Top v bottom. North (Anglia) v South (Anglia). A football management structure v A football manager. Norwich v Ipswich. Derby Day. Andrew Lawn sets the scene by chatting to Turnstiles Blue contributor Gavin Barber.
Andy - Where to begin? We’re top and flying, you're bottom and floundering, Sunday is all set-up for a Town win isn't it?
Gavin - Short history lesson: in 1994/95, Manchester United missed out on the Premier League title by one point. As everyone knows, they beat Ipswich 9-0 that season, but what fewer people remember is that in the September of that season, they also lost 3-2 at Portman Road. The 9-0 made no difference to either team (Ipswich were relegated by Easter, and Blackburn still won the League), but failing to get a point at Portman Road ultimately cost Manchester United the title.
So, it has occurred to some of us that a similar scenario could play out this season: that if we could somehow get a win at Carrow Road on Sunday, it’s far more likely to have a detrimental effect on Norwich’s promotion hopes than it is on our survival chances: that we could end the season heading for League One, but with the satisfaction of having cost Norwich promotion.
Weighed against that possibility, however, is the perhaps more pertinent fact that we are rubbish at football, and you appear to be really good.
Isn't it funny how my memory can only recall one of those United games?
We are playing frighteningly well at the moment, but there are two fairly recurring concerns; 1 - our unbeaten run against you HAS to end sometime. Maybe. 2 - if you manage to drag us down to your level, you'll beat us with experience. Put it this way, I am not looking forward to it and can't wait all at the same time.
Are you resigned to the third tier now then?
Despite accepted wisdom about local derbies, the form book has proved consistently resistant to defenestration in this fixture, and I can’t see it changing this time. The level of experience in our side isn’t really sufficient to dictate the pace or style of any game, let alone one against the league leaders, so I fear that Norwich are safe from getting dragged anywhere near our level.
Yes, I am resigned to League One and I think the majority of Town fans are too. There have been some signs of improvement since Paul Lambert took over, but we still haven’t got enough about us to get results against even the most modest of opponents - as was proved against Sheffield Wednesday last week.
How about you guys? Are you daring to dream of paying £5 for a cup of tea at the Emirates next season?
It's not much of a dream is it? If only you could win the championship, be given a nice trophy and a few extra pennies, but then not have to spend 12 months fighting to finish 17th in between being cannon fodder for small gulf states.
Where did it all go wrong? Wrong replacement for Mick? Poor recruitment? Or did it go higher? I read the recent Marcus Evans interview with the East Anglian Daily Times and what struck me that he repeatedly spoke of requiring a manager to come in and run the entire club from top to bottom, in let's say the Alex Ferguson guise. It struck me as aeons behind the times in terms of expecting one person to look after an organisation so large and disparate, especially when you contrast it with Stuart Webber's chat with our friends at MyFootballWriter and his emphasis on getting experts in each field to run each field. I'm not sure what the question here is but, Evans is the problem surely?
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Yes, Evans is the problem: his 11 years of neglect and contempt are bearing the rotten fruit they deserve. There has never been a coherent strategy: how can you have a “5-point-plan” which is supposed to encompass the entire operation of the club, when you hand over total control to a manager who you know you’ll have to change at some point? McCarthy had to go, as the relationship with supporters had completely broken down (a situation which suited Mick quite well), but since he’s gone it’s obvious just how many cracks his pragmatism was papering over.
If the question is “how did Ipswich get into this mess?”, then Marcus Evans has to be the answer. If the question is “what’s Marcus Evans done to create this mess?”, then the answer would be “almost nothing”.
It’s what he hasn’t done that stands out: never communicated directly with supporters, never trusted people with football expertise to determine the long-term future of the club. I found an interview with recently-departed CEO Ian Milne the other day, from June 2017, where he was really sniffy about Norwich’s “continental” management structure. Needless to say, you had the last laugh.
The contrast with how we're being run at the moment could barely be starker. Is there any realistic chance of him leaving any time soon?
Evans’s line is that the club isn’t for sale but he’d listen to offers. It’s a bit of a cop-out: prospective buyers aren’t likely to be interested unless they have some idea about the terms of any potential deal. There’s the added complication that Evans sold the training ground to himself a few years ago, so that would have to be factored in.
How do you sell something to yourself?!
Half the training ground was sold to Marcus Evans (Guernsey) a few years ago, and the ITFC bit of the Marcus Evans Group pays rent on it.
Capitalism is weird.
