Don’t hide behind sofa, but Norwich City are not safe yet
15:40 15 February 2013
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Those of a nervous disposition may feel inclined, in BBC sports bulletin fashion, to “look away now”.
So perhaps I should start by saying that I do not genuinely expect Norwich City, currently six points clear of the bottom three in the Premier League, to be relegated at the end of the season.
But neither do I think they will survive by too great a margin once their last 12 matches are out of the way.
Put simply, the Canaries have been relegated from the top flight from better positions than this. And while there is no sign of complacency at Carrow Road, they will need to improve on their current rate of return – four points from the last nine league games – if they are not go to into the last three matches in May still in need of points to guarantee safety.
There seems to be an assumption among supporters and reporters alike that it will take fewer points to survive this season because the struggling Premier League sides have been so poor. But it is not an exact science and it is dangerous to rely on that argument when every club still has 36 points to play for.
Last season Queens Park Rangers stayed up with 37 points, while Bolton went down with 36.
Two years ago, Wolves survived with 40, but Blackpool and Birmingham were both relegated with 39.
No side with 40 points or more has gone down since West Ham were relegated with 42 in 2003, something of a freak season.
If one makes the slightly hazardous assumption that one point per match, 38, will be enough to put Chris Hughton’s men in the clear, it means they must win three of their final 12 games or collect the equivalent number of points.
That would mean the side currently third from bottom, Reading, would need to win five of their last 12 games to match them on 38. As the Royals have won only five of their first 26 fixtures, it might appear a tall order, but they are in the top six in the “current form” table – and, let’s face it, nobody expected Wigan to win seven of their last nine games a year ago.
After looking doomed at one stage, the Latics breezed across the line like Olympic champion David Rudisha and managed to stay up by a clear seven points. It takes only one of the current bottom three to go on that kind of run to put a few more clubs at risk, Norwich included.
One thing in the Canaries’ favour is that they still have to play four of the six teams below them in the Premier League table. But of those, on current form, only Wigan are collecting fewer points than Norwich. Reading and Southampton are positively thriving, while even Paul Lambert’s mercurial Aston Villa have managed one point per match from the last six. Beating three of those four sides – or being greedy, all four – would clearly be the most efficient way for City to put themselves out of harm’s way.
As for that warning about being relegated from better positions than this, I refer to 1985 and 1995.
In the first instance, City’s Milk Cup winners were 13th in Division One with 12 fixtures left, nine points clear of the bottom three, but won just two of those 12 games and went down with Sunderland and Stoke – admittedly in unsatisfactory circumstances when Coventry played, and won, three matches after the Canaries had finished their programme.
In 1995, City were also 13th in the Premiership and seven points clear of the four relegation spots with 12 games left, but won only one more match – indeed, ended up winning only one of their last 20 to go down with Crystal Palace, Leicester and Ipswich.
History should not be about to repeat itself, but for anyone who thinks it couldn’t happen here, it already has.
• IS THE SKY MORE BLUE FOR ROBINS, FLYING TO HUDDERSFIELD?
Some football managers get a raw deal from their clubs, with Nigel Adkins and Sean O’Driscoll this season’s most obvious examples of bosses rudely shown the door.
But it’s not all one-way traffic and when the League Managers’ Association starts bleating about lack of job security, they should remember the way their members walk out on their clubs and leap with barely a second thought into fellow members’ old jobs while the seat is still warm.
Mark Robins left Coventry yesterday, five months into a three-year contract, to take over at Huddersfield, who had sacked Simon Grayson, the man who had taken Lee Clark’s old post a year ago – not that it’s every man for himself or anything.
In September, ex-Canary Robins had talked about Coventry as a “great opportunity” – but clearly only until the next great opportunity came along.