David Hannant: Top two? That’ll do! Omens are good for both Norwich City and Leeds United in battle for Christmas number one
PUBLISHED: 14:06 19 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:06 19 December 2018
Last time I lovingly crafted this column, I delved into the history books to see just how much of an omen being top of the tree at Christmas is for Yuletide leaders.
As the marvellous Mr Lakey pointed out in his column the Saturday after, I’d struggle to predict Wednesday on a Tuesday, so rather than looking into a crystal ball, I turned to the past.
I was pretty confident at this stage that top is exactly where Norwich City would be sitting, so was perhaps a wee bit hasty in digging out these statistics. Or, you know, I just wanted to be first to the punch on it!
There’s still a pretty good chance that’s where we’ll be, as we all know no result is a foregone conclusion in this league, but on the current standings and form, Leeds would probably trade their trip to Villa Park for ours to Ewood Park at the weekend.
That said, there’s also a reasonable shout that we will spend Christmas Day second - although any lower than that is a mathematical impossibility.
So, having thoroughly consulted this century’s history books a fortnight ago, I thought it would be remiss of me not to go back and ask the same question for City’s other possible league position.
So my last bit of festive research revealed that since the turn of the century 15 out of 18 Christmas leaders have managed to convert the position into promotion.
Of these 15, 11 lifted the league title - so, pretty good odds.
Such was my cockiness at the time, I didn’t even entertain the thought of finding out about second place - I probably could have saved myself a bit of time this week had I done so. Oh well.
Naturally, you would expect the odds to be a fair bit lower here, particularly as traditionally at least one team - usually Derby - blows up in the new year.
However, it really isn’t that much less of a good omen than being at the league’s summer.
Using the same time period. 12 of the 18 teams occupying City’s current league position have ended the season celebrating promotion to the Premier League.
While only one of these went on to become champions - West Brom in 2007/08 - nine of these teams were promoted automatically. For maths fans, that’s half.
The remaining three of the 12 went up ‘the fun way’, winning at Wembley (or in Bolton’s case in 2001, Cardiff). QPR in 2004 and West Ham in 2012 were the others.
And as far as league position goes, just two sides have failed to finish in the top six - Preston North End in 2006/07 and - funnily enough - Leeds in 2010/11.
However, one does not have to travel quite so far back as last time to find an unsuccessful campaign.
While the team in second place has gone up the last two campaigns - Cardiff and Brighton - the year prior to that, 2015/16 it was Then Not Frank Lampard’s Derby County that failed to convert second into promotion.
The season prior to that, 2014/15 - believe it or not - but second on Christmas Day was Ipswich Town.
They went on to slide down the table and eventually finish 6th, where they lost in the play-off semi-finals. I can’t quite recall who it was that beat them.
So what about when we look at City’s two potential Christmas positions combined?
Eighteen seasons means 18 top twos - so 36 teams. Of these 36, 28 were promoted. Not bad odds.
So history is well on our side, regardless of whether we lead or Leeds lead (try saying that aloud!)
So why are these two positions so advantageous at the halfway point of the season?
Last time, I alluded to the fact it’s largely confidence - you know you’ve been the best in the first half, so why shouldn’t you be so in the second half too?
But in terms of the success rate of the top two, it’s possible the two sides are bound by just that.
You often see a pair pull away together and you could say it’s that rivalry which fuels this.
With the other side in the top two tussle (as it stands) being Leeds United - of all clubs - this could really pay dividends for both of the clubs.
In recent years, there has really been something about our two clubs binding us together.
We bounced back from League One together, several players have hopped between the two sides and the games always seem to produce some kind of drama.
And just last week, we saw how the current philosophies are seeing us lumped together again.
It was an odd day when that radio personality united fans of yellow and white against common enemy with some even odder remarks. It was fun to watch, but also serve as a good microcosm for the rest of the season.
So it seems we’re in this together now, so let’s push each other to the limit and leave the rest of the pack in our dust.
Bristol draw could be a defining result
This is going to sound odd, but I actually think the 2-2 draw away at Bristol City is a result that says more positive about this team than any of the impressive victories this campaign has seen.
It was plain for all to see that several of City’s key men weren’t at their best.
Emi Buendia cut something of a frustrated figure. Todd Cantwell looks a bit jaded and Alex Tettey was lucky to stay on the pitch as long as he did.
It emerged after the game that a number of the lads were soldiering on through various illnesses and lurgies.
But, were it not for the slightest of flick-ons, the Canaries would have flown home with all three points.
Had that late free-kick made it all the way to Jordan Rhodes without a touch, he’d have been onside and we’d have claimed another late win.
And that for me, says more about the team than any of the dramatic last gasp winners or comprehensive performances.
Despite flu, despite several influential players having off days, despite everything, we could still not be defeated.
Carrow Road’s Christmas playlist
Every year, my column buddy Ian Clarke tends to bring a few Christmassy puns to the table. It’s become as much of a tradition as crackers.
However, this year, the closest column to Crimbo is mine, rather than Ian ‘Christmas’ Clarke as he is affectionately known in some circles.
Ian though, is as prolific as puns as Chris Sutton in his City heyday, so I’m very limited for options that haven’t been done before.
So, I thought rather than just going for Christmas names, I’d give put together the Carrow Road playlist for Boxing Day. Bear with me...
• Do They Know It’s Christoph Zimmerman?
• I Believe in Farke Christmas
• Never Do a Tango With An EskiMo Leitner
• All I Want For Christmas is Yousef Safri
• Stiep into Christmas
• McVeigh in a Manger
• Farke! The Herald Angel Sing
• Jingle Bellamy
• O Holty Night
• Santa Tettey
• Fleck the Halls