David Freezer: Little can unite Canaries fans like victory at Portman Road
The build-up to derby day is always difficult to enjoy, so it was great to have the distraction of an impressive Norwich City cup win at Cardiff this week.
All the hype, history and anticipation usually sees the nerves kicking in by the middle of the week on both sides of the border but it definitely feels like there are more nerves in Norfolk as City’s unbeaten run stretches on.
Ten games of clear dominance has been enjoyed fully by all connected with the Canaries since the run began back in November 2010. All good things must come to an end though.
It’s not just a good thing though, it’s the longest unbeaten record in the long history of the East Anglian derby. It matters – and City supporters are desperate for it to continue.
That was shown by the satisfaction at denying Town that win they so craved in February, when the unlikely combination of a Grant Hanley cross and a Timm Klose header deep into injury-time sparked Carrow Road chaos.
We know how much the game means though, the epic play-off encounters of 2015 cemented that, but what does it mean to Daniel Farke’s future as head coach at Norwich City?
Despite all the change, another busy transfer window, the continued financial balancing act and the emphasis on giving young players a chance, Farke is exactly where he was 12 months ago.
Four points from five league games and two comfortable League Cup victories is precisely what the German’s opening month in Norfolk finished with. This time around he has an extra game before the first international break of the season.
Of course last season that fortnight break followed a horror show at Millwall, a 4-0 thumping which made for a thoroughly miserable two weeks.
Lose to the Tractor Boys tomorrow and that misery will pale in comparison.
Victory is needed just to keep pace with the points return of the opening six league games of last season, when the sixth league game was a 1-0 win over Birmingham following the break.
Derby days are about more than three points though. It is an opportunity for new heroes to be made: Steve Bruce, Iwan Roberts, Grant Holt, Malky Mackay – they’ve all been there and got the T-shirt.
James Maddison and Klose – purely for how funny it was – got in on the act last season but my personal favourite derby day memory was a lovely early Christmas present back in December 2003.
Just a few days before the trip to Portman Road a friend got hold of a spare ticket for me, bringing my first derby game at Ipswich at the age of 16.
The buzz of the train to Portman Road, the edge of the snarling home fans and the energy of the occasion was like nothing I’d experienced before.
The pre-game talk was all about Darren Huckerby and Peter Crouch, how could Nigel Worthington’s team keep their form going without their star loanees? The £325,000 signing of a striker from Peterborough was barely talked about.
Enter, Leon McKenzie. Exit, top of the league at Portman Road.
As much as Huckerby and Crouch had done, it was that triumph which led supporters to believe success was possible that season.
And that brings us back to the present. While statistically Farke needs three points just to keep pace with the early stages of last season, victory at Portman Road would mean so much more.
That derby day satisfaction and elation can unite supporters like little else and buy City’s head coach the breathing space he needs to keep developing a squad which has once again been overhauled.
This is an Ipswich team starting their own transition though – and bottom of the table, without a win under new boss Paul Hurst. The Suffolk boys will be absolutely desperate for this one and victory for Norwich could send both clubs hurtling in opposite directions.
For that to happen City must go for it and focus on the positive of the campaign so far: scoring goals. Finding that defensive balance can be the focus of the break – as it was last year – but keeping the goals flowing has to be the priority. Eight goals in five league games, 14 in seven including the cup is a fine start.
Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki are ready and waiting but could there be anything sweeter than a former Ipswich trainee being the main man for the Canaries on derby day? Jordan Rhodes, your stage awaits.
My team for tomorrow (4-2-3-1): Krul; Pinto, Hanley, Klose, Lewis; Tettey, Trybull; Marshall, Pukki, Hernandez; Rhodes
A big step up
What a week it’s been for City youngster Max Aarons.
His first goal in professional football and a call-up to the England U19 squad alongside hot properties including Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho.
I saw Max in action plenty for City’s under-23s last season and it was clear he was one of the players with the potential to kick on, looking established and composed at right-back despite his tender years.
Aarons was on media duties ahead of the FA Youth Cup quarter-final against Birmingham in February as well and spoke very confidently. His maturity was very similar to that shown by Jamal Lewis after he had broken into the City first team last season – so it seems players who started out at Luton make the transition to Norfolk very nicely indeed.
The goal at Cardiff on Tuesday was very nicely taken and he performed steadily on the left again. It surely won’t be long until he gets a right-back chance in the league, although a start against Ipswich may be a big ask of an 18-year-old tomorrow.
While some criticism of Daniel Farke may have been fair enough this season, the closing of the transfer window emphasised again how much change City’s head coach has had to deal with.
Seven arrivals and 12 exits from the first team squad have again given the Canaries squad a fresh look, following on from an extremely busy first summer window under the watch of sporting director Stuart Webber last year.
While the likes of Emi Buendia, Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons and Dennis Srbeny pushed their claims for more league action during the cup win at Cardiff, getting them involved against Ipswich looks challenging. Likewise, the home game against high-flying Middlesbrough after the break will also be difficult.
After that are trips to Reading and QPR, followed by a home clash with Wigan which look like better chances for Farke’s team to evolve.
Transition has become something of a dirty word for City fans but the revolution is far from finished under the new regime.