City must deliver from home double-header
DAVID CUFFLEY I don't think it's exaggerating to say that Norwich City's next two matches at Carrow Road will be among the most important in years - not because of what they can achieve by winning them, but because of the dangerous possibilities that open up if they don't.
I don't think it's exaggerating to say that Norwich City's next two matches at Carrow Road will be among the most important in years - not because of what they can achieve by winning them, but because of the dangerous possibilities that open up if they don't.
Barnsley's 2-0 victory against Luton Town at Kenilworth Road last Saturday, secured while the Canaries were returning home after the late postponement of their game at Burnley, left Peter Grant's men just five points clear of the bottom three in the Coca-Cola Championship.
It's true that City had a game in hand on five of the seven teams below them in the table this morning - and Leicester will also have played a game more after today's trip to Cardiff - but the notion that the play-off places are just as easily within reach as the drop zone no longer applies.
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With City 13 points adrift of the top six this morning - and it will be 15 if Cardiff have won this afternoon - there is no question which end of the table we are more likely be studying in the weeks ahead.
An unhealthy 21st in the current form table with only Leeds United, Burnley and Coventry City below them, the Canaries are still five or six wins short of guaranteeing Championship status for next season.
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I said on this page back in October, after Nigel Worthington's sacking and before the appointment of Peter Grant, that the first task for the new manager would be avoiding the drop.
Four wins in the first six league games under Grant suggested that it was an unnecessarily cautious assessment, but with only two wins in the last 11 Championship matches - and nine points out of a possible 33 - it applies just as much now as it did then.
One quick look at the table suggests that the Canaries cannot be confident of taking more than the odd scrap on their travels, having collected just 10 points out of a possible 42 away from home.
If they are to turn the tide after a dismal December and jittery January, they are going to have to do it at home, and they will get no better chance than the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday and Leeds next Saturday. Five of City's seven home games after this double-header are against teams in the top six this morning.
Derby, Birmingham, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton are all heading this way, and another of those home matches is the East Anglian derby against Ipswich, who have been beaten just once in their last five visits to Carrow Road.
So the barren spell has to be ended this week with a bare minimum of four points from the two games, and preferably six, if Grant's team are to put some daylight between themselves and the danger zone.
Of course, it's easier said than done, especially as City's home form, which has seen them through difficult times in previous seasons when they have struggled on their travels, has also taken a turn for the worse.
A run of just two wins out of the last six home matches - during which Sheffield Wednesday and Plymouth have left with three points and even Hull and Southend have departed with one each - has shaken the foundations of what was for so long, at times unjustifiably, referred to as “Fortress Carrow Road”. The only resemblance to a Fortress in recent weeks has been the grey walls of the back of the hotel springing up between the Barclay Stand and Jarrold Stand.
Wolves would argue that they were well worth the point they snatched from the Canaries in stoppage time at Molineux two days before Christmas, but there was no question which team played the better football on the day and it should have been three points in the bag and a hat-trick of victories in the West Midlands for Grant and his team. Ominously, though, both goals were scored by Robert Earnshaw, and it was one of only two occasions when City have scored more than once under their new boss, in 17 league games.
The visit to Leeds on the opening day of the season seems a lifetime ago, but though David Healy's penalty gave the Elland Road club victory, they looked a poor side even then. Results under Dennis Wise have been no more favourable than under Kevin Blackwell and the Canaries will be wasteful, to say the least, if they fail to see off next week's visitors.
The City boss would not look beyond the weekend at his weekly Press conference at Colney and insisted that they had to focus solely on today's FA Cup fourth round tie at Blackpool and take one game at a time.
He said: “The next game is the most important one. We are only concerned about Blackpool and if that's the catalyst or springboard to push us on, I'll be absolutely delighted, but I'm only concerned about Blackpool, getting through to the next round of the Cup.
“That's the way you've got to be. You've got to be single-minded and that's the way you've got to approach it as a player, as a coach as a manager.”
But there is no doubt this home double-header looms large and, whatever has befallen the Canaries at Bloomfield Road this afternoon, failure to deliver the goods at Carrow Road this week will leave a much bigger shadow than that cast by Blackpool Tower.