Fewer derby matches have had greater significance all season that the ‘Tractor Derby’ involving Ipswich Town and Norwich City. The passion characterising these occasions, besides any other overriding concerns, is always tremendous and a testament to both sides and their legions of passionate supporters. This time, however, the ramifications of failure are bigger than ever for both sides. Ipswich, thrashed 4-1 by their eternal rivals earlier this season in front of the television cameras at a gleeful Carrow Road, will be looking to avoid definitive defeat in the Old Farm Derby, and an embarrassing reversal. For Norwich, meanwhile, nothing less than a place in the Premier League is at stake, and how Town would love to deny them such a tantalising opportunity.
Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at St. James’ Park followed Monday evening’s drab 0-0 stalemate between Queens Park Rangers and Derby County. As one not attuned to regularly checking facts and statistics, I am ill-placed to comment on whether or not this has happened before, but there are certainly portents as to the future direction of the title race in the Premier League, and the far more enthralling race to join the top flight. Despite the identical score-lines, the games couldn’t have differed more; United and Newcastle playing out a veritable game of two halves, unable to be separated amidst exciting passages of play and the sort of end-to-end action that would ensure it anywhere but last place on Match of the Day. QPR meanwhile, faltered badly, failing to muster any notable chances besides Wayne Routledge’s early effort and a superbly-executed chip from Adel Taarabt which almost caught out County ‘keeper Brad Jones.
Championship fans appear to be no closer to knowing the identities of this year’s promoted/relegated/play-off bound sides. Wins for Cardiff City and Norwich City have left the race for second wide open, and ensured that QPR cannot win the Championship title this Monday at home to Derby. Meanwhile Reading’s excellent form continued with a 3-1 home victory over Leicester, to bring them firmly into the mix, and – assuming their excellent form continues – able to capitalise on any slip-ups from the Bluebirds or the Canaries in the final four games.
As for the play-off race, defeat for Nottingham Forest at Carrow Road on Friday presented Leeds United with a golden opportunity to cement their position in the final play-off spot, and they nearly blew it, an own-goal from Troy Deeney two minutes from time salvaging a 2-2 draw. This was quite a positive result for Simon Grayson’s side, given that Millwall lost 2-1 away to Coventry courtesy of a Marlon King brace, but Hull City’s 3-1 defeat of woeful Doncaster Rovers sees them and Forest just two points behind Leeds and more than capable of bridging the gap.
Congratulations to Graham Alexander, the Burnley spot-kick specialist who is equally renowned for being as prolific from six yards as he is in terms of appearances. Coming on as a substitute in his 1000th professional career game yesterday against Swansea City, Alexander became only the second player in British football history to reach such a monumental milestone, and nearly crowned a very special day with a goal, his free-kick crashing off the woodwork in the second-half. Having scored an impressive 105 goals for four different clubs – Scunthorpe United, Luton Town, Preston North End and Burnley – Alexander also has 40 caps for Scotland. At the age of 39, he is unlikely to amass many more appearances before retirement, but as a servant to the Football League his record is both enviable and unrivalled.