There’s been a lot of online ‘chatter’ heading northward from that small town of late. As days turn into hours our Suffolk friends are getting ever more vocal; some persisting with the now dubious looking ‘mind the gap’ taunt, others reverting to the standard ‘we have history’.
And good luck to them. It’s been a miserable few years for those in blue and white.
In the time that City have been on a journey from Championship to Premier League and back, via a quick stopover in League One, the Blues have been marooned. This is their 13th consecutive season in the second tier, in which time they have managed to make the Play-Offs just twice. Both ended in disappointment and without a trip to either Wembley or the Millennium Stadium.
So, it’s unsurprising that City’s relegation and subsequent struggles, coupled with Town spending the season ensconced in the top six, would offer those south of the border with some potent ammunition. And, in fairness, they’ve used it well.
We offered them more than a few tap-ins. They haven’t missed once.
But now we reach crunch time and that much-fabled gap is down to just a point. City have momentum, belief and a squad that, after an all too long wait, is finally delivering. Off the back of five consecutive wins they head into the derby in the finest possible fettle.
All of which must count for something, but item 85 in the book of footballing clichés tells us the form book is meaningless where local derbies are concerned. And in truth, pre-Christmas, when the Blue were flying and the Canaries stuttering, I took comfort from that.
But now the shoe is on the other foot and it’s those chirpy folk from Constable country who are probably counting on the fiercest of local rivalries to act as a leveller. And it will, make no mistake. Alex Neil admitted as much in his post-Blackburn interviews and no-one knows his way round a derby day better than Mick McCarthy.
The Blues will compete – that much is guaranteed – and City will face a very different beast to the one they humbled back in August. Back then they were low in confidence, even lower in quality and excelled only in sporting a collective hipster look that was more London Fashion Week than Sky Bet Championship.
(I’m not sure if the beards are still in situ, but let’s hope…)
This time round they have an embedded method – one that has been finely honed over the years by Mr Mc – and confidence. They also have the small matter of a striker who has already smashed the 20 goal barrier.
This is not going to be the walk in the park that some seem to think. They represent dangerous opponents. But having said all of that – and before I get accused of going all ‘Chris Hughton’ – this remains one that is there for City’s taking.
If both teams play their best football I would expect City to triumph. If it boils down to a moment of inspiration I expect City to win. But if we fall below the high standards that have been maintained for the last five games then it could quite easily go southward – literally.
It will be a game of contrasts. City will look to get the ball down, use the width of the pitch and zip the ball around at pace. Town will go back to front quickly, play narrow and look to upset the Canaries’ passing rhythm. Where the styles collide, I suspect, will be where both teams look to press their opponents high up the pitch.
As a result I’m not anticipating a vision of Pele’s beautiful game to emerge from a Carrow Road cauldron. Instead it’ll be bitty, niggly and at times frantic; the victors (with apologies to Kipling) will be those who are able to keep their heads when all around them are losing theirs.
No room for wide-eyed. Dead-eyed will win the day.
From a City perspective we should take comfort from the fact that Alex Neil clearly gets it. His post-match performance at Ewood Park told us everything about his understanding of what it means to the Canary Nation, and the statisticians have been quick to point out his excellent record in local derbies north of the border.
Aside from the usual angst brought on my an impending visit from the Tractor Boys (I defy anyone to admit they actually enjoy these games) I have an extra niggle concerning the run of consecutive wins. Five is brilliant – and a little un-Norwich like – but six feels almost too good to be true. Winning runs have to end some time – Neil said something similar at Ewood – and stranger things etc
But now is not the time for negativity.
Now is the time to remind ourselves that a win will propel us northward, potentially to glory.
Now is the time to remind ourselves of that ‘mind the gap’ nonsense.
Now is the time to remind ourselves of McCarthy’s ‘they have more money than us’ whinge.
And now is the time to remind ourselves of the pathetic fiver-waving ‘we’re f***ing loaded’ taunts.
To eleven heroes in waiting: Carpe diem lads… carpe diem.