Friday, December 7, 2012
Are we about to begin one of the most important weeks in Norwich’s recent history? I think we are.
A bold statement I know when you consider what it’s up against.
On April 27, 2009 Norwich had two games against Reading and Charlton in which to prevent a drop to the third tier of English football for the first time in 50 years. We lost both and went down.
A year later a victory at Charlton followed up by a win at home to Gilingham healed some wounds as the club lifted itself from the depths of League One.
One season on, a week which included a 5-1 thrashing of Ipswich at Portman Road and a last gasp 3-2 win at home to Derby all but sealed promotion.
And finally, a tricky three-game week in April this year that could have put the club dangerously close to the relegation zone, instead brought a win against Spurs and draw with Everton, the four points from which pretty much destroyed any lingering fears of the drop.
But I’d put the next three games, Swansea away, Aston Villa at home and Wigan at home as up there with all of the above.
Because in these three games we are going to get a real sense of just how far this Norwich side has come – and potentially how far it may go.
Let’s start with the League Cup quarter-final. This is a massive game – and not because of the return of Paul Lambert.
As far as I’m concerned that’s simply an extra subplot to an already potentially mouth-watering drama.
I’ve said this before, in fact the record has long been broken, but for clubs like Norwich cup competitions should be massive.
Let’s take for granted for a minute that we manage to establish ourselves in the Premier League.
If that happens we are likely to witness the majority of seasons in a fairly comfortable 12th, 13th, 14th position – occasionally flirting with relegation perhaps and occasionally pushing at the top eight.
In the main we’ll get used to fairly similar league seasons.
But cup competitions offer a real chance of not just silverware, but experiencing the sort of occasions that supporters dine out on for years to come.
Days out which make all the money, time and effort spent following a football club worthwhile.
There was an interesting debate on twitter this week. Which would you take over the other, it asked, three points at Swansea or a win against Aston Villa?
Of course both will do – but I’d say give me a cup semi-final and be confident we have the talent in the squad to secure our league status in the other games.
That said Swansea represents a massive game as well. A chance to see where we now stand amongst the nation’s elite.
In the last two seasons there’s been barely a hair’s breadth between the two clubs. They were promoted to the Premier League after finishing just four points behind us. We beat them 2-0, they beat us 3-0.
Meanwhile, last season goal difference was all that put them one place above Norwich, even though we beat them twice.
This year we’ve been good, they’ve been great. Manager Michael Laudrup has taken them to a new level and some of their football has been immense.
Previously they would have been regarded as of the same ilk and standard as the likes of Wigan, Sunderland and Aston Villa. They are now pushing to be ranked alongside Liverpool, Stoke, Newcastle and West Brom, possibly even Everton.
That’s arguably where Norwich should set their sights as well – and in recent weeks we have shown signs of being able to get there.
A win on Saturday would push us closer to that goal and show how much Chris Hughton has progressed the side in a short space of time.
A win against Wigan only aids this cause.
But it would also put us at least seven points, and possibly more, clear of the relegation zone with the halfway point of the season on the horizon.
We’d very nearly be at that juncture when we can look up at the potential for glory, rather than down at the risk of failure.
• We have seen over recent years at Carrow Road how a good substitution can really make a difference to the end result of a game. Our recent rise is littered with examples of players coming off the bench and having an impact. And a recent study came up with the theory that there are certain moments in the game when it is better to make a substitution than others. Brett Myers, as part of the annual Sports Analytics Conference (yes I was sad to miss that as well) studied almost 1,800 games and found that substitutions between the start of the second half and the 58th minute have the most positive impact on a game. Norwich’s own stats suggest Hughton is a man prepared to give his first 11 every chance of securing the points and not a massive subscriber to the above theory. He’s made 39 changes in his 15 league games so far, only six during this period. Twenty-four of his substitutions, including all of his last 14, have been made in the final 15 minutes of the game. While on current form you can see why Hughton is more than happy to give his team every chance, it must make it hard for the fringe players to keep fitness and performance levels up with so little first-team playing time.
• A few fans have remarked that Anthony Pilkington hasn’t exactly been setting the world alight this season. I think that’s unfair though and partly because he has been putting in more of a shift defensively this season and therefore not so free to bomb forward. So happy to see him weigh in with two goals in two home games though, taking his overall Norwich tally to 10 in 45 games – a great record for a winger.
• The campaign starts here for the league to start on October 13. As my alternative league table shows below, if the season had begun then we’d be eight games in, 16 points up and third in the league behind only the two Manchester teams. Poor Chelsea meanwhile would be fourth bottom and probably on about their third manager. What a great few weeks.
• HOW I WISHED THE LEAGUE LOOKED NOW
Man Utd 24 points
Man City 18
West Brom 12
West Ham 11