Monday, March 28, 2011
Just six weeks, 720 minutes and eight games - or should that be cup finals? - stand between Norwich City completing the journey from Edgeley Park back up to Old Trafford in perhaps barely two years, having slipped down football’s pecking order in the Greater Manchester area in a little over five.
Some of the things that have happened in the past couple of years have been little short of incredulous, but the fact that we are this close to an automatic return to the elite tops the lot.
The Premier League is a financial madhouse – you just look at the recent £16.9m annual loss posted by Fulham, the fact that the average age of a match-going top-flight fan is now 43 and the growing trend of foreign owners who know nothing about the game effectively buying status by taking over a club and you think: “Do we really want to be a part of this?”
And if it wasn’t for one sizeable factor – parachute payments – I would have to say no.
Were City to go up, who knows, we might carry on the battling resolve seen over the last 19 months and give it a real Blackpool-type go.
Or we might fail completely – although were that to be the case I would take comfort in two improvements on 2004/5: there’d be no repeat of the ‘little old Norwich’ approach seen that season and I don’t doubt for a moment that under Paul Lambert we’d record at least one Premier League away victory.
But if we did go up it would be all about the four years of parachute payments we would have to fall back upon in the future rather than an undoubted struggle in the top flight.
After all this season there have been three Championship teams picking up that funding – although two of them haven’t, until now, perhaps been able to profit from it.
But next season will be different, and there will be three extra clubs with a distinct financial advantage over rivals like the Canaries, making six in total – a quarter of the Championship with far greater cash clout, in fact.
In subsequent seasons there might be eight or 10 sides in that position now that payments have been extended to four years after relegation.
How are we going to be able to compete, quite apart from the fact that more nouveau-riche clubs like Leicester prepared to spend whatever it takes might suddenly appear on the scene?
And this is why the next few weeks could transform the Canaries’ prospects for the next decade.
Everything is in our hands at the moment, and we have to keep it that way.
I don’t doubt the atmosphere now at Carrow Road will be like the Bristol City game for each of the last four games.
This week’s loan signings signal a real purpose. And it’s probably the right time for City to have had an international break.
At the end of August a fortnight off was probably the last thing they wanted after a battling 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest.
It was the same in October following a thumping 3-0 win at Bristol City.
But since October 16 we haven’t had a free long weekend, what with none of our pre-Christmas fixtures falling victim to the cold snap and the FA Cup fourth-round gap being filled with a never-to-be-remembered 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.
While City looked a bit jaded at times in the 1-1 draw at Hull, you wonder whether Swansea will have wanted to sit around for almost a fortnight as they look to build on their 3-2 defeat of Forest.
The only thing that worries you is that the match against Scunthorpe contains so many potential pitfalls for City.
Having seen what the Iron’s recent away record is I suggest you don’t in a ‘look away now if you don’t want to know the scores’-type fashion (do many people really still do that?)
There’s also the small matter that they haven’t scored a Championship goal against us in their last three attempts and they could have a following even lower than the 268 who supported Doncaster here a few weeks ago, while City could have their biggest ‘home’ crowd for many, many years.
The way things are going they’ll probably decide to appoint Andy Hughes player-manager too.
Get past all these potential hurdles while Leeds are taking on Nottingham Forest and Swansea are visiting a resurgent Preston and the final five weeks of the regular season could be something else.
• TV RE-SCHEDULING HAS MESSED UP PLANS AND DOES CITY NO GREAT FAVOURS
Your thoughts on the televising of the game at Portsmouth will probably depend on whether you considered going.
As I was making plans for a weekend based around a Saturday 3pm kick-off at Fratton Park it’s fair to say I was thoroughly annoyed.
But even if you are quite happy at the prospect of another television date for the Canaries, there’s no getting away from the fact that our fixture programme is being totally messed about by Sky – and it’s not as if we’re even in the Premier League.
Three of our last seven games have been switched for television, with the away dates bringing in just £20,000 to club coffers. At least when we had 10 of our 38 Premier League kick-off times altered six seasons ago, we were more handsomely rewarded for the inconvenience.
But for the second time in three years Sky may have done us no favours whatsoever.
Monday, April 27, 2009 and we have to play Reading two whole days after Barnsley, Nottingham Forest and Plymouth have all picked up points.
It meant we really had to beat the play-off bound Royals to give us a fighting chance of beating the drop, and, as we all know, the pressure got to us and two goals from Shane Long all but sent us down.
Two years on at Fratton Park and we might have exactly the same sort of additional pressure placed upon us if other teams have done unexpectedly well over the weekend.
Leeds, as an example, kick-off at home to Burnley a whole 55 hours before we take to the field at Portsmouth.
This move leaves us with just four clear days between the trip to Hampshire and the early kick-off against Coventry – already changed, don’t forget, to meet the whims of broadcasters.
We should follow the lead of Germany, where every match in the final two programmes of league fixtures kick-off at the same time, but then that would involve English football suddenly developing a hitherto unknown backbone and saying ‘no’ to the great god of television.
• MATCH THE SWANS AND CITY GO UP
Want a sure-fire way to finish second? Look no further than Swansea.
Take away our forthcoming meeting and the fact that both sides still have to go to Portsmouth and all we have to do for automatic promotion is to repeat the Liberty Stadium club’s outcomes against City’s opponents in their last six games, as follows:
Scunthorpe (h) 2-0, Watford (a) 3-2, Nottingham Forest (h) 3-2, Ipswich (a) 3-1, Derby (h) 0-0, and Coventry (h) 2-1.
Avoid defeat to Swansea and those results would probably be enough – the result of City’s visit to Portsmouth might well prove irrelevant.
However, were Swansea to match City’s results against their remaining six opponents, they would probably fall short:
Preston (a) 1-0, Hull (h) 0-2, Burnley (a) 1-2, Ipswich (h) 4-1, Millwall (a) 1-1 and Sheffield United (h) 4-2.
• EVANS GETTING USED TO FAILING
You might have seen this quote from Ipswich Town chief executive Simon Clegg last Tuesday, but it’s one you simply don’t tire of in a hurry:
“Marcus Evans is not accustomed to failure and he would see remaining in the Championship as failure.”
To which there are plenty of responses, but the most obvious must be – he ought to be used to it as he’s had enough experience of it in his three years in charge at Portman Road.
Quite frankly, if he’s put his stamp on the club it must be in invisible ink.