Players need to embrace intensity of the East Anglian derby battle to become legends
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Derby days can create legends, if players can handle the ferocity amid the scrap for local supremacy. David Freezer looks at how the men who have been there and done it before managed their successes.
Amid the din of derby day some will flourish and some will flounder – but the prizes on offer for those who handle the pressure can last a lifetime.
Controversy and drama are rarely far away when it come to East Anglian rivalries being renewed, as they will be at Portman Road on Sunday.
Town have plenty of derby experience in their squad, with the likes of Bartosz Bialkowski, Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse and David McGoldrick knowing exactly what to expect.
The summer revamp of City’s squad and coaching staff means Sunday’s game will be the first taste of the cross-border rivalry for Daniel Farke and his backroom team, as well as the vast majority of their players.
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One man who relished the occasion – but only got the chance to enjoy it twice – was Canaries legend Grant Holt.
City fans will need absolutely no reminding of how the derbies of 2010-11 unfolded, thrashing the Tractor Boys 4-1 at Carrow Road before Paul Lambert’s team secured Norwich’s biggest ever winning margin in the fixture later that season when winning 5-1 at Portman Road.
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Holt admits it is easy to get caught up in the feisty atmosphere though, as his poor tackle on Jack Colback in the opening stages at Carrow Road demonstrated.
“Paul Lambert said in the build-up to it, try not to treat it any differently, just treat it as another game, but it’s the derby at the end of the day,” the striker admitted.
“After about three minutes I weighed in with one of the worst tackles I’d done for Norwich! I got a yellow card for it and there was a bit of aftermath and that set the tone from there, for us anyway.”
The burly forward’s tenacity saw him rob Blues centre-back Darren O’Dea to create the opening goal and proved how important it can be to make a strong start to the contest.
“I didn’t dream I was going to get it, you just keep going,” Holt said, as he watched highlights of that opening goal for a Sky Sports documentary.
“You never know and it just kind of settled us at that point because it was probably the belief that we’d all talked about all week in the dressing room that we’re not the underdog, we’re the better side and that kind of calmed us down a little bit.”
For much of this season it looked like Norwich would enter the game as underdogs, with Town winning their opening four league matches to sit eight points clear of their arch rivals at the end of August.
However, rapid progress has been made under Farke since the start of September, with the Canaries’ eight-game unbeaten run featuring highly credible away victories at Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Reading.
While three successive draws at home has been frustrating, they should have beaten Bristol City and Hull, with their dominance of both games shown in the post-match statistics.
Those performance levels should be enough to compete with a Town team constructed on a considerably lower budget and a club which has had precious little to spend for several seasons, finding themselves stuck in the second tier for 16 campaigns.
Hit those levels and win away yet again and there is a real sense that victory would rubber-stamp the work of Farke and his squad – but form and fortune can often go out of the window in the heat of derby day.
The Canaries must continue to prove they have the mental strength to cope with the stress and strains of frustrating a home team, if their quality is to shine through.
Derby days create legends on both sides of the border, with John Wark’s hat-trick in a 4-2 win over the Canaries at Portman Road among his highlights.
“That was one of my early games against Norwich and we beat them 4-2,” Wark added. “I got a hat-trick, two penalties, and basically I’m still living off that one! I didn’t have to buy a drink for a week.”
Alex Mathie knows the rewards on offer to a derby day hero as well, after his hat-trick in Town’s 5-0 home win in 1998.
“I’ve been living on that for about 20 years now,” he admitted in front of the Sky cameras, revealing that a bottle of whiskey was waiting on his doorstep as a present from a neighbour after that game. It always comes back and I think I’ll always be remembered for that.”
After last season’s 1-1 stalemates in Norfolk and Suffolk, fans on both sides of the divide are desperate for new heroes to celebrate.
• EFL Rivalries – The East Anglian Derby can be watched on-demand by Sky Customers and can be watched on Sky Sports Football at 7.30pm tonight.