Long term, life is looking up for Norwich City. They are three points clear at the top of the table and Darren Huckerby's pen poised over a contract.
Today, however, the Canaries and their fans must be patient. Huckerby, who had a successful loan spell at Carrow Road but initially declined to make the switch from Manchester City permanent, will not be available until 3 January when Norwich take on Everton in the FA Cup third round.
In Huckerby's absence the new signings Matthias Svensson, who scored the only goal of their unconvincing win over against Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day, and Leon McKenzie will continue in attack for today's match at Derby, which may not be as straightforward as the League table suggests. County may inhabit one of the relegation places but it was their draw with second-placed West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day that allowed the Canaries to open their advantage at the top.
Derby may be without their striker Marcus Tudgay, who is carrying an ankle injury, as they attempt to become the first side to beat Robert Green in the Norwich goal in three matches. "Keeping clean sheets is always pleasing for the whole team," Green said after the victory over Forest, "and it is especially pleasing to win when playing badly, which is a very good sign. We won't play like that every week."
West Bromwich have a couple of extra days' rest before making the much shorter journey to Wimbledon's new Milton Keynes home on Tuesday, but third-placed Sheffield United have the chance to prolong Wigan Athletic's slide today.
United's goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny, is set to continue after his first appearance since a serious knee injury in August in the victory at Coventry. While the midfielder Michael Brown, who will be heading off to Tottenham when the January transfer window opens, serves the second game of a four-match suspension. Peter Ndlovu is again expected to deputise. Matt Jackson is likely to return after a three-match ban to shore up Wigan's defence.
Ipswich Town, who bounced back from losing 2-0 to their East Anglian rivals Norwich by winning 2-1 at West Ham, will probably restore Pablo Couñago to their starting line-up to take on Crystal Palace at home after he came off the bench to score both goals at Upton Park. Palace's new manager, Iain Dowie, will be looking for his first win in charge after losing on his debut against Millwall on Friday.
Sunderland, after their 3-0 thrashing of Bradford on Friday, may have a tougher match at Rotherham, who have surged into mid-table and won 2-1 at Wigan last time out with newcomer Will Hoskins scoring twice in three minutes as a substitute. The 17-year-old may start this time, while Sunderland could be without the midfielder Paul Thirlwell, who has a calf strain.
Marlon Harewood may miss the trip back to Nottingham Forest with West Ham, who will need him in coming matches as Jermain Defoe will be playing his last game before starting a five-match ban resulting from his third dismissal of the season. Forest have doubts over Dawson, Louis-Jean and Robertson. Preston North End, who face Crewe Alexandra, will be without Marlon Broomes, who pulled up during the warm-up before Friday's draw at Stoke. Crewe's Justin Cochrane is doubtful with a hamstring strain.
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