The Championship play-off semi-finals kick-off this weekend, and the East Anglian derby is the eye-catching tie that locals could see coming.
Although Norwich City stormed through 2015 with an incredible run of 15 wins from 22 matches, the unprecedented battle for the top two places - which involved up to six clubs at one stage - meant automatic promotion was never a certain prospect. Likewise, Ipswich Town spent much of the season in and around the bottom of the play-off zone and only sneaked into the top six on the final day of the regular season when Derby unexpectedly lost 3-0 at home to Reading.
But according to former Ipswich legend, FA Cup and UEFA Cup winner John Wark, everyone in the East Anglia area could see the match-up of the two local rivals coming months ago.
Wark, who had three separate spells at Portman Road and made over 500 appearances for the club including winning the FA Cup, UEFA Cup and promotion from the old Division Two in 1992, told the Guardian that it seemed inevitable that the two clubs would meet in the play-offs: “Everybody around the club had been talking about it in the last few weeks. It was all ‘We’re going to get Norwich’. The only question I had was whether we wanted them over two games or one. There was just this sense it was going to happen.”
Norwich have won both games between the two clubs this season and undoubtedly hold the psychological advantage heading into Saturday's first leg at Portman Road.
But Wark is clear that derby games can make a mockery of form guides and also talks up the intensity of the East Anglian rivalry, given the general perception that the isolated nature of the two clubs somewhat dilutes the magnitude and ferocity of the games: “When you come down you hear all about it, but I was brought up in Glasgow where they play the biggest derby in the world. I didn’t realise the magnitude of this one until I’d played in it. I was lucky enough to play in Merseyside derbies as well, but this one is as big – the hype in the week before, the atmosphere, everything. It is incredibly intense and I think it just gets better.”
Where there can be little doubt, is that the two meetings over the next seven days are the biggest encounters between the two clubs for several years, with both maintaining valid claims to being deserving of top-flight status.
Wark concludes with his memories of the fixture and how he has put the play-off games into context: “The biggest buzz I had was when we won 4-2 in 1980 and I scored a hat-trick. I didn’t have to buy a drink for a week. I’ve had the down-days as well. I was sent off for fouling Darren Eadie in 1995 and we went down 3-0, but I won more than I lost. Those were all vital games but these two will be the biggest in the 40 years since I came here – the biggest for a long, long time.”