Lambert on way to being boss of season
PUBLISHED: 14:22 09 January 2012
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No Premier League victory is bigger than any other - in terms of points, anyway - but there’s no doubt that winning at QPR has put Premier League survival on the horizon for the Canaries.
The big thing about each of the last two games is that City have had to come from behind - and it makes you appreciate those four extra points all the more.
If we’d ‘only’ managed 21 points from our first 20 games it would still be quite an amazing achievement given what it’s taken to get us back into the top flight.
But now… well 15 points to reach the magic 40 mark with 18 games to play? Well I would say that’s beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Although, to be fair, let’s really make that 15 from 12 games because I wouldn’t want to go into the last six fixtures needing much in the way of points to survive.
I don’t fancy we’ll get anything much from Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham, while Liverpool will come here still smarting from being held at Anfield, you wouldn’t like to predict how the six-pointer at Blackburn might go, and Aston Villa might arrive on the last day already on the beach - as was the case with Portsmouth last season - or be playing for their futures - as Coventry did in that largely forgettable 2-2 draw. Who knows?
No, if we haven’t made at least 36 points by the time Everton leave here on Easter Saturday evening it could be a very tight finish to the season.
(Although that’s assuming that the current bottom five have a second-half points spree. If not, it could be another season in which 34 keeps you up, and maybe, just maybe, we could finish on the right side of the line this time). There are three stand-out home games which you would think the Canaries must win – in as ugly a fashion as it needs; anything to collect maximum points.
Beating Bolton, Wigan and Wolves would take us a long way towards survival, and on the back of the away fixtures you would have to say it’s not an unrealistic aim.
And then there are the ‘might-be’ matches: home to Everton and away to Fulham, Newcastle, Sunderland and West Brom.
We might perhaps pick up a few draws out of this lot, or possibly win one or two.
Saturday’s visit to West Brom is particularly interesting.
Not just because they’re injury-hit, but it’ll be the perfect yardstick by which to judge our league progress over the past five months.
When West Brom came here in August they were like a bunch of Stoke mini-mes and we didn’t quite know how to deal with their gamesmanship and time wasting.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that we’re a little more street-wise now, though not quite in the way that Neil Warnock might imagine.
Can we come back from the Hawthorns with at least a point? I see no reason why not.
City fans will certainly travel to the West Midlands with a lot more optimism than our last time there - when Jim Duffy was in caretaker charge and we got absolutely hammered 2-0. (Even the obviously pro-club official website report made a reference to “the shot-shy Canaries”).
But seven days after West Brom comes the first of the ’unlikely’ fixtures.
Chelsea at home, like Manchester United, is a game I just can’t see us getting anything out of.
Maybe if we’d lost 4-0 at Stamford Bridge again they might have come here and took us lightly. But after taking the game to them in August I just don’t see it.
And as for Manchester United themselves, is Sir Alex Ferguson really going to name another weakened line-up at Carrow Road as he did seven years ago? Hardly.
City might play out of their skins and perhaps pick up a point from one of these games, but you’d have to say it’s unlikely.
And that just leaves Stoke and Swansea away, games, which current gut feeling suggests, we’re also unlikely to get much out of.
But secure points elsewhere and off-days in Wales and Staffordshire won’t really matter in the grand scheme of things - other than the small matter of the £800,000 you pick up for every place higher you finish in the table.
But if we can reach the 40-point target well before Aston Villa come to Carrow Road on May 13 there can surely be little argument - well perhaps other than in parts of west London - that Paul Lambert is indisputably the manager of the season.
With the resources at his disposal, if he can add top-flight survival to two successive promotions I don’t see how Roberto Mancini spending millions on taking Manchester City to the title, or Arsene Wenger or Andre Villas-Boas doing likewise to claim Champions League glory, could possibly be judged a bigger achievement.
• WHICH HAWTHORNS GAME WOULD YOU RATHER WIN?
Yesterday’s FA Cup draw will - should any further proof be needed - demonstrate how the FA Cup’s importance is dwarfed by the Premier League.
I can’t be alone in now saying that if it came to a choice of winning on January 14 or 28 I’d take the points every time.
We’re plainly just destined to never get a run of straightforward ties - like those which took Ipswich to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup last season.
I suppose we can but hope that West Brom take the same approach to our FA Cup meeting later this month to their visit to Portman Road for last season’s Carling Cup quarter-final - a night when they made nine changes and attracted a bumper crowd of 11,363.
You’d hope that between us we might show rather more interest than that!
• Time was when travelling to an away game in London was almost to be endured rather than enjoyed, given our general lack of success.
But our last six capital visits since April 2010 now read: Charlton 1-0; QPR 0-0; Millwall 1-1; Crystal Palace 0-0; Chelsea 1-3; and QPR 2-1.
Somehow I imagine normal service will have resumed by the end of this season once we’ve negotiated Fulham, Tottenham and Arsenal.
• WHY CITY’S CUP VICTORY CAME AS A BIG SURPRISE
So if you’d told me six months ago that the Canaries would start 2012 inside the top half of the table I wouldn’t have been completely surprised.
If you’d said that Grant Holt would have scored Premier League goals on a fairly regular basis I’d have been slightly more quizzical. But if you’d predicted that City would have cruised into the fourth round of the FA Cup - now that’s a different matter.
I fully expected to add Burnley to the recent NCFC FA Cup hall of shame: Bury, Charlton, Carlisle and Leyton Orient.
Not just because of the line-up the Canaries might have fielded but the general attitude.
The team chosen to face MK Dons in the Carling Cup wasn’t short on experience, but anyone at Carrow Road that night would have been forgiven for thinking that the main objective was to get knocked out without picking up any suspensions or injuries.
And given that Daniel Ayala limped off near the end we couldn’t even manage that.
I left it fairly late to get my ticket for Burnley - had something else come up I wouldn’t exactly have been sorry to have missed the game on the back of seeing the defeats to Bury and Charlton in particular.
So what actually transpired at Carrow Road on Saturday was little short of amazing.
When you consider that two years earlier we had to wait until the 15th minute to break the deadlock at Paulton our start was sensational.
When was the last time we made a start to a cup tie like that? The 5-2 rout of Barnet in the Carling Cup, possibly, but it was the ultimate ‘first goal wins it’ occasion.
Once City went ahead they just oozed confidence, but had they fallen behind later on would they have really roused themselves to earn an unwanted replay.
Who we got in yesterday’s draw didn’t really matter; the main thing about Saturday was the momentum that it helped build. We now go into an eminently winnable away match at the top of our game.
It also demonstrates the progress we have made over the past 12 months, quite apart from the fact that two years ago the Canaries and Burnley were two divisions apart and this tie might have been considered for live television coverage.
Last season we had to battle back to secure a home point against the Clarets and were then well beaten at Turf Moor.
On Saturday we clinically brushed them aside with almost breath-taking ruthlessness and set the standard for future home cup ties. I’m glad I made the effort to go.