Remaining off the pitch but away from the board room and on to the terraces, the fans appear to have taken to Paul Lambert, and through Blue Action, there seems to be the murmurings of people starting to enjoy going to Portman Road again, despite the results?
There has been an improvement in the atmosphere over the last few months. That’s partly due to the efforts of supporters like Blue Action, and partly because Paul Lambert has done a great job of unifying the fans behind him and creating a sense of purpose. Whether that will survive another three months of home defeats remains to be seen.
What have Blue Action been up to and how have they achieved it? Can I have a pound for every time PL describes someone or something needing a hand?
Blue Action did an interview for the latest issue of Turnstile Blues, which we might put on the website soon. They’ve worked with the club to co-locate supporters who want to sing and create an atmosphere, then used that area to build the atmosphere in the rest of the ground. It’s a welcome improvement on recent years, although I’d rather not hear the occasional burst of misogynist singing about your club’s major shareholder.
PL has said that he’s definitely staying next season regardless of what division we’re in. That’s welcome, but I think we’ll still be needing hands in League One.
It's good to see there's progress being made, the atmosphere at so many grounds is dying. There will always be idiots I think, but that sort of chanting does seem to be waning as fans continue to police themselves, although I know you had a terrible experience back at QPR.
I think fans are getting better at policing themselves/each other, but I also think there’s an increasing tendency for a minority of fans to think that they can say/sing whatever they want: that the stakes are so high in the theatre of conflict that there are no rules of engagement.
I think that’s partly a reflection of people finding themselves able to say all sorts of unpleasant things on social media, and echoing that behaviour in real life. I also think that the mainstream media play a part: that they hype games up as events of massive significance, and the fans who buy into that then behave as though they’re active bystanders at a mediaeval battle. Look at the way some Chelsea fans laid into Raheem Sterling recently. Regardless of whether or not it had any racist element, what makes those men think they have the right to heap abuse at another human being at such close quarters?
Allied to the point about Sky et al hyping these occasions up, I have a theory (backed up my increasing intake of non-league football) that this behaviour correlates with pyramid levels: the higher up you are, the more examples of it you witness. I’ll have a chance to test that empirically next season...
What sort of tactics and formation can we expect from Norwich on Sunday? I’m aware that you’re doing well, but have been in such a sulk for most of this season that I haven’t really analysed the playing styles of the 23 teams above us...
We are the antithesis of Mick McCarthy, if you can imagine such a thing. We tend to play a 4231 but it is very fluid. We press high and then keep the ball when we win it back, probing to work the opportunity to slip Teemu Pukki in behind. Our threats tend to come from anywhere but Pukki is often the man to prod home the final touch. Whereabouts are you stronger?
Short odds on Pukki scoring on Sunday, then. Where we are strongest is probably midfield, if we can get Flynn Downes on the ball. It’s a shame Jack Lankester is injured because he’s one of our more promising and creative young players. But I can’t see us causing too many problems for Norwich on Sunday.
We are occasionally vulnerable at set-pieces so win as many of those as you can and load the box. How about your weaknesses, where can we get at you?
I’ll avoid the obvious answers and say definitely full-back. East Anglian derby goal machine and experienced left-back Jonas Knudsen has fallen out of favour with PL due to his attitude in the January transfer window, and right-back has been an issue for as long as anyone can remember, so there’s plenty of joy to be had down our flanks.
I began to say "our full backs are possibly where we're strongest" based on the incredible emergence of two academy starlets in Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons (who made his league debut at your place in September) but then I remembered Marco Steipermann in behind Pukki, plus there's Onel Hernandez on one side and Emi Buendia on the other, so I stopped myself to reassess. Turns out I'm not sure where we're strongest.
On to the game then and specific prediction time. I think if we score first we'll win comfortably, partly because I'm uncomfortable contemplating anything else. So, I will say Buendia will open the scoring with a thunderbolt, then Ben Godfrey will bundle one home from a corner and it'll become a massive Carrow Road party, topped off by Jordan Rhodes strolling on to wrap the game up. Cue delirium. You?
I’ll be watching the game on TV, so my only confident prediction is that I’ll be comfort-drinking by half-time.
I think it’ll be 2-0 to Norwich: I think we’ll be just about obdurate enough to prevent a thrashing, but without ever looking like we’ll get anything out of the game. Jordan Rhodes scoring is a given, of course. Any bookmaker offering odds against that needs to rethink their career choices.
He tends to only get 5 or 10 minutes at the end, so he's only likely to get a couple..