Michael Bailey: Norwich City's Championship picture is flipping on its axis
PUBLISHED: 22:08 08 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:22 09 November 2018
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and Pink Un Show host Michael Bailey assesses the shifting sands both in the EFL Championship and around the Canaries’ feet.
In one weekend, the whole dynamic shifted. In good form comparable to any football team in the world, closing in on the magic average of two points per game almost a third into the season, on a stretch where their average is far closer to three.
How Saturday’s Carrow Road crowd deals with all that when Millwall – a struggling side without a win away from home this season – rocks up will be a fascinating spectacle.
It’s the sort of cruel twist football loves to dish out to supporters; akin to hopes of a new manager bounce and playing the final 20 minutes of a 1-1 draw against 10 men with a midfielder in goal. That’s why it’s the hope that gets under the skin.
Canaries supporters have had to take on a sizeable adjustment these 18 months, where the downsizing of City’s financial problems had to include a similar effect on expectations – the two were inextricably linked.
That was the dynamic. I’m not so sure it is now.
A Championship with no standout performer. A consistency in performance levels. A squad stepping up and stepping in. And a history of Championship teams that have defied arguably greater odds than those currently representing Daniel Farke’s men.
It got nowhere near this good last season, even in the best of times. It may never get this good again in the current campaign. Which is all the more reason to suck up Saturday and see how far you can push yourself and those players. What has anyone got to lose apart from three points?
OK, enough of the pep talk. There is a serious side to what Norwich need to prove when Millwall come to town.
In the same way it was almost a shock to see City blow an opponent away – such a ruthless edge simply didn’t appear last season – is the lingering question over City facing a visitor that isn’t going to be as open or ambitious as Aston Villa or Brentford.
Stoke have already written that playbook and a repeat against Millwall would have to be exceptional to garner the same full-time reaction, given the narrative both clubs now carry.
Harking back to last season is an annoying habit but it has its uses – such as the memory City failed to beat either Barnsley, Sunderland, Burton or Bolton home or away last season.
To put that into context, the bottom four in the second tier last term – with the former three being relegated – lost 94 games between them, and City did not account for a single loss.
No one inside Carrow Road will need telling what Millwall’s visit is about. While beating Villa at home, Nottingham Forest away and thrashing Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend were eye-catching results, the real formula to Championship success is the monotonous ticking over of wins against the plethora of mediocre sides in the division.
And bear in mind, the term mediocre is a relative one. City were clearly mediocre themselves over the last two seasons.
While City’s own dynamic is now different, so is that of the Championship around them.
I remember distinctly when the fixtures came out that it was hard to pick out a weak side in the division – and as someone once told me, if you can’t see a weak side it probably means you are the weak side.
Now a look at the Championship leaves a struggle to find a team without a flaw or a question mark.
We can easily rattle off the issues Farke’s Canaries will have to deal with: more sides parking the bus, growing expectations and a sharper focus from opponents.
Likewise Frank Lampard’s Derby have a lot to offer but a manager with no experience.
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Is Pulis ball really going to inspire Middlesbrough to the top two, while Darren Moore is doing his finest impression of Norwich City circa August to December 2014 at West Brom.
By the time we’ve questioned Sheffield United’s staying power, the progressive nature of Aitor Karanka’s management at Forest and the inconsistency of Swansea and Villa, we’re fully immersed in the surprise packages that the Championship loves to deal in. Some of the above will come good. Some will prove they have what it takes or learned from last season. City may well do the same.
“I can see many teams involved and already there are some that were top and thought they would go up, and now they are struggling.… I don’t think there is any reason to be too excited yet,” Teemu Pukki told me on Saturday.
And with that, City can let their football do the talking – as they have done since August and with so much being said of so many other teams. In all possible ways, long may it continue.
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