No need to worry over second-year syndrome for Norwich City
14:52 10 April 2012
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There have been some Norwich City seasons which have ended rather early.
The win over Stockport in 2002 which took us into the play-offs was on April 21 because of the imminent World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Likewise in 1970 the regular campaign ended on April 18 because of that year’s World Cup in Mexico.
Why do I mention this? Because I can’t have been alone in thinking up until Saturday’s game – and even about 15-20 minutes into it – that the Canaries’ 2011/12 programme had effectively come to an end even earlier this year.
There hadn’t really been an all-out, high-tempo display resulting in points since February’s victory at Swansea, and the line-up against David Moyes’ in-form visitors looked – and started – a bit cautious.
At home to an Everton side with half an eye on their FA Cup semi-final I had expected something more along the lines of the all-action display against Newcastle.
It didn’t quite begin like that, and, indeed, you could have been forgiven for thinking that, with survival long since assured, despite having only 30-odd points, that the fire had gone out of City’s collective belly. This season’s objective had already been achieved and that, frankly, was that.
Certainly when the game started there was an end-of-season feel to Carrow Road, and yet again it needed the opposition to take the lead before we started to up the pace.
Saturday’s passing was excellent, and the only thing which was a let-down was our dead-ball play.
This was ultimately a thoroughly battling display in a match which could have gone either way.
What we have shown is that we can stand up to solid sides such as Everton – it’s no fluke that they are seventh in the table – and keep going even in the face of some fairly shocking decisions. It would have been all too easy to fall away after going 2-1 down, but that isn’t the home way now.
Apart from the top four, since the learning experience that was West Brom we’ve taken points off everyone who has visited Carrow Road.
Saturday’s overall display hopefully indicates that City aren’t already on the beach.
This year’s Carlisle or Coventry-type nothing-to-play-for display can take place against Celtic because players still have enough to prove, both for themselves, and to lay down a marker for 2012/13.
We need to take Saturday’s high-tempo second-half display into the final fixtures. If we can play with this kind of spirit, reaching at least 45 points is certainly an achievable target.
With the way our squad is shaping up, we are looking like ‘second-season syndrome’ is something which should not happen around here.
• FOUR REFEREEING HOWLERS WAS A BIT MUCH TO TAKE
A note to Atos Origin – the company responsible for coming up with the fixture lists: any chance of giving us a rest against Merseyside sides over Easter 2013, please?
It’s not that I have anything particularly against the opposition, more that I can do without any more incompetent refereeing again at this time of year. It was all a little bit too much of a coincidence. Because Andre Marriner’s display against Everton on Saturday was on a par with that of Eddie Ilderton at Tranmere on Good Friday two years ago.
Anyone who was there won’t forget it in a hurry, but to recap: a dubious penalty for the home side after six minutes, another four minutes later plus a red card for Fraser Forster, a handball in the build-up to Tranmere’s third goal on the half-hour and then, to round things off nicely, Paul Lambert and Gary Karsa were sent to the stands in the second half.
Lambert later admitted: “But the decisions… I don’t know where he’s got them from.”
He could have said exactly the same thing on Saturday and we’d have all have agreed with him.
• What exactly did Leighton Baines have to do to receive a second yellow card?
• When Steven Pienaar laid on the ball ahead of Everton‘s second goal, how that did not constitute obstruction?
• How was play allowed to continue after the Andrew Surman shot struck Phil Jagielka right in front of the referee at the end of the first half?
• In addition, Nikica Jelavic should have been booked for a quite appalling piece of play-acting.
All right, if we hadn’t got one or two of these decisions then fair enough, that’s the way games go.
But to be effectively penalised on all four… frankly that’s shocking.
Fortunately we got away with it this time, unlike against Tranmere, due to spirit, home advantage and not falling more than one goal behind.
And, to an extent, perhaps we were fuelled on Saturday by a general sense of injustice.
But if any of Lambert’s players had turned in that kind of display they’d be sent to Swansea for the forthcoming reserve game and made to sit on the bench for the full 90 minutes.
It’s the equivalent of Mr Marriner’s next refereeing appointment being at the likes of Walsham-le-Willows in the Ridgeons League.
But, no, that won’t happen.
Perhaps Mr Marriner’s display won’t get much mention in the national media, after all “it’s only Norwich”.
But for the self-styled “best league in the world” it wasn’t good enough.
• LONG DISTANT MEMORIES OF EASTERS PAST
You may find it hard to remember what happened over the Easter programme in City’s last Premier League campaign. That’s because there wasn’t one, due to 2006 World Cup qualifiers.
In fact this is only the third time in nine seasons that City will have played on both the Saturday and the Monday.
In 2008 an international week prevented any games being played on Easter Monday – just when we had a rare bit of momentum after thumping Colchester 5-1, too.
There have also been Saturday fixtures against Wigan and Tranmere put back a day for the benefit of Sky in 2004 and 2010, while the Ipswich match – for a variety of reasons, it would appear, though not to be repeated any time soon – got moved to a Thursday night.
Easter 2007 is, for now, still a one-off, but a move I thought would have become more regular at higher levels by now: Hull and Norwich agreeing to play on Good Friday afternoon to give them more time to prepare for their Easter Monday matches.
To think it was only 39 years ago that City played on Easter Saturday, Monday and Tuesday in their debut First Division campaign.
• EXTRA INCENTIVE
How fitting is it that we reach the magic 40-point mark thanks to a Grant Holt goal.
Three years ago this weekend he was failing to find the net for Shrewsbury at home to Grimsby.
Now he is seriously being mentioned in the same breath as England – and not just by us, although not the ultimate wind-up merchant Lawrenson.
The main thing about playing four well-placed sides in our final fixtures is that this will be a major stage for him to convince the people that really matter.