Canaries on road to the big time at last
David PowlesYou know what, come the end of May when we look back on this (hopefully promotion-winning) season I think most of us will agree that it hasn't been quite as bad as we feared.David Powles
You know what, come the end of May when we look back on this (hopefully promotion-winning) season I think most of us will agree that it hasn't been quite as bad as we feared.
In fact, as long as things carry on as they have been, I would even go so far as to say that our foray into League One has pretty much been an enjoyable experience.
I'm not saying I am pleased we have ended up where we are, because there were certainly other ways to give this club a much-needed wake up call than through relegation.
And I'm not saying I would be in the least bit happy should the unthinkable happen and we throw away our comfortable cushion and have to do it all again in 2010/11.
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But a season in League One appears to have had a cathartic effect on many Canaries supporters, myself included.
While the hurt of recent seasons may still linger deep down, it has been a pleasant change to see so many Norwich fans enjoying watching their club again.
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Our few defeats apart, week in, week out, a smile has replaced a sneer on the faces of most supporters.
Obviously, winning more often than not helps - no matter what level you are playing at. And nowhere has this more been the case than away from home.
Come May there should be several highlights from the season, among them a return of Fortress Carrow Road, some excellent passing football, the emergence of some good young talent and the one and only Grant Holt - but top of many fans' lists would probably be some phenomenal away days.
With 10 league victories on their travels so far this season, Norwich are already on a par with the previous record number of away wins, secured in the 2003/04 promotion season.
One more win against Tranmere, Leyton Orient, Charlton or Bristol Rovers and we have a new club record on our hands.
But it hasn't just been the victories that has made following Norwich away from home so special - but the nature of them.
At Carrow Road you can sense the crowd, and in many cases the away team as well, expects a Norwich win at this level - but away it is much more of a challenge.
Which is partly why, for my mind, at least seven of the defining matches of the season so far have appeared away from Carrow Road.
The 1-0 win at Carlisle, 3-1 at Stockport, 1-0 at Wycombe, 5-0 at Colchester United, 2-1 at Walsall, 2-1 at Brighton and 3-1 at Huddersfield are all games when you just know some fans will have come away proclaiming that to be the turning point, the game we look back and say Norwich secured promotion'.
The greater challenge has probably been a factor in us having such an impressive away following this season. And you know what, it isn't just the number of away fans that has been impressive - but the nature of the support too.
Sadly, I have travelled to only two away games, the 3-0 win at Southend and 1-0 victory at Oldham, so far this season. But I would honestly say I enjoyed those games more than most of those at Carrow Road.
It's not just that there is more standing up, more singing and a better atmosphere overall - it feels like the fans are more united when we leave the confines of Carrow Road.
Now, of course, people are getting away tickets for a different reason - they want to be there when promotion is signed and sealed.
And, let's be honest, it is looking more and more likely that is a question of when, not if.
t FIVE OF THE REST
1. So, when will we secure promotion and will you be there to see it? Well, thanks to the magic of the BBC Predictor I can exclusively reveal those 2,000-plus (myself included) with tickets to Leyton Orient away could be in for one hell of a night. By my calculations we'll win 1-0, Millwall will draw and from that point on only Leeds will be able to catch us. Of course the next game after that is also away - to Charlton - where our fate last season was ultimately decided. Would it be better to secure promotion there or celebrate it? I can't decide. Either would do that's for sure.
2. After watching bits of the Leeds United game against Millwall on Monday, one thing's for sure about our own encounter this weekend against the men in white - we're going to have to scrap and match them physically if we are going to avenge our defeat from earlier in the season. That's why I fully expect Lambert to go with his trusted, regular 11. He'll be telling them to go out, do their normal job, get the early tackles in, get the first goal and get the crowd on their side - and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.
3. You couldn't help but follow Fulham's exploits against Juventus last week and think of Norwich's own European exploits all those years ago. The result also gave me faith that smaller clubs - in my eyes we should be a bigger club than Fulham - can still taste success on the European front. Yes, you could argue it was only the Europa League, but, as Norwich have shown this season, success at any level can be memorable. I don't want to get ahead of myself but if we could just get it right for a few seasons in a row there's no reason why we couldn't end up where Fulham are now.
4. It's a testament to how well Gary Doherty and Michael Nelson have been playing that the great Dane, Jens Berthel Askou, an early contender for player of the season prior to Christmas, has not even had a sniff of first team action since returning from injury in February. It's been a surprise to not even see him on the bench during this time, though. It's a sign that Lambert prefers to have several attacking options on the bench and that he trusts his more defensive players to slot into other positions if injury dictates.
5. Latest on my predicted target of 91 points for promotion and the league title? We now need 12 points from our last nine games. Three wins, three draws and three defeats would suffice. We're so close now you can almost smell it.