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Clinical Canaries succeed by seeing off strugglers

PUBLISHED: 12:15 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:43 02 July 2010

David Cuffley

Ruthless is not a word one often hears in the same sentence as the name Norwich City, but it's an adjective that sums up just why this team is bang on course for a return to the Championship.

Ruthless is not a word one often hears in the same sentence as the name Norwich City, but it's an adjective that sums up just why this team is bang on course for a return to the Championship.

Although their promotion rivals have repeatedly dropped points against League One's lesser lights, the Canaries have been utterly clinical in disposing of teams in the bottom half of the table.

While second-placed Leeds have been beaten by Exeter and Walsall and dropped points at home to Brighton, Wycombe and Brentford, Paul Lambert's team have shown little mercy to the division's underdogs.

Indeed, City have lost only one league match to a side currently in the bottom half - and that 2-1 defeat at Brentford came back in August, on the day Lambert was appointed, when he sat watching from the stand at Griffin Park.

In all, the Canaries have taken 58 points out of a possible 69 against teams outside the top 10.

Apart from the defeat by Brentford and the draw at Exeter, which was also before Lambert's arrival, only Walsall, Gillingham and Yeovil, of the teams currently between 11th and 24th place, have taken points off City, and just one point in each case.

They have doubled Hartlepool, Brighton, Oldham, Southend and Wycombe, and a further seven doubles are possible before the end of the campaign, four of them against teams outside the top 10.

Consider the “aggregate” scores against some of the strugglers - 6-2 against Wycombe, 5-1 against Southend, 6-2 against Brighton - and it's not hard to see why the Canaries' goal difference is worth an extra point to them.

After Saturday's 3-0 win over Yeovil, Lambert repeated his assertion that every game in the division is tough and that City had to treat all opponents with the same respect.

He said: “If I was going to prioritise, then what's the point of playing Yeovil and Tranmere? You have to give them the respect, the same way you do Leeds and Swindon and Huddersfield.

“Every game's hard in this league. I don't prioritise because I know from experience that sometimes the lesser teams, if you want to call them that, give you a lot of problems.”

That's a thoroughly professional approach, and that lack of complacency is a major reason why City have avoided slipping on any banana skins up to now. But if every game is tough, there is no doubt that some are tougher than others, such as the next three.

Saturday's opponents, Huddersfield, will have been stung by two bad defeats at the start of March, following on from manager Lee Clark's February manager of the month award. Swindon had won nine out of the previous 10 home games before their 4-0 humbling by Bristol Rovers on Saturday and though they lost again at MK Dons on Tuesday night, that home defeat may have been something of a freak result. And Leeds, despite losing ground since the turn of the year, have won nine times away from home, like the Canaries.

The bonus for City is that they go into this sequence of matches in better form than all three of their opponents.

t PROLIFIC AND TERRIFIC TRIO

In a season of statistical delights, victory over Yeovil provided another couple of landmarks.

Chris Martin's 20th goal of the season made it the first time two City players have reached 20 since 1974-75, when Ted MacDougall scored 24 and Phil Boyer 21 in all competitions.

But Martin's goal also meant that he, Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt took their combined total to 60 in all competitions.

It is rare to have three players scoring at such a rate. The last time three City players hit double figures was 1985-86, and I can find only four previous occasions since City became a Football League club, back in 1920, when their top three scorers in a single season contributed 60 goals or more between them.

The most recent example was in 1962-63, when Terry Allcock (37), Jimmy Hill (15) and Jim Oliver (10) combined to score 62 in all competitions.

In 1958-59, the season of the famous FA Cup run, Terry Bly (29), Allcock (20) and Errol Crossan (16) totalled 65, the most remarkable feature being the fact that Bly's 29 goals all came from January 3 onwards.

Go back to 1955-56 and Ralph Hunt (33), Johnny Gavin (15) and Peter Gordon (15) scored 63 between them.

And in 1933-34, when City won the Division Three South title, Jack Vinall and Billy Warnes scored 24 each, Ken Burditt weighing in with 14 to make a combined tally of 62 in all competitions.

t IF ONLY IT WAS THREE YEARS

Proudly displaying City's very smart new kit at Carrow Road on Tuesday, joint majority shareholder Delia Smith referred to the club's supporters having had “three years out in the desert” - a bit like Lawrence of Arabia perhaps.

Ah, if only that were true. Take out the excitement of the play-offs in 2002, the Nationwide League title of 2003-04, one poor season in the Premiership, and perhaps this season's exploits, and they have been in the footballing wilderness for most of the past 15 years.

Oh, and that's the 10th different shirt they've had to shell out for in that time.

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