On Thursday, we have part two of the East Anglian derby of the 2010/11 season. Norwich fans are getting excited about the thought of automatic promotion, Ipswich fans are getting excited about spoiling their party. But something has happened in the months since Paul Jewell has arrived at Portman Road. Suddenly, we are a team that seems happy, a team that seems to enjoy playing together and a team that, whilst it's disappointing to lose, know that if they have one bad game, they're not going to be cast away in the abyss, to be forgotten about or sent on loan to Crystal Palace.
Compare that to the team that, embarrassingly and spinelessly, got hammered 4-1 at Carrow Road. That team was disorganised and in a downward spiral, something I depressingly witnessed at Preston back in December. I witnessed Keane's last win, but that was down to the weather and Sky Sports being there. The next time I watched Ipswich Town, we had won 1-0 against Arsenal and again looked a completely different team. It was like a monkey had collectively been taken off the players' backs and suddenly, happier days could well be back at Portman Road.
Since January, the form's been up and down. We can go on a three game winning streak, then end up losing/drawing the elusive fourth win. For us to even have a sniff of the play-offs and to take advantage of those (which is a lot of teams) around us slipping up, I would say we have to win all our games. We have four games left. We won on Saturday against Bristol City in a scrappy, luck-riddled, but ultimately gritty performance. We have to face our dear rivals from Norfolk and Swansea, both sides that have been up in the top six for the majority of the season, Preston, a team fighting for their lives and Leicester, another one of those sides that could, but probably won't, be up there come May 7th.
However, after we lost to Reading, Watford and Portsmouth (it was grey, miserable and dire), I thought our season was over. After the horrendous run in November and December, being near the bottom of the table and getting worried about relegation, the fact we even have an outside chance of the play-offs is some achievement.
Do I think we'll do it? No, of course not, I'm a pessimist, but it's nice to have a dream. Having said this, I also, to some extent, wouldn't want us to get into the play-offs. Whilst we're on a good run of form, we got very lucky against Crystal Palace, as the Palace strikers didn't have their radars on. Against Middlesbrough, albeit after a sickening injury to Seb Hines, where he broke his jaw and managed to get up and play on, we lost concentration and after playing well, lost communication in defence and ended up going 3-1 down. Delaney had a mare and managed to inadvertently set up Boro's equaliser. Whilst we came back from what would've been a probably undeserved defeat, we have been in the same position against teams like Reading and Watford and lost. They are the teams above us, Boro are below us.
The comeback against Middlesbrough showed character, the performance with 10 men for an hour (and after Grant Leadbitter's nasty clash of heads, get well soon Grant) on Saturday also showed character. But the way we've played all season, with the inconsistent performances and all the youngsters coming through, I'd prefer next season to the real "OPERATION PREMIERSHIP" that seems to have disappeared from the season ticket application forms this season.
This, of course, won't stop me coming up with ridiculous scenarios. Imagine if we did finish 6th and then Norwich finished in 3rd. An East Anglian derby play-off semi-final? Crazy. If we finished 6th and Norwich didn't finish 3rd, we could face Cardiff, a team we've been doing quite well against in recent years. But, like I said, these are just ridiculous scenarios that I've conjured up in excitement for Thursday.
I'm excited for Thursday. I'm in the North Stand for an East Anglian derby for the first time ever. I have so many memories from down the years of the derbies. Sito's sending off, that 3-2 victory that was Jim Magilton's last game managing, Pablo scoring a penalty to equalise and cause waves of people to run on the pitch...
All I can ask from Ipswich Town is a win this Thursday. Do it for the new manager, to convince him to give you a new contract. Do it for yourselves, to prove the match in November was a one off embarrassment. But perhaps most of all, do it for the fans. All you need to do is look at the ITFC hashtag on Twitter at the moment to understand how much it means to us all. The Norwich fans are fishing for a keyboard fight and Darren Huckerby's doing his "slap the scum" thing again, but the banter is mostly good natured.
So Town, I beg of you allow us this one glory. Give it your best shot, injure Grant Holt and make it worth a red card this time, get lucky, score a winner off your backside, I don't care. Because you have no idea what a victory would mean to the Ipswich Town supporting people of inside and outside of Suffolk.
Come on you Blues.