McVeigh and Malky proved Norwich City can still make the play-offs - back in 2002
EDP © 2002
With the play-off flame still flickering for Norwich City, DAVID FREEZER looks at the similarities between the current Canaries campaign and the successful push for the top six under Nigel Worthington back in 2002.
For much of this season attentions have been fixed on whether Norwich City can repeat their play-off achievements of two years ago – but perhaps we should have been looking further back.
Rather than repeating a surge which saw Alex Neil’s team of 2015 come close to an automatic promotion spot, it is the adventures of the Canaries vintage of 2002 which may be able to offer some more helpful pointers.
Nigel Worthington’s squad had picked up 58 points from 38 matches in 2001/02, to sit six points adrift of the play-off places in ninth position. The likes of Iwan Roberts, Malky Mackay and Paul McVeigh then picked up 17 points from the remaining 24 on offer to clamber into sixth place in dramatic style – pipping Burnley by just one goal.
Fast forward to 2017 and the current City crop have just one point less (57) and are one point closer to the top six (five adrift) as the Championship season moves into the finishing straight once the current international break is done with.
It shows that not only can it be done but that a Norwich City side have done it before, creating memories that with fans for a lifetime.
McVeigh’s late winner at Bradford, taking more than 6,000 fans to Barnsley and the anxious wait for the Burnley score to filter through after 10-man Stockport were beaten 2-0 at Carrow Road on the final day – with Paul Gascoigne going close from a free-kick late in the Clarets’ 1-0 win over Coventry – all now part of Canaries folklore.
To bring us back to the current day, it is clear that a fantastic finish to the campaign is needed from the final eight matches if City are to stand any chance of another attempt at play-off glory.
Worthington’s vintage won five and drew two of their final eight but couldn’t have cut it much finer to actually make the top six, by virtue of a goal-difference just one better than Burnley.
The currently coachless group are extremely unlikely to catch Huddersfield and Leeds in third and fourth but Reading and Sheffield Wednesday are not out of reach yet, even if both clubs only have to face two of the current top eight in the final stretch.
Back in 2002, big names came to the fore at the right time for City. McVeigh chipped in with three goals in the final eight games and both Mackay and David Nielsen scored twice, Mackay scoring the crucial second goal against Stockport which sealed a play-off place.
Cameron Jerome has already been pulling his weight recently, scoring eight goals in 12 games to cover for the injury of Nelson Oliveira. With the Portuguese striker fit again as well, goals shouldn’t be a problem, but every City player is going to have to dig deep.
If – and it remains an if as big as Mitchell Dijks – City can pull it off then a play-off final could, quite bizarrely, still be possible.
From there, we can only hope they can revert back to the winning Wembley team of 2015 and not the crushed Cardiff team of 2002.
Reading (5th – 67pts)
Aston Villa (a)
Sheffield Wednesday (6th – 62pts)
Fulham (7th – 61pts)
Aston Villa (h)
Sheff Weds (a)
Norwich (8th – 57pts)
Aston Villa (a)
Preston (9th – 57pts)
Bristol City (h)