Norwich City can make the top two - Birtles
Michael Bailey Sky TV pundit Garry Birtles believes Norwich City have more than enough to catch League One's top two and win automatic promotion this season. The former Nottingham Forest striker was in the commentary box for the Canaries' sublime performance - but ultimately deflating defeat - at Leeds United on Monday night, after Fraser Forster's howler left City with nothing to show for their display against the league leaders.
Sky TV pundit Garry Birtles believes Norwich City have more than enough to catch League One's top two and win automatic promotion this season.
The former Nottingham Forest striker was in the commentary box for the Canaries' sublime performance - but ultimately deflating defeat - at Leeds United on Monday night, after Fraser Forster's howler left City with nothing to show for their display against the league leaders.
However, 53-year-old Birtles - speaking to the Evening News - saw enough in City's slick showing to think they can claw back the nine-point gap to Charlton in League One's second automatic promotion spot.
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“The way Norwich played, you've got to see them being well in contention to go up either automatically or definitely in the play-offs,” said Birtles, who does not think the Canaries are already too far behind, with a quarter of the season gone.
“No, we're not even in November yet. There are two places to go up automatic so each could have a problem at some point in the season.
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“Look at the Championship, everybody thought Newcastle, West Brom and Middlesbrough were running away with it a few weeks ago. Now they're are struggling to win and it's all very tight up there.
“Things can turn round quickly and teams will get their chances to pick up. Norwich looked sharp, closed Leeds down well and the whole package looked very, very good indeed.”
Birtles could not help but admire City's flowing football - as well as the way manager Paul Lambert handled such a “galling” defeat.
“That's how you love to see football played,” said Birtles. “I've always played in teams myself, under Brian Clough and even Alan Buckley at Grimsby, getting the ball down and getting it into wide areas.
“Saturday (at home to Swindon) is a good one to go back into. My old team-mate is manager down there, Danny Wilson, and he'll have them up for it. He plays the same way, so again it should be another entertaining one.
“But I think Norwich should take great encouragement from Monday's game and I was delighted to hear Paul Lambert's comments afterwards.
“He didn't give his 'keeper stick, said it was a magnificent performance. Some managers would've maybe gone the other way, we threw it away and all that.
“But Paul didn't. He was positive and players pick up on that, so they should go into the next game full of confidence.
“He did throw himself to the floor with his hands to his head, but that was the reaction at that moment. After that, you think about the overall picture and think we deserved to win the game, we played superbly and you take the positives.
“Clough always did that. He would never dwell on what you couldn't do, it was how well you did, and I think Paul Lambert is the same. I think, on reflection, he looked at that game and thought 'Phwoar, I'm pretty please with that'.”
Although some have questioned Lambert's decision not to bring on fresh legs until the final moments at Elland Road, Birtles believes Lambert had every reason to leave things as they were for so long.
“I think the one substitute that did change the game was Max Gradel for Leeds,” he said. “He inspired them to win that game . . . sometimes it can pay off to bring somebody on if you've got somebody of that ilk.
“I just thought I was so impressed with Norwich, at that late stage it's difficult for a sub to get involved.
“I know it was Forster's slip for the goal, but my biggest gripe was the back four. They were all facing the other way. You can't do that. I was always told you don't turn your back on the ball until it's gone past you.
“Beckford was the only one facing the right way and because of that he scored the winner, and for me that was shocking defending.
“Forster looked to be injured and wasn't kicking the ball particularly well anyway, and if that's the case it makes it even worse that the defenders had just switched off and were looking the wrong way, it cost them a point which they richly deserved.
“Goalkeepers do make mistakes and when they do it's highlighted. A midfield player gives it away, he doesn't get pilloried for it because most of the time you get it back. No, you put him back in goal.”
Birtles thinks City will be in the shake-up for automatic promotion, but Leeds are in pole position - on and off the field - to take the title.
“If Leeds win their game in hand they go five points clear of second place, so they're going to be difficult to peg back because they have got the resources and can possibly spend in January as well,” he said.
“They bought Sam Vokes in, who turned down three Championship sides apparently, so that tells you their pulling power.
“Norwich might have the wherewithal to bring people in and strengthen a little bit, and if they have then they can go on. Anything's possible with the way they play.”