbours at 1.15pm on Sunday, City could be all-but in the bottom three if Charlton win away at Blackpool. Goal difference might ride to Norwich's rescue – for now. But without the three point boost of a derby win 24 hours later, that trap door will be yawning open.
While you wouldn't expect Watford to get much from their trip to Birmingham City, Southampton will be hoping for good things from their home clash with Sheffield Wednesday.
And City have to keep pace with that little pack – if not, and it'll be a case of trying to keep Nottingham Forest and Doncaster Rovers at arm's length.
It is a time for big characters to step up to the plate; big characters who, on occasions, like Sunday can deliver the required big performances.
“One of the things that I remember from last year is that while on occasions there is a great atmosphere inside Carrow Road, for the whole 90 minutes last year I thought the atmosphere inside Carrow Road was electric,” said Roeder. “Even when we were unluckily – ridiculously – two goals down.”
At which point, of course, the freshly-signed Martin 'Tiny' Taylor stepped up to the plate in such dramatic fashion – and proved a big character. It is those kind of heroes that Roeder needs to find again this weekend.
Clingan looks to be one who won't shirk from his derby duties – albeit not at centre-half after cruising through his latest stand-in role last weekend. Would he fill in there again from the start? “No – I think he's too valuable in centre-midfield,” said Roeder, simply. “We just know that if he has to slide back there for a period of time, he can do it.”
In the midst of an intense derby battle? For that's what Roeder is expecting.
“The intensity that came out of the crowd is something that I will always remember – the way that you would remember being involved in a Newcastle-Sunderland game,” he said.
Which is why Kennedy's absence might be so keenly felt. He's been there, seen it and done it derby-wise – in arguably the most fiercely tribal match-ups of them all.
“I'd have liked him to have been there – for sure,” said Roeder. “Celtic-Rangers? That's not a bad little derby match, either. With a fair bit of passion running through it. And I know that when John has played for Celtic against Rangers, John has always been the best player on the pitch. And I think there's plenty of Rangers strikers that will bear that out.
“It was a body blow, for John, for us, that he got himself sent off last week, but that gives someone else an opportunity.”
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