Iwan Roberts offers a glimmer of hope for Norwich City fans
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s exactly 104 days since Norwich City lost at Bramall Lane in their last Premier League game before this awful pandemic that’s caused pain and suffering in all four corners of the world.
There is some semblance of normality creeping back into our lives, with the restarting of the football season being one of them.
Whether you think it’s right or wrong for the season to restart is a matter of personal opinion. I have always been in favour of the season concluding in a safe environment, if at all possible. Then, and only then, should the season be permitted to restart - fortunately the league and clubs have come together to ensure this can happen as safely as possible.
Norwich are now in a mini season of nine games, with six other teams fighting for their top-flight status. Granted, Daniel and the lads have got it all to do going into these remaining games, needing to make up six or more points on the teams above them to escape the relegation zone.
It hasn’t been ideal preparation for players to get themselves into peak physical condition for these last nine games, and I can totally understand their concerns before they start playing competitive football again. However, I’ve spoken to a couple of people who work at Premier League clubs and they have told me that every measure has been taken to safeguard the players, the staff, and whoever is going to be allowed into the stadiums for these remaining games.
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Playing behind closed doors is less than ideal, but sadly it is the only way sport of any kind is going to be played for the next few months, and depending on developments it could well be into next year before this changes.
As a player you always want to play in front of sell-out stadiums, with home fans generating a great atmosphere and providing that extra motivation that you sometimes need. Given the position the club are in, there will be no shortage of motivation amongst the players going into this final stretch.
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Norwich go into these matches with just five wins all season, and only two in their last 16 Premier League games. In those last 16 games they have twice scored only two goals or more, a stat which doesn’t fill me with a great deal of optimism that they can stay up. Nonetheless, there’s always a chance – just look at Leicester City’s recovery in 2014/15 before their title-winning season.
So can the Canaries beat the drop? Their last nine games aren’t horrendous, there are teams in that bottom six with much tougher fixtures, so they must believe they can produce a miracle. In the corresponding fixtures against the nine clubs they have left to face, Norwich won just seven points from a possible 27. They will have to at least double this tally to give themselves a real shot at survival.
Norwich have good home fixtures coming up in the next month, starting tonight when Southampton come to Carrow Road. These home games are must win games; draws simply won’t be enough when you’ve got to visit the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal. If Norwich are to win enough points to stay up they are going to be won at home.
Who will finish in the bottom three come the end of July?
I can’t see Aston Villa getting out of trouble. Before their goalless draw against Sheffield United on Wednesday evening they’d lost their previous four league games, and out of their remaining nine games, five are against teams in the top nine, with everything to play for.
I think Brighton will be another team to go down as they also have an extremely tough run of games coming up, including fixtures against each of the top three. Graham Potter’s side have won just one of their last 15 games, which has put them bang in trouble, and they are one of the teams that will visit Carrow Road.
My third team to go down is Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, which obviously means I think Norwich will just escape the drop by the skin of their teeth. It might be a case of heart ruling the head, but I do believe that against all odds the lads can survive.
Who is going to be Norwich’s key man in these final nine games then?
For me it’s a simple answer: top scorer Teemu Pukki. Scoring goals has been a problem for the team, they are the lowest scorers in the league along with Newcastle. Teemu took to the Premier League by storm, scoring five goals in the first four games, but he has not scored a goal from open play since his strike at the King Power back on December 14. He has to find his goalscoring boots in these remaining games if Norwich are secure their Premier League status for the 2020/21 season.