Norwich City fixtures - looking a little deeper into route back to the promised land
The countdown to the new season has cranked up a notch - Chris Lakey takes a look at Norwich City’s Championship fixtures for 2020-21
So, Huddersfield it is then... and there’s a certain irony or two that Norwich City begin their Championship campaign at the John Smith’s Stadium.
It’s a painful reminder of the difficulties teams, no matter how well-run, face on the Premier League stage.
No one needs reminding, but we have to do it anyway, that City went down with 21 points, the sixth worst Premier League haul ever. The previous season, Huddersfield amassed the even more embarrassing total of just 16 - the third worst in top-flight history.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom - because both teams managed to get there in the first place by playing proper football. Neither the Terriers nor City were hoof merchants. They did it the right way.
And there’s a common thread running through the clubs - Stuart Webber, City’s sporting director, had left his role as head of football operations at Huddersfield in April 2017 to head to Norwich - just as the Yorkshire side were heading into the Premier League.
Recent history shows mixed results for City at Huddersfield - since the turn of the century they’ve headed there four times and come away with one win, two defeats and a draw. The win was in March 2010, as City headed straight out of League One. A 3-0 defeat in April 2017 was just before Daniel Farke’s arrival... and how things changed.
There’s a familiar face as the Canaries host Preston and Alex Neil, the man who took City into the top flight in 2015. Wayne Rooney’s Derby - for that is what Phillip Cocu’s team are known as – follow at Carrow Road after a trip to fellow relegated side Bournemouth, before a reunion with Norwich fan - and promoted Rotherham manager – Paul Warne.
A home game against Birmingham is followed by the visit of another Championship newcomer, Wycombe Wanderers, a team City have faced in only one league campaign. That was back in that 2009-10 season when City came out 5-2 winners in Paul Lambert’s first official game in charge, completing the double in January thanks to a Korey Smith goal.
Two tough away games, at Brentford and their shiny new stadium – the inability at the moment to admit visiting supporters will be so frustrating for many who follow Norwich – and Bristol City, a team who always seem to threaten then fade away, are followed by a home game against Millwall.
And that’s the first 10 out of the way. If managers do look at the season in cycles, it’s perhaps a decent block to choose. How do City fare?
They have one relegated side, two promoted sides, one that finished in the play-offs (finalists Brentford) and a couple of pretenders. Given football is a game that relies much on mental attitude, questions will be asked of Brentford’s ability to shrug off their final hangover, and eyes will be on the promoted teams to see if they have an early-season urge which so often tends to fade away as the season progresses.
The second block brings us into winter, when questions are always asked about long midweek trips to Stoke – which, coincidentally, City have. There’s also a chance for Neil Warnock to revive his admiration for Delia Smith and her mum when City head to Middlesbrough. Neither will be easy – in fact, you look at every block and you can make a case for several scenarios, good, bad and indifferent.
The festive period sees City at Watford on Boxing Day, with home games against QPR and Barnsley wrapped around the turn of the year. As we head into February, there will be a rare, if not unique, away double – City face two different teams, but at the same stadium, as they head to St Andrew’s to take on tenants Coventry and then landlords Birmingham, within a week.
Games come thick and fast until the run-in which, for argument’s sake, we’ll take as six games – which includes successive home games within the space of three days against Bournemouth and Watford; teams who came down and are expected to make an impression on the Championship.
This time last year all three were full of optimism. Now it is nervous trepidation.
It’s the beauty of football and the beauty of the Championship: it is such a difficult division to get out of because it is competitive. There’s no ‘top six’ and there’s rarely a runaway winner. The Premier League is what every one of the 24 teams is aiming to make home, but for many the battle is that of perennial failures. Norwich City’s battle is to get out and stay out – much easier said than done.
Let the games begin...