Thursday night’s derby date might not to be everyone’s taste, but for City skipper Grant Holt the late, mid-week trip down the road offers Norwich one, big advantage – it gives the Canaries 24, extra hours before going again at home to Derby on Easter Monday.
Canary boss Paul Lambert has already slammed the fixture pile-up in April.
By the time that the promotion-hunting Norfolk side entertain the Rams on the Bank Holiday Monday, it will be their fifth game in 15, sapping days of high-intensity, high-stakes football.
It is not just the Pride of Anglia title that is at stake this week; the Canaries remain potentially just four games away from a return to the Premiership – if all goes according to plan.
Kicking-off with that trip to Portman Road this Thursday. Speaking after Friday night’s 2-1 win over Forest, Holt – back from the dead following his cramp-like-hamstring scare at Vicarage Road three nights earlier – welcomed the brief break ahead of that short, derby trop south.
“It’s a far time till Thursday now and the lads can have a good rest,” said Holt, who confounded everyone with the sheer energy of his performance on Friday night – bearing in mind he could barely walk at the end of that 2-2 draw with the Hornets.
“We can get ready for that, worry about that but thankfully in one way we’ve got an extra day’s rest before the game on Monday which might just help us.”
If the Canaries can repeat anywhere near their 4-1 derby heroics in the home fixture at Carrow Road, they will once again leap-frog back into second spot and lay another big gauntlet at the feet of their rivals.
The big game of the weekend is at Elland Road on Friday night where Leeds’ play-off ambitions meet Reading’s automatic promotion hopes head-on.
If Norwich can dig a big result out of Suffolk soil 24 hours earlier, they can keep themselves one step ahead of the in-form Royals – whether or not they rack up their tenth straight win against United. Holt’s philosophy matches that of the manager.
“It’s important just not to get beat,” he said, looking back at the possible importance of that 2-2 draw at Watford.
“You look at that point at Watford; they’re a good side, on their home patch and we didn’t get beat. And we know that if we win our home games and get points on the road, then we won’t be far off.”
In every likelihood even a point at Portman Road will be enough to all-but guarantee the Canaries a place in the play-offs and extend their season through to – potentially – the end of May.
Friday night’s home clash with Forest also delivered the skipper’s 22nd goal of the season – a remarkable return coming atop his 30-goal haul the season before.
It was a classic centre-forward’s strike as he man-handled his marker out of the way to bury David Fox’s far-post free-kick way beyond the keeper’s reach. Afterwards and Holt was paying tribute to the delivery.
It had whip and pace; it didn’t make a defender’s life easy. Given Town shipped three in their last home clash with Middlesbrough, such set-pieces could prove a big weapon in Norwich’s armoury.
Given that Holt bagged a big hat-trick against the oldest of enemies in their first meeting, Town boss Paul Jewell will want the 30-year-old watched like a hawk on Thursday night.
“We’ve got boys who can put balls on a sixpence,” said Holt. “If it’s not Foxy, it’s Henri [Lansbury] or Surman. We’re very fortunate with the quality that we’ve got in this squad.”
And that was the other point, it was a squad effort on Friday night – as it has been for the last two seasons. And will be again come Thursday night.
“I can’t speak highly enough about this team – and I have done,” said the City skipper, on the eve of derby battle.
“How much of that togetherness there is; how hard they work for each other and how much they want to win. And when you’ve got that running through the team, it’s a fantastic feeling.”
Holt’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. This week and he joined team-mate Wes Hoolahan in the PFA Championship Team of the Year – due recognition of the pair’s efforts this year. One or two familiar faces joined them – not least QPR keeper Paddy Kenny and Reading’s much-loved full-back Ian Harte.