Countdown to thrilling finale for Norwich City
Norwich City may need to win as many as 12 of their final 16 Championship games to achieve their dream of automatic promotion.
But eight wins – or the equivalent number of points – should be enough for Paul Lambert’s men to book a play-off place.
Skipper Grant Holt said after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Burnley that the Canaries still had their sights very much on a top two finish.
Over the past 20 seasons, the average points total achieved by teams finishing second in the second tier of English football is 86, though it is difficult to set a precise target. Stoke City were promoted as runners-up three years ago with just 79 points, but Sunderland missed out in 1997-98 despite getting 90.
Fourth-placed Norwich are currently on 51 points with 16 games to play.
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The target for a play-off place, however, is traditionally regarded as 75 points. Only one team in the past two decades has reached 75 points and missed out on a top six spot, and that was Burnley – beaten into sixth place on goal difference by just one goal by Nigel Worthington’s Canaries in 2001-02.
The average total in the same period for a team finishing in sixth place is 73 points, though two sides in the past three seasons have finished sixth with just 70. They were Blackpool, promoted to the Premier League last season through the play-offs, and Watford in 2007-08.
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With just nine points currently separating Cardiff in third place and Hull in 12th, it all adds up to a potentially thrilling final 12 weeks of the season for City fans – and indeed for anyone following a team in the top half.
Lambert has been careful to play down expectations so soon after his team’s return from League One but even he admitted after the Turf Moor defeat: “We’re right in the mix.”
Holt was more specific when he said: “Queens Park Rangers are the team to catch and that’s who we are looking at.
“With the players and the management we’ve got, we want to win the league.”
While City’s remarkable away record – the best in the division apart from leaders QPR – has played a big part in keeping them in the promotion race, they face more big challenges on the road. They have already played the current top three away from home, but must still visit four of the five teams immediately below them in the table, starting with Leeds on Saturday week.
The Canaries’ home programme has a more inviting look about it, with six of the final eight games at Carrow Road against teams currently in the bottom 10. The exceptions are Reading, Saturday’s visitors, and Nottingham Forest, who arrive on April 16.
If only they played on paper.
• PAST 20 SEASONS
(Football League Division Two / Football League Division One/ Championship)
Lowest points total for second place – 79: Stoke (2007-08), Derby (1995-96), Reading (1994-95).
Highest points total for third place – 90: Sunderland (1997-98).
Lowest points total for sixth place – 70: Blackpool (2009-10), Watford (2007-08), Brighton (1990-91).
Highest points total for seventh place – 75: Burnley (2001-02).
• City’s remaining games
Home – Feb 12: Reading. Feb 22: Doncaster. Mar 5: Preston. Mar 14: Bristol City. Apr 2: Scunthorpe. Apr 16: Nottm Forest. Apr 25: Derby. May 8: Coventry.
Away – Feb 19: Leeds. Feb 26: Barnsley. Mar 8: Leicester. Mar 19: Hull. Apr 9: Swansea. Apr 12: Watford. Apr 21: Ipswich. Apr 30: Portsmouth.