I bloody hate the derby. Detest it.
Even in the days when Holty and Wes were scoring for fun, I couldn’t fully enjoy the experience, so nerve-shredding do I find the ninety-plus minutes as I consider the mere possibility of losing to that lot.
And I’m not even one of those who generally take it that seriously. I have friends who are Ipswich supporters and we have the usual banter albeit sprinkled with honesty about the real situation our teams are in.
But derby matches cripple me with anxiety every time. And worst of all is that this time there is good reason to be anxious.
As things stand, Ipswich sit 21 points above us less than halfway through the season and have been worth every last point of it.
While watching some of their previous games to prepare for this preview (yes, believe it or not, there is some preparation), it was painful to watch a team playing exactly the way I’d love to see Norwich play – exciting, attacking football within a clearly defined system that actively utilises the positives of the players within the team.
They play a 4-2-3-1 in a slightly lopsided fashion, with the left-back Leif Davis bombing on as almost an auxiliary winger while the notional left-sided forward, Nathan Broadhead, tucks inside and floats between being a second number 10 alongside Connor Chaplin, or a second striker alongside George Hirst.
Massimo Luongo in the midfield then covers back behind Davis, should he be caught in transition, while the remaining back three shuffle across.
The prodigiously talented Wes Burns on the right stays high and wide, stretching the opposition and using his pace to either whip in a cross or cut inside and link with the likes of Chaplin and Hirst. Captain Sam Morsy holds the team positionally and screens the defence for problems.
It’s a really well-oiled machine.
In goal, they have Václav Hladký, a decent shot-stopper, and a more-than-capable Championship keeper.
At right back, Harry Clarke is solid in the tackle – nothing special but he’s not a weak link. His back-up is Brandon Williams, who Kieran McKenna has had the common sense to use as a right-footed right-back, so he looks more comfortable than he did for us at left-back.
At left back is Davis – the current darling of Portman Road – whose attacking output from that side is undoubtedly impressive. While he definitely benefits from playing in a team that highlights his positives and allows him to make those bursting runs down the wing while covering behind him, he has a great cross and is scrappy defensively too.
The established centre-back pairing is Cameron Burgess and Luke Woolfenden. Both are solid all-round centre-halves – young enough to have pace, nimble on the ball (can you imagine?), and solid defensively without being watertight. Whether that’s due to them, or the fact that Ipswich can be open with their system leaving the centre-backs exposed at times is debatable.
Their back-up is Axel Tuanzebe, an undoubtedly talented physical presence who has played for Man United and Aston Villa but was available on a free due to injury concerns. A high-risk/high-reward punt from Ipswich but they find themselves in the enviable position of not having to overplay him as their regular centre-backs are coping well with the step-up to the Championship.
Sadly, the days of fist-pumping Chambo are long gone and we are unlikely to get the cheap wins and litany of mistakes we used to get from him and his contemporaries anymore.
In midfield, the aforementioned Morsy and Luongo are the first choices, although Jack Taylor – a summer acquisition from Peterborough – has been running them close and getting minutes while adding a slightly more attacking edge as a box-to-box option.
In attacking areas, Broadhead starts wide-left but, as mentioned earlier, usually comes inside to vacate space for Davis, with Chaplin, as the number 10, equally capable of creating chances or scoring himself.
Burns is on the right and is, for me, the main threat. Other options are Chelsea loanee Amari Hutchinson, who has impressed on the flanks on occasion, 82-year-old Sone Aluko, or Marcus Harness, another winger with an eye for goal.
Up front, George Hirst is the main focal point and a natural target man. Other options are Freddie Ladapo, loanee Dane Scarlett, and Kayden Jackson.
Ipswich are going to be a massive step up in terms of quality to any team we have faced in the last month and have the confidence, momentum, tactics, and ability to hand out the kind of pasting we have been half-expecting for a while.
The derby can be a leveller and you would hope that our players will up the intensity accordingly, but this will be a massive ask.