In what has been the most wonderful of City supporting weeks I’m still torn over whether to bask in the glory of the two-legged semi-final win or to focus all my energies on Monday’s trip to north-west London.
It seems almost a shame to move on so quickly given the magnitude of that win over the old enemy, and amidst the scramble for Wembley tickets the fact we’ve beat them three times this season and drawn the other has barely warranted a mention.
To spin it on its head, to have been on the receiving end of such a ‘lesson’ must have been hard to take and already Ipswich fans are salivating at the thought of locking horns again “next season” to exact their revenge.
Not since 19th April 2009 have they trumped the Canaries and six years worth of frustration will now be at least six and-a-half before they get that chance again. It must be painful in the extreme and accounts for much of the spite that followed Saturday’s win.
We made much capital of the 9-2 of 2010/11, but the 7-2 of 2014/15 is arguably of an even greater vintage given the prize on offer at the end of game four. Yet only when the two-legged semi-final becomes part of Canary history will we really appreciate the magnitude of the achievement, regardless of what happens at Wembley on Monday.
At the moment we’re all trapped in a play-off bubble that we don’t want to burst – and it’s brilliant – but when said dust has settled perhaps the achievement of keeping McCarthy’s men at arms length so comfortably over 360 minutes will finally dawn on us.
In addition to the six year wait for the ‘Pride of Anglia’ trophy, the Blues’ fans also face the ignominy of watching their nearest and dearest step out on the Wembley turf to contest a place in the Premier League. That too must hurt.
I can vividly recall the knot in the stomach when Town successfully triumphed over Barnsley in the 1999/2000 play-off final, and so can understand why Suffolk’s finest have thrown their full weight behind Middlesbrough – barely had Saturday’s game finished when my phone vibrated to the sound of a ‘come on boro’ text message.
Whether the hopes and prayers of the Blue Army are to be answered remains to be seen – and there’s no question Boro will provide a sterner test than Ipswich – but there is no doubting a game-plan will be in place that, if implemented successfully, could see City emerge victorious.
Alex Neil continues to impress at every turn and – although he’d not thank me for saying it – enhances his growing reputation with virtually every decision and every interview. In conversation with Norwich City TV he again reminded us of the steely resolve that drives him.
“The crowd will just be a background noise”, was his no-nonsense answer when quizzed about the maelstrom of sound that will be Wembley at 3pm, and his loathing of bells and whistles that detract from the job in hand seeps from every pore.
Seldom have we had one at the helm with such obvious focus and desire and, for all the talk of Boro’s league double over City, I suspect their 1-0 win at Carrow Road on that infamous Friday night will be one that rankles with Master Neil.
He’ll not only see it as a play-off final – one worth £120+ million – but also as a wrong that needs righting. City were undone tactically that night by Aitor Karanka and his men; something of a rare occurrence in 2015. Team Neil will be doing everything in its power to ensure that lightening doesn’t strike twice.
For their part Boro have, surprisingly, taken on the role of media darlings.
While it’s still early days – three days is a long time on Sky Sports and talkSPORT – pundits have so far been queueing up to join the Blue Army in throwing their weight behind the Teessiders’ quest for the Promised land.
Despite the bookies’ odds portraying City as narrow favourites, for most neutrals the thought of Boro returning to the Premier League for the first time since 2008/09 appears irresistible and few, other than ex-City players and celebrity fans, are predicting a Norwich victory on Monday. And that can only be a good thing.
Neil’s men coped admirably with the role of favourite in the semi-final but in true Norwich City tradition we’re happier when cast in the role of underdog. Being ‘not fancied’ is part and parcel of supporting the Canaries and I believe we’re at our best when we have to pull the coaches in close and hunker down. So may the Boro love-in continue.
In terms of logistics the task of mobilising almost 40,000 foot soldiers has been made easier thanks to the RMT and the TSSA, and the Yellow Army now has one less thing to worry about.
While the club’s ticket distribution understandably didn’t meet with universal approval, the barometer that is Twitter is now suggesting that the majority of those who wanted a ticket have got one – at least I hope that’s the case.
With Abellio Greater Anglia playing a game of catch-up that Alex and Frankie would be proud of, the route to London initially appeared plain sailing. But no. The latest curve-ball is the discovery of an unexploded bomb in the vicinity of Wembley – allegedly dropped around the time of Ipswich’s FA Cup win.
Let’s just hope the evacuated area doesn’t include the East End of Wembley Stadium!
I’ll save the Wembley wishes for Sunday morning – see you then