Rare for Norwich and Ipswich to be quite so far apart - but it can mean little on derby day
As derby day anticipation builds, David Freezer digs out the history books to find the last time that such a huge gap in league position existed ahead of a battle for the East Anglian bragging rights.
It’s been almost 40 years since there was such a gaping distance between Norwich City and Ipswich Town in league position on derby day.
You have to go all the way back to the 1980-81 campaign for when the teams were in the midst of such starkly different campaigns, when Town were chasing the top-flight title and City were battling relegation.
When the arch rivalry is renewed on Sunday lunchtime the Canaries will have 39 points more than their Suffolk visitors, although they won’t necessarily be top. Victory for Sheffield United at Aston Villa on Friday and Leeds at Middlesbrough on Saturday would actually leave Norwich third, but that would still be 21 places higher than Ipswich.
Paul Lambert’s rock-bottom squad are guaranteed to be at least eight points adrift of safety at kick-off, leaving them odds-on favourites to bring an end to 17 consecutive seasons in the Championship.
As City dream of an unexpected return to the Premier League, Town are desperately trying to avoid dropping into the third tier for the first time in over 60 years.
The boot was on the other foot back in 1981 though, when the Tractor Boys were chasing First Division leaders Aston Villa and the Canaries were in relegation trouble with three games remaining.
The outcome? A Norwich win, of course, when Justin Fashanu scoring the only goal at Carrow Road in the 62nd minute, running on to a Greg Downs ball into the left channel and firing into the far corner of the net.
The underdogs pulling off an unlikely win – it’s enough to send a shudder down the spine of City fans ahead of the 90th league meeting of East Anglia’s big boys.
Ipswich boss Bobby Robson admitted “deep down I think today was the day we lost the championship” and he was right, Villa won their next game to ensure they lifted the trophy.
Norwich manager Ken Brown was not getting carried away though, warning “four wins on the trot – and we’re still not safe!” as his team moved three places and two points clear of the relegation zone.
The only problem was that a 1-0 win at Manchester United and a disastrous 3-2 home loss to already-relegated Leicester allowed Brighton and Coventry to consign City to the drop.
It’s a cautionary tale against over-confidence for Daniel Farke’s team of 2019 but there have of course been plenty more hugely important derby days ever since.
From the close competition of 2014-15 and those memorable play-off games, both have been mid-table rivals in recent years, following four recent campaigns of Norwich being in the top flight, as well as slipping into League One in 2009, while the Blues stayed put in the second tier.
The last time the gap was as wide as it currently is was in April 2009, the last time Town won a derby, when a 3-2 loss left City in the relegation zone and a point adrift of safety with two games remaining.
Ipswich were ninth after their success, still 11 points from the top six with their play-off chances already over, but still 13 places better off than the Norfolk boys.
Previous to that both were generally chasing returns to the top flight and Town did enjoy two seasons back in the Premier League between 2000 and 2002.
The 1994-95 campaign was looking good for City after they had won 2-1 at Portman Road in September, leaving Ipswich bottom of the Premier League and Norwich 10th. However, both teams ended up being relegated.
Typically, the Canaries’ best ever season of finishing third in the top flight, in 1992-93, was a campaign during which the Blues enjoyed a league double – an achievement both clubs have managed on six occasions in their history.
So when Mike Walker’s team lost 3-1 at Portman Road in April 1993, they were 13 places better off than Town in third place, with the win ensuring survival for the Tractor Boys, down in 16th place but nine points clear with two games to play.
It all goes to show that anything can happen on derby day – but rarely have the neighbours been at opposite ends of a division when they’ve clashed.
Add to that the fact that Norwich are unbeaten in 11 games against Ipswich, since November 2010 –the longest undefeated run in the history of the derby – and the hosts will be heavy favourites at Carrow Road.
Throw the Lambert factor into the mix as well though and the potential for the unexpected is clearly possible, with Town sure to be desperate to give their fans something to cheer.
Yet Canaries supporters will know that if Farke’s team can reproduce the style which left Leeds shocked on Saturday, there will be no need for nerves.