Thursday, August 11, 2011
As long as we are 17th come the end of the season mission Norwich City back in the Premier League will have been accomplished.
It’s a familiar sentiment trotted out by many a Canaries fan when assessing exactly what the target is for our first season back in the big time.
But are those who believe our only target is to cross the line ahead of three other clubs setting the bar a bit too low? I think they are.
For the second year in a row I find myself writing this pre-season column and feeling very optimistic about the season which lies ahead.
Twelve months ago, while many a fan was predicting little more than a mid-table finish, or possibly even lower, for me Lambert and his signings provided cause for optimism. And so it proved.
And this time round that optimism is back again.
Granted if, in nine months time, Norwich have reached 17th and secure another year at the top it will be a fantastic achievement and cause for celebration.
But I can’t help thinking that we should set our sights a little higher – and I’m pretty sure Lambert will be saying the same to the players himself.
One of the key failings of our most recent season in the top division, the relegation year under Nigel Worthington, was that the sole mission seemed to be 17th place and little else. For too many games, especially away, you never got the impression the players were chasing the game and looking for a win. Perhaps the feeling was that a draw would keep us ahead of the pack – but all too often such negativity led to defeat.
I wonder whether if the players are made to feel their level is that of a club which may only just avoid the drop, that affects their confidence and belief on the pitch?
But one thing I don’t think you could ever accuse Lambert of is failing to install belief in his players.
And that’s why I think he will be telling the squad this week as they prepare for Wigan away, is that they have no reason to believe they don’t belong in this division.
And when you look at the squad he has compiled, and those squads we are up against, who can blame him.
Quite simply this feels like one of the strongest Norwich City squads, possibly the strongest, in modern history.
What was clear in the pre-season games is that Lambert, as is his want, has so many options in so many areas.
And I think the biggest compliment you could pay the squad is that, bar a few positions, I really haven’t got a clue what the opening team will be on Saturday.
In the past week at least two of my fellow Archant journalists have predicted the starting line-ups in our last two friendlies would be that for Wigan.
Well if that were true it would mean starting with 15 players out on the pitch. But such are the options on offer. The only definites I can predict are John Ruddy in goal, Ritchie De Laet and Elliott Bennett (after great pre-seasons), David Fox (what a sign of how far he has come) and Grant Holt.
But who can be sure whether Rusell Martin or Kyle Naughton will be at right-back, Zak Whitbread or Leon Barnett in the centre and Marc Tierney or Naughton on the left?
In midfield will it be Wes Hoolahan on the front of the diamond and has Andrew Surman now forced his way into Lambert’s plans following two goals at the weekend?
Meanwhile, up front is it Steve Morison or Simeon Jackson? I suspect the answer will be different depending on the opponents and the circumstances of that particular game.
And once again this flexibility is so different of Nigel Worthington, who seemed too often to stubbornly persist with players and formations when they clearly weren’t working.
Looking through our rivals’ squads there are, in my opinion, at least half a dozen clubs of similar standing.
None of Swansea, QPR, Blackburn, Wigan, Wolves and even Aston Villa and Newcastle have set the transfer market alight this summer and fans of all could be feeling a little bit nervous about their prospects.
And the other thing on our side is history. It surprised me to look back on the last eight Premier League seasons to see that of the 24 clubs promoted the year before, exactly half steered clear of relegation in their first season back.
The average position of promoted clubs was 16th and they finished in the top 10 on four occasions and top 15 on 10.
I’m not going to fall into the trap of predicting we’ll finish in one position or another and I’m not getting so carried away as to dream that we can repeat our win rate of the last two seasons.
But to use one of those many cliches that we’ll get used to hearing from pundits over the next 12 months – Norwich City have nothing to fear in our first season back in the Premier League.
• FAB FOUR
1. Now we’re back amongst the ‘big boys’ we can all look forward to 12 months of ‘little old Norwich’ being patronised by pundit after pundit. Let’s be honest, the national media’s coverage of clubs outside London, barring Manchester United, Liverpool and now Manchester City, is often nothing short of woeful and we have all gotten used to the well-worn cliches that get rolled out everytime we get a mention.
2. I don’t understand why so many people have the knives out for keeper John Ruddy. Granted he made a nervy start to his Norwich career but once he settled in the team we saw very few mistakes from him. The argument seems to be he’s no Fraser Forster, yet Forster excelled in League One, Ruddy in the Championship. Even against Parma on Saturday you could hear the all too familar grumbling after just one mistake. Please people give him more of a chance before getting on his back.
3. Some early positives of being in the Prem that have been highlighted in the first week of the new season: Not having to stay up late to see if we are going to get more than 30 seconds on the Championship. Not having former town midfielder Matt Holland attempt to analyse our performances on a Monday night. Not having to play a miserable early Carling Cup game in a half empty Carrow Road.
4. A potential indication of just how lucky we have been in signing up Kyle Naughton from Tottenham was provided in a column by respected Times sports writer Patrick Barclay. Looking ahead to England’s chances in 2014 World Cup in Brazil he named the full back as one of seven players whom he felt would be a regular by that point. Unless of course he was getting him confused with Tottenham’s other flying full-back Kyle Walker, strangely omitted in the list? Come on, admit it, how many of you made the same mistake when the signing Naughton was unveiled by Norwich?