Bet on Norwich City to pull off few shocks
If the Canaries faithful have enjoyed their taste of the Premier League so far it could be a case of ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’ at Carrow Road over the next couple of months.
For while the army of away fans who regularly beat a path up and down the country have been fortunate enough to witness some of the best teams and best players in the world, for those who prefer to stay at home it’s been a different picture.
So far this season we have played five games at home, but all of them against teams who currently sit below us in the league.
No disrespect to Stoke, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea and Blackburn, these are the type of games that are not a million miles away from the fare served up in the Championship, as there is very little in terms of standard between the top half of that league and the bottom half of this one.
Entertaining games, of course, but we have yet to welcome the calibre of world-class players that make you wake up on a Saturday morning (or Sunday or Monday) and check yourself this is actually happening.
Away from home it’s been a different story of course. In the six games, we have played four of the current top eight.
But for those watching in pubs around the city or listening on the radio, rather than at the likes of Anfield or Old Trafford, the experience cannot be the same. It’s real and it’s happening but you can’t help but feel distanced from it.
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It’s these statistics which make me think that, as far as the rest of the season is concerned, Norwich may go against the oft rolled out cliche that “If you win your home games, you’ll stay up”.
In fact Norwich City’s survival could depend on the opposite happening.
In our two games away against fellow rivals for survival we picked up four points, playing the sort of fast and attacking game that isn’t always associated with the away team.
We certainly didn’t see it in our last attempt at top-flight survival.
But it has so far worked and with nine of our 13 remaining away matches against similarly placed teams there is a real opportunity to pick up a decent tally of points away from home.
That doesn’t mean I’m writing off our chances at home, but you can’t ignore the fact that it’s going to be tough.
With 14 games left, we have all of the top eight still to play. I’d back Paul Lambert and his squad to secure some shock results in some of these, but it does highlight the importance of securing points not just away from home, but also in the six games at home against those teams around us.
So, from next Saturday, we enter a new phase in the season, one in which those big names come to Carrow Road.
It will be interesting to see whether Norwich’s recent defensive frailties lead to personnel changes at the back for the first time in several weeks.
One thing we know Paul Lambert is not afraid of is shaking up the team if he sees fit. It’s why he always aims for at least two strong players in each position.
However, with both Zak Whitbread and Elliott Ward out with seemingly never-ending injuries and Daniel Ayala alongside them on the treatment table, the options for replacement are slim with Ritchie De Laet – guilty of one or two major errors this season – the only realistic choice.
Therefore I’d expect Lambert to stick with the same back four and hope his strong and very public words of criticism are enough to ensure Leon Barnett redeems himself in the next 90 minutes of the season.
If chosen, he’ll certainly need to be at his best for because, in Robin Van Persie, we can look forward to the first experience this season at Carrow Road of one of the world’s true elite.
• Norwich’s away following has rightly received many plaudits this season and at home we’ve been vocal too, helped by some dramatic and entertaining games. But how poor have our opposition supporters been? Fans of Bolton, Blackburn and Aston Villa, to name but a few, were so quiet, almost bored by it all. It’s one of my fears that over the years a prolonged stay in the Premier League would see the same thing happen to Canaries fans. Enjoy it while it lasts, I suppose and hope that, if it comes to that, the novelty doesn’t wear off.
• I’d love to see Norwich players in the England squad and don’t subscribe to the argument that it’s better they stay away so as to not get injured. And as much as I rate John Ruddy as an emerging Premier League talent, a handful of top league games should not be enough to warrant a call-up. The fact Fabio Capello seemingly had little options for back-up to Joe Hart other than an overrated ‘keeper in Turkey (Scott Carson), one in a struggling Championship side (David Stockdale), another who too often freezes on the big stage (Robert Green) and one who has only just reached double figures for top flight games (Ruddy) shows how slim the pickings are.
• Regular readers should know by now that I love nothing more than a good statistic. I’m a true statto at heart and, as sad as it is, much of the preparation for this column is spent delving into the stats trying to uncover something no one else has. But there are times when statistics should be taken with a pinch of salt as they can easily distort the true facts. Prior to Villa we were unbeaten in three, and can be proclaimed as being on a good run of form. But with the defeat the situation has, if you believe what the statistics say, completely changed and we now haven’t won in three. Whereas in reality very little has changed, a different picture can easily be portrayed.
• We all know that Lambert looks for a certain quality in his players, a desire to win and a never-say-die attitude. It’s why we have seen so many last-gasp comebacks in the last two years and part of the reason why so many signings have been able to make the next step up. Well we certainly saw that trait in striker Steve Morison following last week’s defeat, which he scathingly described as “just not good enough”. To give credit to the Norwich players, it’s been refreshing to hear so many of them talking so openly and honestly this season.