Current form suggests City will break hoodoo
David Cuffley If one talks about bogey teams, Sheffield Wednesday's grip on Norwich City in recent seasons has been unyielding. True, they have a long way to go to match some of City's traditional hoodoo clubs, such as Coventry (three Norwich wins in 52 visits in all competitions) Wolves (one win in 26 trips to Molineux) and Manchester City (just eight wins in 59 matches, home and away).
If one talks about bogey teams, Sheffield Wednesday's grip on Norwich City in recent seasons has been unyielding.
True, they have a long way to go to match some of City's traditional hoodoo clubs, such as Coventry (three Norwich wins in 52 visits in all competitions) Wolves (one win in 26 trips to Molineux) and Manchester City (just eight wins in 59 matches, home and away).
But seven successive victories is about as one-sided as you can get, with the Owls getting their claws on the Canaries in an uncomfortable place and asking them to cough up the points - which they have done with remarkable alacrity, even after outplaying Brian Laws' team in the Hillsborough fog last November.
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That run of defeats has to end, surely, next weekend when the South Yorkshire side arrive at Carrow Road, looking to complete the double over Norwich for the fourth season in a row.
The table tells you it must change - at least, that is, the current form table, with Bryan Gunn's men in the top six in the Championship, based on the last six matches. With City in sixth place, the five clubs above them are all from the real top six, with Wednesday's neighbours, Sheffield United, at the top. Burnley are second, Wolves third, Birmingham fourth and Cardiff fifth. Of the promotion contenders, only Reading are slipping, ninth on current form.
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The Owls are 18th on current form and without a win in five matches. But their real mid-table status, 12 points behind the top six and 10 points clear of the bottom three, should make them ideal opponents next Saturday as they have no hope of promotion and no danger of relegation.
If only football forecasting was that simple - but City ultimately secured their Championship status last season with home wins over two sides with nothing to play for in Burnley and Queens Park Rangers.
For Burnley and Rangers, this time read Wednesday and Watford. The Hornets are just four points clear of City, but have three matches to play before they arrive at Carrow Road on Easter Monday, including successive home games against Southampton and Barnsley. They should be all but safe by then - and these games are the two best opportunities for victory if City can maintain the same level of performance as in the last three matches.
The one question mark is whether the tiresome international interval has broken the Canaries' momentum, for they have not always been at their best after a couple of weeks kicking their heels. But at least all 24 clubs are in the same boat.
So who goes down?
Charlton, the only team in the division without a win in any of their last six matches, appear to be doomed. Even winning all seven of their remaining games would only bring them 50 points, and there is no hint of a miracle recovery.
With home games against Plymouth and Nottingham Forest to come, Blackpool have the opportunity to get out of trouble, while unpredictable Barnsley, with eight games to play, should have enough about them to achieve safety - even if five of those eight matches are away from home and they still have to play three of the promotion contenders.
So it appears most likely it will come down to four clubs battling to avoid the remaining two relegation spots - Norwich, Plymouth, Nottingham Forest and Southampton.
Plymouth, with two wins in their last 15 Championship games, looked a very poor outfit at Carrow Road two weeks ago - certainly inferior to Forest and the Saints when they visited - and on that showing I would be surprised if they escaped the trapdoor to League One.
The Canaries' fate is, at least, in their own hands and, as already mentioned, the next two home games will be absolutely crucial. They must not leave themselves too much to do in the last three games. It could be touch and go, but they have given themselves a good chance of surviving by taking 10 points from the last five games and they will be kicking themselves if they fail now.
Forest look to have a slightly tougher run-in than Southampton, who also have a game in hand on the three teams immediately above them, although Forest have home advantage when they meet the Saints on the last day of the season - making this a very tight one to predict.
As the Saints and the Canaries came up from the third division together in 1960 and neither has dropped to that level since, it would be fitting if they survived together to go into their 50th successive season in one of the top two divisions. But there are seldom such neat conclusions in football, least of all following Norwich City.
t SAD TO HEAR THIS APOLOGIST RUBBISH
It was sad, but no great surprise, to see David Beckham defending Wayne Rooney's antics in getting sent off at Fulham last week.
Beckham said of his England team-mate: “You don't get the great player that he is without the temperament and his attitude.
“Taking that away from a player is dangerous, it changes him.”
Oh dear. How many times has this argument been used to excuse the excesses of top sports stars? We must not take away their “competitive streak” or they wouldn't be the same player. Beckham should know better than to trot out this apologist rubbish.
True sportsmen such as Pele, Eusebio and Bobby Charlton didn't need it, so why do Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo?
John McEnroe was indulged for years while taking blatant advantage of opponents and weak-kneed Wimbledon officials with outrageous behaviour. Cricket authorities have repeatedly failed to deal with the kind of verbal abuse delivered by mouthy Australians and, sadly, a few prominent England players, who “just wouldn't be the same” without their aggression.
“Save Your Love” used to be the message in song from Renee and Renato (an Aston Villa fan, apparently). In the case of Rooney and Ronaldo, it has to be “Save Your Lip”.