What hope of a return to the top flight?

PUBLISHED: 17:48 25 September 2007 | UPDATED: 10:35 14 September 2010

Three years ago today, Norwich City's fans were looking forward to a Premier League match at Liverpool. Now they are looking over their shoulders at the third flight.

Three years ago today, Norwich City's fans were looking forward to a Premier League match at Liverpool. Now they are looking over their shoulders at the third flight. With club officials warning of a bleak financial future, STEVE DOWNES asks if there is any hope of a return to the top.

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Norwich City fans are used to ups and downs. It's in the contract when they sign up to follow the Canaries.

But even they will be scratching their heads at how a club that turned over Manchester United and Newcastle in the Premier League less than three years ago could have fallen so far, so fast.

A £25m injection in the top flight was not quite enough to keep the club there as the then boss Nigel Worthington narrowly failed to secure a crucial second season in the sun.

However, two years of £7m parachute payments would surely be enough to pay for another promotion challenge - or secure a second tilt at the top flight.

The hopes just faded, though. Quality players came and went, Worthington paid the price for unfulfilled expectations and Peter Grant arrived with belligerent words and high hopes.

His plans were derailed on the eve of this season when first Rob Earnshaw then Dickson Etuhu took advantage of bewildering get-out clauses in their contracts to secure a ticket to the top flight with Derby and Sunderland.

And reality bit hard as big money was thrown around before the transfer window closed at the end of last month - but City appeared unable to compete financially.

All of which left Norwich with a squad largely made up of unproven players and journeymen.

Average-to-dreadful performances have followed, and now club bosses are warning that the belt will have to be tightened even further in the months and years to come as the annual £7m Premier League parachute payments have stopped.

For as many years as most fans would care to remember, City have been able to beat off the banker by cashing in on a player or two. Reeves, Fashanu, Woods, Watson, Sutton and Fox - to name a few of many.

But the current squad does not have a Robert Green, Rob Earnshaw or Dean Ashton in its ranks.

Its star player, Darren Huckerby, is the wrong side of 30 and hardly likely to command a big fee if he ever moves on. Many other players were bought for next to nothing - and their performances thus far will only have lowered their stock.

So the cash cow of player sales has left the field, at least for the time being.

In previous times of trouble, the club has been able to pick the fruits of former chairman Robert Chase's astute property purchases by selling off chunks of land around Carrow Road for housing development.

But the land has gone - and with it Norwich's chance to cash in.

There is, though, one hope. On the evidence of Saturday's trip to Wolves, it is a long shot, but a chance nonetheless.

And that is that the players will begin to play like a team, put together a run and get City into a promotion battle.

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