No better place to secure safety
David Cuffley Paul Stephenson believes Norwich City are capable of staging a successful derby day raid - and putting a dent in the best home record in the Coca-Cola Championship.
Paul Stephenson believes Norwich City are capable of staging a successful derby day raid - and putting a dent in the best home record in the Coca-Cola Championship.
Ipswich Town have been beaten just once at Portman Road in the league this season and their tally of 45 points on home territory is the highest in the division. That total could be higher still after tonight's visit of FA Cup finalists Cardiff City.
But Stephenson knows the Canaries have already burst a few bubbles on their travels in his short time as coach and reserve team boss, and he thinks Ipswich's impressive run on their own ground is the perfect incentive ahead of Sunday's high noon encounter.
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“Ipswich's record, it's good. Barnsley had a similar record when we went there, so did Cardiff, so let's see if we can do the same and be party-poopers,” said Stephenson.
“I think it's going to be a great occasion for both sets of fans. There is a bit of pressure on both teams because we want to secure our status in the division, and they have to try to gather some more points to keep them in contention for the play-offs. So it should be a fantastic occasion. I would say the pressure is slightly more on them as the home side.
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“I can't think of a better place for us to secure our Championship status and I'm sure our lads are thinking on the same lines.”
City have shown little respect for teams enjoying good home form. Their first away win of the season, in November, was also Blackpool's first home defeat. In January, the Canaries became the first visiting team to win at Barnsley since the opening day of the season. And in February, they ended Cardiff's run of five successive home victories.
Since that 2-1 success at Ninian Park, they have taken just one point from five away games - courtesy of a 1-1 draw at Watford - but Stephenson believes they have deserved more.
He said: “We had numerous chances against Sheffield United, although we didn't start too well, and against Bristol City for the whole game we looked ever so comfortable.
“The way we have played in our last four or five games, we have outplayed teams. The stats back that up.”
Sunday's match will also be one of the biggest derby occasions in 40-year-old Stephenson's football career, albeit viewed from the touchline.
He said: “I never played in a Newcastle v Sunderland game, unfortunately, because we were in different divisions while I was there.
“I did play for Newcastle when we beat Middlesbrough at St James' Park, but it's not quite the same.
“I played for Millwall against West Ham, though. I think a few people got seriously injured there. So I do know what derbies are all about although this is the first Norwich-Ipswich game I will have seen myself.”
Stephenson had not joined Glenn Roeder's management team in time for his first game in charge against Ipswich in November, but he and assistant manager Lee Clark have played an integral part in City's recovery from rock bottom of the table - and it could be the first mission accomplished for the former Newcastle trio if the Canaries chalk up their fifth win in seven trips to Portman Road.
Stephenson said he had seen a steady improvement in the quality of City's training since his arrival.
“Me and Lee take turns to take the whole team in training. There's a high tempo and the lads are fitter than they were - I would definitely say that. They're sharper, they're covering more ground and they have not let that level of consistency drop,” he said.
“I love it here, it's a great club and a fantastic area to live in. All the facilities are in place and we just have to get everything else in place to go with it.
“I didn't know the area but everything I was told about the place I would fully back up.”
The management have cancelled days off in recent weeks and organised other sporting activities for the squad, including tenpin bowling and golf, to foster team spirit.
“The lads enjoy their team building days and it's been very, very beneficial. We've probably got something different for them this week, but I'm not letting the cat out of the bag,” said Stephenson.