Could derby be last thing City have to fight for now?

PUBLISHED: 08:40 20 February 2017

City boss Alex Neil watches as his side go down to yet another away defeat. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd.

City boss Alex Neil watches as his side go down to yet another away defeat. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd.

©Focus Images Limited +447814 482222

After a Herculean effort against Newcastle on Tuesday night, there were a few fans around me celebrating the draw like they would a goal when the final whistle sounded.

Timm Klose wins a header - his mistake led to Burton's opener. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd.Timm Klose wins a header - his mistake led to Burton's opener. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd.

While I couldn’t bring myself to share their excitable joy, having been only minutes from pulling off a priceless victory, every supporter appreciated the commitment, sheer determination and collective desire which saw each player give their all against a team destined for an immediate return to the Premier League.

The problem is, Norwich City are an entirely different outfit away from the comfort of Carrow Road, and that woeful record has meant any chance we have of making the top six rests on earning maximum points from home fixtures.

It was a gnawing sense that a trip to the Pirelli Stadium in four days’ time could unravel all of the evening’s hard work that stopped me from partaking in any wild premonitions about how we could be just two points from the play-offs again come Saturday evening. “We’ll beat Burton and Wednesday might we’ll lose at Forest” – you know the type.

Those sorts of post-match discussions have become almost routine. Looking at other teams’ upcoming fixtures and predicting when they might slip up, with all kinds of calculations being done to forecast City’s possible league placing as you walk back to the car, bus stop or pub to continue the conversation.

Last season it was rearranging the bottom six of the Premier League, this season it’s the top eight of the Championship.

There is one common theme that has run throughout that time, though. No matter how much talk there has been of other teams potentially doing us a favour, it’s Norwich’s own form that we have never been able to rely upon.

It screwed up the sums behind ensuring a finish outside of the bottom three last campaign and Saturday’s dismal defeat is further evidence it will do so again on a play-off push.

Norwich’s away form has been nothing short of dreadful, even more so considering City’s pre-season remit.

How can any team expect to be promoted with a win ratio of less than one in four on the road and conceding on average almost two goals per game? Only Nottingham Forest and Rotherham have conceded more.

That depressing statistic highlights the other constant factor over the last 18 months: a defence that has had a tendency to crumble under the slightest pressure, that has kept just three away clean sheets since August 2015, that has been exposed time and time again, most embarrassingly so outside of Norfolk.

The loss at Burton was close to an exact replica of the one at Rotherham. Sending off aside, the second and third goals were scored at almost identical times, just four minutes apart. City getting themselves level only to concede again so soon after. Both lacklustre performances against teams struggling at the bottom of the table.

Where was the Norwich side that ran the league leaders so close days ago, that engineered a rout against Forest, that played with such a high tempo in both those fixtures? A similar performance would have all but guaranteed a result against one of the Championship’s weaker teams. The same was said after Norwich were the bait for Barnsley’s first home victory in four months just a week after beating Brentford 5-0.

It’s time we looked at the Championship table without the rose tinted spectacles. Norwich may be just one place outside the top six, but that seven-point cushion enjoyed by both Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday paints the real picture. Yes, City still have to go to both, but how can anyone be confident that Alex Neil’s side will nick points from them when the current yield is 16 points from 51 away from home?

It’s difficult to come to any other conclusion that in reality Norwich won’t have much more to play for beyond Sunday’s derby clash, whatever the outcome. Thank goodness it’s at Carrow Road.

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