Fleming backs City to triumph in battle of his old clubs
Craig Fleming believes Norwich City will do the business at his other old stamping ground tomorrow, if they are on their game. The Canaries travel to Boundary Park for the first time since the end of the 1996-97 season to face Oldham Athletic (3pm) - a side for whom Fleming made 192 appearances before an almost decade-long spell at Norwich.
Craig Fleming believes Norwich City will do the business at his other old stamping ground tomorrow, if they are on their game.
The Canaries travel to Boundary Park for the first time since the end of the 1996-97 season to face Oldham Athletic (3pm) - a side for whom Fleming made 192 appearances before an almost decade-long spell at Norwich.
And after winning an old Division One championship medal with City, Fleming expects the League One leaders to have enough to return to English football's second tier come the end of the spring.
“From what I've seen, if Norwich go out and do what they can do, they don't need to worry too much about the opposition,” said Fleming.
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“I haven't seen too many games live but I went on Tuesday night and I've spoken to a few people, and I honestly think if Norwich are anywhere near their game they are probably the best team in the division.”
That midweek game saw a sluggish City performance almost end in tears against Southend at Carrow Road, only for substitute Oli Johnson to score two goals in the final 16 minutes - the winner in the fourth and final minute of injury time - to turn the game on its head and keep Norwich clear at the League One summit.
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“They were huge goals, obviously,” said Fleming, as the Canaries tried to cope with the absence of Darel Russell, who served the first of a three-match suspension for his red card against Southampton on Saturday.
“Games like that - everything wasn't flowing, they missed Rusty, you could tell it wasn't a flowing performance. But to come out of that with a victory and three points, obviously there is a steely determination there in the squad that ultimately will win you championships.
“It certainly wins you promotion, games like that where you come out and think 'how did we win that one?' I look back to when we won the league and we came out of games sometimes thinking 'crikey, did we really win that one?' But you have that steely resolve that you're not beaten till that final whistle blows.
“There was the game at Reading, at home to Derby as well. You look back at the season and there are games like that where there are a few things that go against you - obviously with Darel's sending off (on Saturday) and it not being rescinded, and then not really purring in the game (on Tuesday), but still coming out with three points.”
Luke Daley, Adam Drury, Zak Whitbread and Cody McDonald are most likely another week away from a first team return. But manager Paul Lambert has no new injury worries ahead of the game against Athletic, who sit in League One's relegation zone and are comfortably the division's lowest scorers.
A far cry from Fleming's time at Boundary Park - when the Latics were, like Norwich, regularly upsetting teams in English football's top flight.
“I was fortunate enough to probably play when it was their golden era,” he said. “It was always a bit of a culture shock for the big boys when we enjoyed three or four years in the top flight there.
“It was bloody freezing more often than not, the pitch wasn't the best and it was quite an intimidating place at the time.
“I think the club were very much punching above their weight and the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Manchester United (in 1994), in hindsight was quite pivotal to what happened.
“We just never really recovered from it, we got relegated that season and (manager) Joe Royle left, who was massive for the club. It just went into freefall from there which was really sad.
“To be honest with you, in my career at Oldham and Norwich it's been quite ridiculous how it's popped up. My last ever game for Oldham was against Norwich, my last game for Oldham in the Premiership was against Norwich.
“I was fortunate that when I was there we were playing in front of full houses, playing against the big boys, so it was a great atmosphere. There is a real hardcore at Boundary Park and they get behind them.”
While City take on Oldham on Saturday, Fleming - part of the management team at Ryman League Division One North leaders Lowestoft Town - will be hoping the Blues can beat Enfield Town at Crown Meadow to see them take another step closer to promotion to the Premier Division.
The Trawler Boys face the unenviable position of having to play 11 games next month, and Fleming said: “It's crazy, we'll have to look at it and maybe mix it up with who plays.”
t Oldham officials are confident tomorrow's League One game against the Canaries at Boundary Park will go ahead as planned.
The Latics' pitch was frozen under two inches of snow and unplayable earlier in the week but milder temperatures should safeguard City's scheduled trip to the north west.
No overnight frosts are forecast in the lead-up to the game while the pitch traditionally drains well and should be able to cope with the heavy rain forecast for today.