Last day heroics the only hope
David Cuffley Norwich City must break a sequence of dismal results on the last day of the season to give themselves any chance of Championship survival.The Canaries have been beaten in their final fixture for the last four years, starting with the 6-0 humiliation at Fulham that ended their Premiership stay under former boss Nigel Worthington in 2005, followed by a 2-1 home defeat by Wolves on their return to the second flight, then successive last day disappointments at Sheffield Wednesday, where they were beaten 3-2 under Peter Grant then 4-1 under Glenn Roeder.
Norwich City must break a sequence of dismal results on the last day of the season to give themselves any chance of Championship survival.
The Canaries have been beaten in their final fixture for the last four years, starting with the 6-0 humiliation at Fulham that ended their Premiership stay under former boss Nigel Worthington in 2005, followed by a 2-1 home defeat by Wolves on their return to the second flight, then successive last day disappointments at Sheffield Wednesday, where they were beaten 3-2 under Peter Grant then 4-1 under Glenn Roeder.
The last time City ended a season on a winning note was the 3-1 win at Crewe in 2004, when they were already Nationwide League champions.
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The disastrous trip to Craven Cottage four years ago will have weighed heavily on the minds of fans in the build-up to the game against Charlton Athletic at The Valley (1.15pm), though only two current players - Adam Drury and the on-loan Jason Shackell - were involved in that game.
A better omen is that City's 1-0 win at Queens Park Rangers in March at least ended a dismal run in the capital. It was their first victory over a London club on their own ground for six years.
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Manager Bryan Gunn is desperately hoping his players can take another London scalp and complete only their second double of the season - and he reckons avoiding relegation would top anything he achieved in his City playing days.
With the Canaries hovering over the trapdoor to League One, Gunn has maintained a positive outlook and still believes his team can survive, although he spoke of hoping for a “miracle” after Monday's 2-0 defeat by Reading.
“We need to win our game and we need Barnsley to lose theirs,” he said. "I don't know if it's a miracle. I did use the word the other night but I probably shouldn't have done because it's realistic.
“We know that it's going to be a difficult game at The Valley, but realistically it's one we can win and realistically Barnsley can lose at Plymouth.
“Finish the season with a victory and who knows what will be the outcome at Home Park?
“I want players on the pitch who believe we'll win our game and also believe that Plymouth will beat Barnsley. I want positive people out there but we'll fight and battle to the last minute to make sure this club gets a victory.”
And if they complete their escape act, Gunn will be prouder than at any time in his career.
“Definitely - it would be a massive achievement,” he said. “That was the mission when we set out. My first game on January 17 against Barnsley which we won 4-0 could be the crucial game - as long as we win our game and Barnsley get beaten.”
Winger Lee Croft is almost certain to miss the game with a calf injury.
Said Gunn: “It's unlikely he'll play - he's been out training with Simon Spencer, but he's probably not going to have enough in the tank to give us a full 100 per cent. He was 50-50 last week but I think he's unlikely this week.
“There is still some pain there. He's trying to build up the work he does, but is still finding it difficult to do it flat out, 100 per cent.
“We will need every fit body on the pitch that we can muster.”
Defenders Shackell (hamstring) and Jon Otsemobor (dead leg) and goalkeeper David Marshall (dead leg) have all been under treatment but were back in training yesterday.
For Charlton, Lloyd Sam is a doubt after picking up a throat infection, while Yassin Moutaouakil (thigh) and Chris Dickson (groin) have also joined the queue for the treatment room. Matt Holland (knee), Darren Ambrose (thigh), Jonathan Fortune (Achilles), Jose Semedo (ankle) and Andy Gray (pelvis) are all sidelined.
Last day delight
1972 - Watford 1, Norwich 1 (Division Two): Dave Stringer's goal clinched the Division Two championship as the Canaries reached the top flight for the first time under Ron Saunders.
1985 - Chelsea 1, Norwich 2 (Division One): The Milk Cup-winning Canaries thought they had guaranteed survival with victory at Stamford Bridge, only for Coventry to win their last three games in bizarre circumstances to send them down.
1987 - Arsenal 1, Norwich 2 (Division One): City's first league victory at Highbury, with Bryan Gunn, Ian Butterworth and Ian Crook in the side, clinched fifth place in Division One, their highest finish until then.
1993 - Middlesbrough 3, Norwich 3 (FA Premier League): The point City took from a six-goal thriller at Ayresome Park gave them third place in the top flight, and ultimately clinched a UEFA Cup spot.
2002 - Norwich 2, Stockport 0 (Nationwide League Division One): Goals from Phil Mulryne and Malky Mackay secured a play-off place as City ended the season with a storming run.
Last day despair
1939 - Norwich 1, Nottingham Forest 0 (Division Two): City were relegated despite beating fellow strugglers Forest, who pipped them for the last safe spot by just 0.048 on goal average.
1966 - Charlton 2, Norwich 1 (Division Two): Defeat at The Valley ended Ron Ashman's reign as manager - and his 22-year association with the club.
1981 - Norwich 2, Leicester 3 (Division One): A Jim Melrose hat-trick for already-relegated Leicester shattered City's survival hopes, though the result became irrelevant after Sunderland won at Liverpool.
1995 - Norwich 1, Aston Villa 1 (FA Premiership): A dreadful afternoon of protests and police horses as City, already relegated, played out a meaningless draw with Villa.
2005 - Fulham 6, Norwich 0 (Barclays Premiership): The Canaries' late-season rally meant a win at Craven Cottage would guarantee survival, but they were utterly humiliated.