Norwich City may hope a traditional Christmas doesn’t come at all
- Credit: Lee Blanchflower
It’s the season to be wary – there’s a nice sentiment to begin a festive column. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start lamenting the traditional post-turkey decline that used to affect Norwich City.
Not that I couldn’t opt for such a tack if I wanted. As recent as last year, stuffing took a literal relevance.
December 22, 2012 saw City’s much heralded 10-game unbeaten run come to an end with defeat at West Bromwich Albion last season.
They went on to win just one of their next 16 Premier League games, while adding the humiliation of becoming the division’s first and only side to lose to non-league opposition in the FA Cup.
Those statistics should not be underplayed – as they effectively underpin a lot of the discontent that has reared its rather ugly head each time things got sticky this term.
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City set off on a run of five games in 15 days with their trip to the Stadium of Light on Saturday, as Sunderland – hopefully for one weekend only, tagged as ‘rejuvenated’ – await.
It’s a tough, intense run that can do so much good – or damage – in an unusually short space of time for a Premier League season.
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The equivalent time last term, Chris Hughton’s men lost every game. This time around, the fixtures offer opportunities. Opportunities like travelling to the top-flight’s bottom side. Or hosting a Fulham side who have lost six of their eight away games, conceding 17 goals.
Even a visit from Manchester United, who have lost two of their last three Premier League games at Carrow Road.
And the iconically traditional New Year’s Day trip to Selhurst Park…
OK, admittedly that one is short on redeeming features – apart from the fact Crystal Palace still look like a Championship side playing in the Premier League. And that Marouane Chamakh is the least easy-on-the-eye footballer to ever grace the sport.
We continue to hear from those inside the City camp that this is the club’s best squad since returning to the Premier League – and obviously a few years before too.
Well, the next 15 days are the ideal time to prove it. The chance to accumulate points and momentum, leading into the halfway stage of the season – the first point at which the table has a genuinely fair reflection.
The return of Robert Snodgrass from injury will help – but having Ricky van Wolfswinkel in tow is the real bonus.
In a way, RVW’s absence has allowed Gary Hooper to settle in. And of course, to shine. All of a sudden, Ricky is now returning and getting his chance to do the same – but into a settled surrounding. Knitting around one new striker at a time is far more manageable that two simultaneously.
Hughton’s full complement of striking options hasn’t really ever been available since the summer, given Hooper’s early injury.
Now he gets the chance to truly mix, match and combine RVW, Hooper Luciano Becchio and of course, Johan Elmander – a man rather maligned by some.
But there is more than some appreciate to the big Swede – and don’t just listen to me.
Listen to Bradley Johnson: “Johan’s always positive around the training ground. He’s a great pro and he helps us – he helps me, in my play. He’s always talking on the pitch and he’s so positive. When we went a goal down on Sunday, he was geeing us on and telling us to keep going.”
Next time, watch the way he interacts with his team-mates. The positive vibes and the ground he covers.
You might just find he’s a bit like a Swedish Grant Holt.