The return of the Old Farm Derby

Whenever the fixture list is released in the close season, the first one that I anxiously scan for has been Ipswich Town at Carrow Road, and this year was no different. After a season’s break, one of the most passionate and eagerly awaited contests of the domestic game has returned. As I have learnt on past occasions the form book goes out of the window when discussing any derby match, with either side having a chance of victory. It is a chance for heroes and villains alike to be made and a place in East Anglian folklore awaits the victors. This season’s encounter is going to be an extremely difficult one to predict. Although Norwich have been on a seemingly poor run of form (only 4 wins from 12), they have only lost two of those games, and have remained in 8th place, only 2 points off 6th spot. Ipswich however go into the game in worse form (losing 7 of the last 12), and plummeting after a very promising start to 15th place.

In the recent past a couple of the games have held more significance for the winners: in Norwich’s championship winning season, a brace from debutant Leon McKenzie at Portman Road helped the Canaries go top of the the league, a position that they never relinquished, and was immortalised in song: “Top of the League, at Portman Road”. In the last meeting between the sides, Ipswich took great delighted in putting one of the nails into Norwich City’s Championship coffin, by beating them 3-2, and sending them on their way to the depths of League One.

With Norwich’s promotion from League One under Paul Lambert, and Roy Keane’s constant chopping and changing of his squad, this season’s encounter is a first derby for not only both managers, but a large portion of the playing staff as well. The derby atmosphere and pressure tends to bring out the best and worst in players, and will really test the mettle of the debutants. There is every chance that either side could hold a Leon McKenzie; a man tailor made for the occasion. Ipswich have signed a new frontman, Kiwi striker Rory Fallon on loan, but despite his physical presence, only has a goal record of around 1 in 5 games. Goals in previous games have come from some unlikely sources but the bookmakers have their money on the rejuvenated Grant Holt drawing first blood, and in this case who am I to disagree. He has returned to fitness after an injury plagued pre-season, and is finally finding some of the form he showed in abundance last season. Being captain, he will want to lead from the front, and I am expecting him to really pull his weight on Sunday.

The game however, I believe will be lost and won on set pieces and also in midfield. Norwich have a soft underbelly when it comes to defending corners, and this could be the easiest way for Ipswich the get the ball in the net. Norwich have a plethora of dead ball specialist, and after Chris Martin’s excellent free kick against Reading, I expect him to try his luck from range. The Norwich midfield is currently depleted, but still has quality amongst its ranks, and has just acquired Henri Lansbury from Arsenal on loan. It will be interesting to see how his battling qualities and excellent technique fit into an already exciting midfield. The young gunner  has already proved that he has an appetite for  a big occasion after netting against Tottenham for Arsenal in the Carling cup. Holding midfielder Andrew Crofts, will have his work cut out against box-to-box rival David Norris, but I expect him to stamp his authority on the match, and to drive the team forward. There is also the question of whether Wes Hoolahan can step up to the plate, and excel in such a big game, he has a lot of talent in his left foot, but often runs into cul-de-sacs. He has been in and out of the side this season, scoring vital goals, and alongside the trickery, I hope that he puts his foot through the ball when under pressure.

This occasion is one that I have been looking forward to since Norwich were relegated. I missed the last derby game at Carrow Road whilst I was studying abroad in America, having to rely on the minimalist BBC World Service updates, and the snail paced live text commentary on the BBC Football website. Needless to say the match feed was anxious watching, and I have never bitten my nails so much watching a screen with mere words on. Personally I am hoping for a repeat of the last meeting at Carrow Road, a straightforward 2-0 victory for home side. The neutral however would rather it replicated Glenn Roeder’s first match in charge of the club. In the first half  Norwich were just on top, but a couple of defensive slip ups, meant that Ipswich were two up at half time. An extremely unfit John Hartson was an unlikely catalyst for a second half fight back, but the big man had a hand in two excellent goals, and the match finished  all square. Whatever the final result I am sure that the game will be a fantastic advert for both the Championship and East Anglian football, and I am expecting a hero to emerge.