David Freezer: There is light at the end of City’s particularly dark tunnel
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The Premier League dream has turned into a full-blown nightmare for Norwich City - but it could just be a good time to be returning to the Championship.
A year ago the momentum of a swashbuckling title success had sent optimism soaring as so many thought the style of football that Daniel Farke had the Canaries playing was going to make for a smooth transition to the style of the top flight. The reality has been painfully different.
The defensive injuries can take the brunt of the blame for puncturing a bright start and ruining momentum but increasingly it looks like City were trying to run before they could walk in the Premier League.
The step up in quality from the second tier remains huge. Instead of battles against inconsistent teams, all of a sudden promoted sides are facing up to some of the best players in the world.
Look at the teams who have successfully established themselves at this level and you’ll recognise a physical abrasiveness and solid defensive base in all of them. Burnley, Palace, Brighton Newcastle and Sheffield United have all put their emphasis on defence first, some to more direct and unattractive extents than others, but they’ve done it successfully. That’s before you even get on to their wealthy owners.
I could go on but I suspect finances and the realities of Premier League adjustment will dominate plenty of Canaries debates in the next year.
For the here and now it’s about finding out just how much the players in Farke’s squad want to fight for the badge on the front of the shirt, rather than the name on the back – as their head coach has aptly said in the past.
Emi Buendia’s goal on Tuesday at least avoided equalling a club record, of six successive league games without scoring, but now another is looming. Seven successive league defeats has only happened twice before to City, in Division Three South in 1957 and during the top flight relegation campaign of 1994-95.
Unfortunately that offers a grim comparison, as the seventh successive defeat was the game which effectively sealed relegation, losing 2-1 at Leeds with Gary Megson in charge amid protests against chairman Robert Chase, thanks to a Carlton Palmer goal in injury-time. Norwich were seventh on Boxing Day, only for Bryan Gunn’s ankle injury in late December to spark an implosion.
Thankfully even if history does repeat itself and relegation is sealed by a seventh consecutive loss, the future of the club is safe and financially stable despite the strain that the pandemic has added to football. Can the same be said for many Championship clubs though, where so many spend more in wages than they generate each season?
Despite all of this acrimony the Canaries will soon see themselves talked up as one of the promotion favourites, particularly if Leeds and West Brom have departed for the Premier League.
The bigger boys of League One also missed out, so instead of a resurgent Sunderland, Ipswich or Portsmouth returning to the fray, it will be Coventry, Rotherham and one of Oxford or Wycombe.
Whoever comes down alongside City will be facing daunting money issues as well, particularly if it’s Villa. You just have to look at Stoke, Hull, Huddersfield and Boro for examples of how difficult the relegation hangover can be.
Huddersfield chairman Phil Hodgkinson said this week that as many as 20 to 30 clubs could follow Wigan in going into administration in the EFL. Let’s hope he’s wrong but from a singular Norwich City point of view, financial stability and self-sufficiency could well become a competitive advantage very soon.
So while there may be light at the end of the tunnel, the night is darkest before the dawn and relegation will see Norwich claim the record as the Premier League’s most relegated club, as they are currently tied on four with Sunderland, Boro, West Brom and Palace.
There was life before 1992 though and it’s Sunderland who boast the most relegations from the top flight since the Second World War, with nine. City are about to join Leicester and Birmingham in joint second place with eight, unfortunately.
Thankfully, Farke’s team aren’t close to unwanted record breaking territory in many other areas, although they are still yet to fight back from a losing position to earn a point, no Premier League has ever done that - and they are currently the only team in Europe’s big five leagues to have failed to do so this season.
They also still need to score an away goal just to equal the record Premier League low of eight scored in a season. With trips to Chelsea and Manchester City left, that may be a difficult one to avoid.