Norwich City reality check

Without wishing to put everyone on a downer just as we head into the weekend, I am afraid I have some bad news for every Norwich City fan out there.

At some point in time the glorious rise and rise of our fantastic football club is going to end. There, I have said it.

Since Paul Lambert took over at the helm two and a half years ago, the club has been in almost complete ascendency.

Every single Canary fan among us has been lucky to revel in two promotions in a row. And even when we reached the promised land of the Premier League, the progression hasn’t stopped as the players battled their way towards an unexpected mid-table position.

But I’m not being unfair or overly-pessimistic when I predict that at some point in the future that forward momentum will stop.

It may only be temporary and I don’t know exactly how soon it will happen, but there will be a time when the club appears to be standing still, or perhaps even going backwards a little.

Now I mention this because the reaction of some fans following Sunday’s 1-1 draw against bottom club Wigan has made me reflect not just on how far we have come since the dark days of League One, but more importantly how far we can go. Just what can we realistically expect this club to achieve over the next few years?

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There is some debate as to what exactly the dissenting minority were getting so disgruntled about as the final whistle blew on Sunday – some claim it was the result, others the performance of the referee.

For what it’s worth, from my vantage point in the Barclay, I think it was probably a mix of both. It was clear, though, that a not very happy looking John Ruddy saw it as being an indication of unhappiness at what happened on the field of play.

But there were, and have been on previous occasions when standards have slipped below the normal high levels, some who find it necessary to make their displeasure known vocally to those on the pitch.

But I’m not going to turn this into a column about the rights and wrongs of supporters booing. That’s an issue which has already been discussed at lengths by several of my fellow Archant Norfolk columnists.

For what it’s worth I find it staggering that some people could react in such a way when we have come so far in such a short space of time.

But I do think it is an indication that, as and when as we prepare to enter a second season in the Premier League, many fans are going to have to think hard about their expectations of this Canary side.

Say Norwich manage to secure eighth position come May, it will be an astounding achievement, even more impressive than the two promotions beforehand.

But it would no doubt heap a lot of pressure on the players and management team next season, with the feeling possibly being that anything below that 12 months on would be a failure.

But were eighth secured, how realistic is it to think that Norwich could better that feat in only their second season back in the Premier League?

A sixth or seventh place may be possible, but sadly I fear the days when a club like ours, which doesn’t throw money at anything that moves, can finish in the top five, are a long way from returning.

This is where, over the next couple of seasons, better performance in the cup competitions could become key.

We may not wish to emulate their style of play, but Stoke could become the model for us to emulate. This is their fourth season back in the top flight and they have finished 12th, 11th and 13th, but qualified for Europe after reaching last season’s FA Cup final.

Even if Norwich don’t finish eighth, it is likely their position is way beyond what many dare hoped when the season began.

And there’s no guarantee it could be bettered or even emulated 12 months on.

It is probably fair to say Norwich’s trajectory cannot always go up and it is more likely than not that results such as Sunday’s will happen again.

And when that happens, City fans will need to think long and hard about how they react.

• There’s one Premier League table of which Norwich are clear winners and that is the proportion of home-grown players in the squad of 25. Just last season, clubs agreed to implement a Football Association idea that they must name at least eight home-grown players in their squad of 25. To fit this category a player has to be registered for at least three seasons at an English or Welsh club between the ages of 16 and 21. Players under 21 don’t count in the squad. The aim is to encourage clubs to pay more attention to developing domestic players, rather than simply poach the best from abroad, make clubs more financially stable and hopefully, in the long run, improve the standard of our national side. Just last week the FA trumpeted the fact that figures for home-grown players being used in the Premier League were already on the rise, and they may have well have thanks Norwich by name when doing so. Just two of our 22-man squad, Wes Hoolahan and Simon Lappin, do not fit this category.

• I really hope we get to see Ryan Bennett in a Norwich City shirt between now and the end of the season. Yes, he’s one for the future and there’s no real reason to play him in a hurry, but at the moment he is on the fringes of the England Under-21 squad and therefore a long shot for this summer’s London 2012 Olympic Games. Wouldn’t it be great to see him get in a few top-class performances in a yellow shirt, make the squad and then appear at the Games?

• Message for Mark Hughes. There’s the pot and it’s calling the kettle black. I had to laugh at his criticism of the Football Association, claiming they were calling for goalline technology as a way to mask the poor performance of the match officials. It couldn’t be could it that his criticism of the match officials was simply a way to mask the poor performance of his own no-win-in-six squad?

• On the subject of QPR, if you haven’t seen The Four Year Plan yet I suggest you get on BBC iPlayer and give it a watch. Not only did it make me realise how lucky we are to have become a well-run and financially sound club, it also brought back a lot of memories and emotions of our own promotion to the Premier League. How I’d love Norwich to let the cameras in to see if Delia and co use the same colourful language as Flavio Briatore towards Paul Lambert when things aren’t going well.