The game itself might not be for a while, but we're still bringing you our weekly features in the time and place you know them. Also I fancy a weekend off. Anyway, this of course brings us to Fan Focus, where we talk to a fan of the opposition to find out how they are feeling headed into our clash.
This week, we've had the pleasure of speaking to what I consider the premiere Norwich City Blog, or at the very least the best named - Holtamania.
Matt and the rest of the Holtamania team offer unrivaled coverage of Norwich City, and their blog is a real gem so go check it out on http://www.holtamania.com or if you'd like follow them on Twitter - @holtamania
And now, here's what they're feeling ahead of the game. Enjoy...
Hello there, how does it feel to be back in the Premier League then?
Matt: "Terrific, daunting, anxious, exciting. All of them and more. It’s still amazing to look at how far we’ve come in just a couple of years. Norwich is a one club city so there’s been a particular buzz about the place, a good feeling that everyone’ s been a part of."
We’ve seen the results Norwich have been getting, but whats the vibe like down at Carrow Road? How are the performances?
Matt: "Performances are better than the results suggest. A decent away draw at Wigan, a draw at Stoke when we were winning until the 94th minute, a great away performance at Chelsea until we went down to 10 and one we deserved more from. Only West Brom is a blot but we played well enough for a draw there. Unfortunately the ref disagreed. It’s led to a good vibe; you’ll struggle to find a manager as universally backed as Lambert, it’s almost a free year for him. He could take us down and still be loved. Over 20,000 season ticket holders mean Carrow Road is forever packed out and there’s a confidence in Lambert and the team that I don’t think was there last time. He’s shown tactical flexibility and nous that we’ll need to adapt and the players he’s brought in have all fit. There’s confidence."
Has anything about your return shocked you? Such as an opposing team not being as good as envisaged, or an unexpected shining light in the Norwich team?
Matt: "The standard of refereeing is a depressing reminder of lower divisions. At the top you should be able to expect correct decisions but penalties given for fouls outside the box and ignoring swinging elbows is galling when it costs your team points and takes the result of your hands (though I don’t buy any big club/small club/bias nonsense, it’s just bad officiating). But on the whole it’s not been surprising; we’re now facing opponents week in week out who are better than even the best we faced last year, and each week it’s both daunting and encouraging seeing how we stack up. The new signings have bedded in well on the whole and I think we benefit from a lack of stars or big names. Team spirit has been so crucial in two consecutive promotions that we genuinely play as a team, which has been shown by consistently good performances in spite of frequent changes by the manager."
To the game itself, who if anyone from the Sunderland team do you think can cause Norwich the most problems?
Matt: "I think Bruce has strengthened the team over the summer but the loss of Gyan is a bad one and I’m glad we’re not playing him. In his place, mind, is Bendtner who is a quality player whether he gets the goals he thinks he deserves or not. He’s going to cause the defence problems because he’s got intelligence. Seb Larsson is also a quality signing, one I wish we could’ve got but he’s a bit out of our reach. He’ll be a danger."
And conversely, who should we be on the look-out for, outside of the obvious dangermen?
Matt: "Hard to say as it’s anyone’s guess who’ll start. The obvious one for me is Wes Hoolahan. I expect he’ll get a start as he was excellent vs Bolton, but he’s been benched for both home games so far so I could be wrong. He’s a little magician is Wessi. Massively creative, he drives the team forward and he gives the crowd a lift when he’s on his game. He can score goals too, getting double figures last year. Holt is a striker no one will enjoy playing against. Maybe not as threatening as he was last year but defenders will know they’ve been in a game – just ask John Terry. He runs at defenders, puts them under pressure and just winds them up. Again, no idea if he’ll start as he was dropped vs Bolton, but he’ll feature even if from the bench. Elliott Bennett is looking a shrewd buy on the right wing too – bags of pace and a great cross. He could provide some danger with balls into the box."
Steve Bruce was in the Norwich side for the 1985 League Cup win over us. Is he held in high regard in the region?
Matt: "I think that depends on how old the fan is. Most younger ones only know him from his nomadic managerial career, even if they are aware he used to play for us. Older ones certainly remember him more fondly. Brucey scored one of the most famous goals in Norwich history in the Semi Final before our matchup, a header to knock out Ipswich, and all fans who were there will remember him well. He did well for us, and was excellent in the cup final. I think for some the memory is soured by how he left, as loyalty has never been a word associated with Bruce, he is remembered for the good times rather than the bad for the majority of fans."
And lastly a prediction for the game... Will Norwich be reclaiming the Friendship Trophy?
Matt: "Excellent, a friendship trophy reference! As it goes, there’s a Norwich fan on twitter who told me his memories of the 1985 cup final which he went to as a kid – playing football with a Sunderland fan on Wembley Way then swapping scarves. Pretty special huh? I think the game will be close and both teams will have confidence coming off wins. If we can cut out the errors which have just plagued us so far, I think we will win narrowly. It’s a big if though. Any lapse in concentration and things could be very different. Let’s say 1-0 Norwich."
Thank you to Matt, and as pointed out above. Give Holtamania a read every now and then. You'll enjoy it.