Why I can't wait for the derby day heroes and villains to emerge

PUBLISHED: 13:52 27 February 2015 | UPDATED: 09:07 10 March 2015

John Ruddy celebrates Norwich City's victory at Portman Road in August. The stakes in Sunday's East Anglian derby with Ipswich are even higher. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

John Ruddy celebrates Norwich City's victory at Portman Road in August. The stakes in Sunday's East Anglian derby with Ipswich are even higher. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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Let's take a moment to revel in some statistics on Alex Neil's time at Norwich City so far. Played nine, won seven, drawn one, lost one. Twenty two points secured out of a possible 27, 15 from the last 15.

Four of the rest

City’s squad has found its mojo

Should promotion ultimately prove a step too far this season, I wonder how much of a positive impact Neil’s influence will have had on the prospects of putting that right in 2015/16? Of course, Neil may ultimately want a big shake-up of the squad, but which of City’s very best players will he have convinced that it’s worth giving the club another year at this level? That several players have recovered their football mojo is clear to see.

Johnson is now a real fan cult hero

City midfielder Bradley Johnson deserves every day of his new three-and-a-half year deal and all the praise that has come his way in the last few weeks. He’s not the most naturally gifted footballer, even he’d probably admit that, and you get the impression he has to work harder than others to maintain such high standards. But his impact this season must surely have led to interest from Premier League clubs. He’s rightly become a real cult hero amongst Canaries’ fans.

Even young Josh is back to his best

One of the perplexing elements of Neil Adams’ reign was how players he’d either signed or brought through the ranks lost confidence very quickly, rather than gained it. Lewis Grabban and Josh Murphy are two examples. It was fantastic then to see Josh back to his best for the under 21s against Manchester City last week and scoring one of his trademark goals. I’m not sure he’ll play much part in the senior set-up for the rest of the season, but hopefully it won’t be long before he’s called upon again.

Well done fans making a stand

Well done to those Derby County fans making a stand against pricey casual ticket prices being charged at grounds all over the country. I don’t mean that as a criticism of Norwich City – they’ve simply applied the logic of supply and demand to their pricing policy, as do so many other clubs. That’s why the only way to turn the tide so that prices fall back to a more acceptable level is to take such a stand. I hope those running football clubs take note.

Twenty goals for, eight against – just three conceded in the six games since centre back Sebastien Bassong was brought back.

All season we’ve been used to hearing this is a fantastic squad at Championship level – and finally they are starting to show that to be true.

To put that into some context, a certain Paul Lambert also lost only once in his first nine games – but could only manage five victories.

Although on the flipside Neil Adams actually started this season with a record of just one defeat in nine – and we all know how that one ended up. Not that I mean to bring chirpy Canaries down from the high we’re enjoying, that’s simply a gentle reminder there’s an awful long way to go before any of us can celebrate a mission accomplished or corner turned. These very same players have shown before they can surprise us all with a sudden, and seemingly unexplainable, dip in form.

No doubt that’s the message Neil himself will be drumming into the players down at the Colney training ground – don’t even for a moment let up from the current level of performance. Not only is there a way to go, but a host of teams around City have similarly upped their game in the last few weeks, he’ll say.

That said I firmly believe – and have done so since Neil, inset, turned up out of the blue nearly two months ago – this is very much a race for automatic promotion Norwich City finds itself in and we shouldn’t be content with settling for a place in the lottery of a play-off showdown.

In January, with 22 games left to go, I predicted City could afford three more defeats and still be in with a chance of automatic promotion. Little did I expect that all of those games would be overseen by the then manager of Hamilton Academicals.

To be precise I set a target of fourteen wins, five draws and three defeats to reach 84 points. Such has been the form of the division’s top teams since, the figure ultimately needed could end up around the 87- or even 88-point mark. That leaves a theoretical target of 29 points from the final 13 games. Nine wins, two draws and two defeats might just be enough. On the face of it the fixture list appears to do Norwich a favour. Seven at home and six away. Eight of those opponents currently sit in 12th place or below.

Of course it might be that some Norwich fans have set their sights elsewhere. As the term has unfolded one particularly mouth-watering potential match up has loomed ever larger.

The odds remain small, but how many people are hoping this Sunday’s big game is a little taster ahead of a much bigger battle with our rivals at the end of the season?

I would wager a tenner I’m not the only City fan to have allowed themselves a little daydream of a play-off final day at Wembley against our rivals.

Or perhaps two more derby days? One Carrow Road regular told me how he’d prefer to face Ipswich Town in a semi-final, partly because it would give us the chance to beat them twice and partly because the prospect of losing to them under the Twin Towers would make him dread the game more than he’d look forward to it.

A day at Wembley remains my Canary dream and to have it taken over by yellow and green and blue and white would be phenomenal, but I’d much rather a top-two spot and the guarantee of Premier League football. We can work on the cup final next season.

And anyway, there is more than enough at stake this Sunday to satisfy our derby day cravings. It’s the first Old Farm derby at Carrow Road for more than four years – but with the clubs so close in the table it feels like the biggest for a long time.

I for one can’t wait for Sunday afternoon. I can’t wait to feel that nervous tension that only a big game brings. I can’t wait for that derby day atmosphere as both sets of fans do battle over verse. I can’t wait for the giant roar as the teams emerge.

And I can’t wait for the game to unfold, for enemies to be made and heroes to be crowned. Let’s just hope those wearing the crown are donned in yellow and green.

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