Epic moments are still there for Norwich City to claim

PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 08:26 21 April 2015

Iwan Roberts celebrates putting Norwich City 1-0 up against Birmingham in the First Division play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in 2002. City would eventually lose on penalties, but the celebrations of that goal will live in the memories of Canaries supporters.

Iwan Roberts celebrates putting Norwich City 1-0 up against Birmingham in the First Division play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in 2002. City would eventually lose on penalties, but the celebrations of that goal will live in the memories of Canaries supporters.

Defeat to Middlesbrough was hard to take but Norwich City writer David Freezer believes Canaries fans must shake off the hangover and allow themselves to dream of the remaining glorious possibilities.

Play-off derby dates

The Football League has announced provisional play-off dates for a potential East Anglian two-legged semi-final between Norwich and Ipswich, should the Canaries finish third and Ipswich sixth in the Championship.

City would travel to Portman Road on Saturday, May 9 (KO 12:15pm) with the Carrow Road return on Saturday May 16 (KO 12:15pm). The other semi-final involving the fourth and fifth-placed clubs would take place on Friday May 8 (KO 7:45pm) and Friday, May 15 (7:45pm).

The dates have been agreed in consultation with Sky Sports, who will broadcast all four semi-final ties, and would only be subject to change following discussions with the police.

The play-off final at Wembley will take place on Monday, May 25 (KO 3pm).

It was difficult for Canaries fans to not be consumed by disappointment after defeat to Middlesbrough – all is not lost yet though, football’s greatest moments often emerge from a dark place.

Sheffield Wednesday’s late equaliser at Bournemouth kept City’s automatic promotion flame flickering in the end-of-season breeze, although Alex Neil’s team are no longer in control of how long that flame will remain alight.

Perhaps it is best to forget about automatic promotion though.

The football gods will cast their vote in the Premier League election in due course. All Neil can do is try to engineer two more wins to make sure City can take advantage of any further Championship drama.

Previous play-off winners

2014 – QPR (finished 4th)

2013 – Crystal Palace (5th)

2012 – West Ham (3rd)

2011 – Swansea City (3rd)

2010 – Blackpool (6th)

2009 – Burnley (5th)

2008 – Hull City (3rd)

2007 – Derby (3rd)

2006 – Watford (3rd)

2005 – West Ham (6th)

2004 –Crystal Palace (6th)

2003 – Wolves (5th)

2002 – Birmingham City (5th)

2001 – Bolton Wanderers (3rd)

2000 – Ipswich Town (3rd)

1999 – Watford (5th)

If it is to be the play-offs, then entering that lottery on the back of two victories will surely only boost hopes of being able to emerge from the promotion shoot-out.

Shaking off any hangover from the disappointment of Friday night will also be vital.

There is no denying there was a solemn mood of frustration as the home support trudged away from Carrow Road after the 1-0 loss to Boro.

Yet the Canaries have won five of their last six matches, form which any team would be thrilled with at this stage of the season.

Boro did a job on City, no doubt. They forced the hosts into a poor own goal and defended superbly, using gamesmanship and ruthless defending perhaps fitting of a Premier League team.

City’s recent exploits left them without the reserves of energy needed to crack the code so carefully constructed by Aitor Karanka once Alex Tettey unwittingly put the visitors into the lead.

Many of the Carrow Road faithful were left seething with rage at the time-wasting of the Boro players but as Bradley Johnson honestly admitted on the Soccer AM couch on Saturday morning, City players would have done the same thing if it was needed.

Now those feelings of exasperation must be let go though. Any potential play-off glories depend on it.

It is a frightening prospect, as well as an exciting one. Many would argue that promotion via a Wembley final is the best way to go up, that is easy to say once the champagne corks have been popped though.

City fans also know all too well about the pain of losing a play-off final. That sweltering day in the Millennium Stadium in 2002 will never be forgotten in Norfolk.

The joy of Iwan Roberts’ goal, to the pain of penalty shoot-out defeat so soon after was tough to take. However, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

If that is to be City’s destiny this season, bring it on.

Just last month we all looked back on the last time Wembley hosted a Norwich invasion of yellow and green. That Milk Cup victory of Ken Brown’s team remains the only victory at the home of football in the club’s 113-year history – it’s about time for another crack isn’t it?

Publishing supplements in our newspapers which looked back on that celebration was the focus of some amusement across the border in Suffolk. League Cup success pails in comparison to a club which has won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, or so many seem to think at Portman Road.

Which brings us on to Ipswich Town.

For some months now many supporters have wondered whether the greatest East Anglian derby of all could be in the offing – and it is looking a very real possibility.

Whether in the semi-finals or the final, that clash would be an encounter of epic proportions.

For the victor, the ultimate spoils. For the loser, pain which would hang around for many years.

That Milk Cup success of 1985 of course brought about a similar situation, a two-legged semi-final between the old enemies. It also led to one of the most iconic moments in City’s history – that Steve Bruce header to seal victory.

So yes, losing to Middlesbrough was disappointing and, yes, automatic promotion may not look likely now. We do not know what lies in store for this next month though.

Of the teams City would be likely to face, I would certainly pick Ipswich.

Mick McCarthy’s side have a direct style which is rarely easy on the eye but they are also effective and play with plenty of heart. Yet both derby games this season have seen Norwich win without ever really getting into top gear.

Playing the Tractor Boys in the final would be preferable, purely because of the incredible spectacle which would interest most football fans around the country.

Should City not make the top two then whichever of Bournemouth, Watford and Boro miss out as well are sure to be formidable opponents, while Derby have fluctuated between the brilliant and the bizarre.

When it comes down to knockout football though, you just don’t know. Few expected City to beat Wolves in the semi-finals of the 2002 play-offs, yet Nigel Worthington’s sixth-placed side made a mockery of league position to emerge victorious.

The stage is still set. Glory remains there for the taking. Destiny is still in the hands of Norwich City’s hugely talented current crop of players – now they have to make sure that no one else stands in their way.

Who knows, the moment of glory may just still come before the play-offs begin. In the Championship, anything can happen.

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