'Our acid test'
CHRIS WISE Gary Doherty is hoping to see his side emerge as genuine promotion contenders at Selhurst Park this afternoon. The Canaries go into today's crunch showdown with Crystal Palace in good heart after taking maximum points from their previous two home games - but Doherty admits they have still got plenty to prove to their fans.
Norwich City defender Gary Doherty is hoping to see his side emerge as genuine promotion contenders at Selhurst Park this afternoon.
The Canaries go into today's crunch showdown with Crystal Palace in good heart after taking maximum points from their previous two home games - but Doherty admits they have still got plenty to prove to their fans.
For many supporters a place in the end of season play-offs remains an impossible dream rather than a realistic target - and it will take a lot more than a couple of unconvincing victories against the might of Brighton and Derby to convince them otherwise.
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But if City somehow managed to make it three straight wins against a high-flying Palace outfit then it really would provide some solid grounds for optimism, and the big defender believes fans could be about to witness a pivotal weekend in what has been a bitterly disappointing season so far.
Doherty regards today's game the acid test of City's promotion credentials - and feels they have got the ability to come through it with flying colours.
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“The fact that we've won our last two home games has obviously given us a lot of confidence,” he said.
“We seem to have goals in us at the moment, and we are defending all right as well, so long may that continue.
“When you are on a winning streak it does wonders for your confidence and I know all the lads are really looking forward to this game - but we know that playing Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park will be a different kettle of fish altogether.
“We were pleased to win those two home games, but we playing teams struggling at the wrong end of the table, we know that. Palace are a top side, with some top strikers, so it is going to be a very tough game for us.
“In some ways I suppose it's our acid test. If we can win this one then maybe fans will start believing that we really can start pushing for a play-off place.”
If City managed to return from South London with a maximum haul they would close the gap on their opponents to just eight points - while there's every chance they could be just six behind Preston, who have a testing fixture at runaway leaders Reading this afternoon.
Both rivals would still have games in hand but the pressure would be firmly on, with the Canaries still having 30 points to play for -including three at Preston on April 8.
If things didn't go to plan then Nigel Worthington's side really would have a mountain to climb - but Doherty wasn't indulging in any defeatist talk as he looked ahead to the big game.
“If we can win on Saturday it will put a bit of pressure on the sides above us - and that is what we will be trying to do. If we could beat Palace it would get them thinking while Preston would also be looking over their shoulders. They have put together a tremendous run this season but they lost to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup last week and have got another tough game at Reading at the weekend. You never know, their bubble might just be about to burst.
“We have got 11 games left and I would think we would need to win at least eight or nine of them to have a chance of finishing in the top six. If we got a draw against Palace it wouldn't be a disaster, but it would put a little bit more pressure on us, that's for sure.
“I think we have got a chance. We have got a decent squad, the new players have settled in now and hopefully the good results will continue. When you get on a run in this game you never know what will happen.”
Doherty feels a new-look City side are beginning to find their rhythm after a disappointing start in the East Anglian derby and reckons they are now ready for the big challenges that lie ahead.
“Looking back, the game against Ipswich probably came along a little bit too early for us,” he said. “Having to bed in three new players in one game is difficult, especially when you have only had a couple of days to work with each other.
“That was difficult, but I think there has been a gradual improvement in the three games since then - and hopefully we will keep moving in the right direction at Selhurst Park.”
A burning desire to propel the Canaries into the promotion zone will clearly be spurring the popular defender on this afternoon - but he does have another reason to impress, having recently been omitted from Steve Staunton's first Republic of Ireland squad.
The new manager decided Doherty was surplus to requirements for next Wednesday's friendly against Sweden in Dublin and the disappointed City star has set his sights on forcing his way back into the squad before the European Championship qualifiers get under way.
“It's a bit of a blow, I can't deny that,” he said. “It was the new manager's first squad and obviously I was hoping to be included. But I'm not going to moan about it. It's up to me to keep improving on my Norwich performances and if I do that then hopefully I will impress people over there.
“I don't think I have ever let Ireland down, whether it be at the back or up front. But it's a new era and the manager has brought a lot of new faces in. I accept that - but I am only just 26 myself so I have still got plenty of time to get back in.”