First cut could be the deepest in derby

PUBLISHED: 14:34 18 November 2006 | UPDATED: 09:50 14 September 2010

As fans cross their fingers, bite their nails and rehearse their insults ahead of tomorrow's East Anglian derby, it's strange to think that the very first Football League meeting between Ipswich Town and Norwich City didn't count.

As fans cross their fingers, bite their nails and rehearse their insults ahead of tomorrow's East Anglian derby, it's strange to think that the very first Football League meeting between Ipswich Town and Norwich City didn't count.

The 1-1 draw staged at Portman Road in Division Three South on Saturday, September 2, 1939 - City earned a share of the spoils thanks to an equaliser from former England international Billy Furness - was wiped from the record books as rather more important business took priority for the next six years.

If they had wanted to be really uncharitable, both clubs could have accused Neville Chamberlain of robbing them of a point by declaring war on Germany the day after the game. It would make a change from blaming the ref.

The opening matches of the 1939-40 season were declared null and void and while after six terrible years the warring nations of the world were able to call a halt to hostilities, Town and City certainly haven't shown any inclination to do so. The battle has been re-enacted 74 times in league football alone.

Norwich's 27 league wins leaves them trailing Ipswich, who have chalked up 35 victories, with only 12 draws so far - a useful pointer, perhaps, for those who are thinking of putting their money on honours ending even tomorrow.

The fact that City have generally held sway in cup matches between the two sides helps to balance up the overall picture, but with no meeting in either of the two main domestic competitions since the Milk Cup semi-final drama of 1985, there has been little opportunity for the Canaries to deliver another knockout blow. One victory each in the short-lived Full Members' Cup - variously known as the Simod Cup and Zenith Data Systems Cup - didn't fire the imagination or change the balance of power. All the attention has switched to the league battles.

A peculiar feature of the East Anglian derby in recent seasons has been the home team's failure to rise to the occasion. City have registered four wins and a draw in their last five trips to Portman Road, while Town have chalked up two wins and two draws in the corresponding fixtures at Carrow Road.

Only one home win for either side in the last 10 meetings, then - what might fairly be described as Malky's Match, Mackay scoring twice in City's 3-1 success in 2004 en route to the Nationwide League title, his last two goals for the club before being prematurely jettisoned at the start of the Premiership campaign. But what a way to go.

There will certainly be no complaints north of the county border if that trend, favouring the away team, continues tomorrow and Peter Grant can follow Bruce Rioch, Bryan Hamilton and Nigel Worthington by engineering victory for City's 2,200 travelling fans and thousands more in front of a TV screen to enjoy.

Current form - or what Grant prefers to call current results - doubtless favours City, with Town already beaten four times on home soil, by Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion, Preston and Sheffield Wednesday.

But this fixture has an uncanny habit of turning the formbook on its head, and given what happened to City at Stoke three weeks ago after victories over Birmingham and Cardiff, there should be no danger of them turning up in a complacent frame of mind just because they've seen off Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.

Grant has a couple of tricky selection decisions to make - whether to give new signing Luke Chadwick his debut and whether to recall the fit-again Gary Doherty in defence.

A string of former Canaries have been handed their debuts for the club at Ipswich - Clive Payne, Mike Channon, Dave Watson, Mike Milligan, Leon McKenzie and Mathias Svensson are among those to have had that honour. Last season, loan defender Calum Davenport made his first start at Ipswich. With the exception of Watson, all those men finished on the winning side.

My guess is that Chadwick will play, but the defensive choice is harder to predict. Dion Dublin's cool head on the big occasion would be valuable and he has been outstanding in the last two matches, but Grant is not afraid to change a winning team and Doherty may just get the vote, at least giving the manager the option of introducing 37-year-old Dublin in either attack or defence when needed.

One thing that will be crucial is not conceding the first goal. When Town hit back to win 2-1 at Carrow Road in February it was the first time in 39 league derbies, stretching back to Boxing Day 1973, that either side had come from behind to win. Indeed, only four times in that same period has either side come from behind to draw.

So the first goal is potentially a killer blow. Whoever scores first has a very good chance of celebrating at about 1.15pm tomorrow.

East Anglia derbies are seldom classic football matches and while a few stand out - the 3-3 draw at Carrow Road on Boxing Day 1979 is probably the most entertaining league encounter I've seen - it's invariably been a fixture marked by controversy.

There have been plenty of penalties - one which was given then rescinded - a few crazy own goals and, in recent seasons, a few red cards, with Ipswich finishing two of the last three meetings with 10 men.

I wonder what odds the bookies would give on a treble - a penalty, an own goal and a red card - tomorrow?

The campaign to restore Duncan Forbes' awful jokes to the Norwich City match programme gathers pace, and I am glad to support it.

“Forbesy's Funny” was a regular feature in the club publication at least 20 years ago and BBC Radio Norfolk's The Scrimmage programme is now calling for the former City skipper and chief scout's legendary wit to be restored to its rightful place.

The joke that always sticks in my memory is the one about the Scotsman having “tartan custard” for afters, but the German barber Herr Cutt and Russian snooker player Inov the Red also spring to mind.

Perhaps we could set up a network for feeding new material to the great man. We could call it the Corn Exchange.

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