Norwich City’s games against bottom half teams may hold key
Completing the first 10 matches is often talked about as something of a yardstick in the football season – the time when you start to get a sense of what sort of campaign is in store.
Two Norwich City managers in the not too distant past have in fact departed after 10 games, and if that’s any guide, then to borrow a popular chant, I’m getting sacked in the morning.
In the Pink ’Un’s “Win, Lose or Draw” league table, based on our pre-match predictions of the results of City’s Premier League fixtures, I’m currently rock bottom with four points from 10 games.
I could also point out which two gentlemen of the Press are keeping me company in the bottom three – both of them only one point ahead of my meagre tally – but it might make for a bit of stick when we travel to Reading together tomorrow.
In my defence, I should say that I predicted four points for the Canaries from their games against Aston Villa and Stoke City. It’s just that I went for a win at Villa and a draw against the Potters – and both those results might easily have been achieved in the closing stages of those games.
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But the table that really matters is the one that has provided some much-needed cheer in the past fortnight.
Taking seven points from three games – after just three points from the first seven – has lifted Chris Hughton’s team out of the Premier League relegation zone into 14th place, five points clear of the bottom three.
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It doesn’t mean we can all relax, of course – the job is only a quarter done – but if the 10-match mark is any guide, three of the bottom four clubs at this stage last season did end up getting relegated.
Wigan were bottom with five points, long before they embarked on their latest Great Escape, but reading upwards from the bottom, Bolton (6), Blackburn (6) and Wolves (8) all went down to the Championship. Norwich, on the back of a profitable early autumn, were eighth with 13 points, and went on to finish 12th.
Hughton is wary of reading anything into Premier League positions at this stage, however.
Asked yesterday if he felt the table was taking shape and that a pattern was beginning to emerge, he argued: “No, I don’t think it is. For whatever reason, you can possibly pick out Liverpool at this moment who perhaps haven’t started as well as people might have thought. But they are one team I am quite sure from this point of the season will make progress and will climb that table.
“If you’re thinking the shape of the league is starting to form at this stage, equally there are so many changes that can be made, so many good runs that can happen over a period of time.
“There is such a long way to go, teams have shown it in the past, like Wigan’s late run towards the end of last season, so I don’t think you want to start thinking that way.
“The best way always is to work for that next game and if you’re on a good run, try to sustain it for as long as possible. If you get that bad performance or bad result, try to bounce back as quick as you can and keep everybody on their toes.”
One thing that is clear is that beating the teams around them – or below them – will do the Canaries more good, mathematically if not psychologically, than a marvellous victory like the one over Arsenal.
City took 12 points out of 12 from their fellow promoted clubs last season, doubled Bolton and took four points against Wolves.
And five of their next seven league games are against teams in the bottom half, starting at Reading tomorrow.
“Our season won’t depend on this game but it does go without saying that where we are it is going to be tough to get the points against the bigger teams,” said Hughton. “Fortunately for us we were able to do that against Arsenal. Home games are maybe a little bit of a different proposition.
“There are a group of teams when, yes, you might more opportunities to get points against them. But the others would say the same when they are playing against Norwich City.”
Winger Anthony Pilkington agreed that taking points off the teams below you was the best way to keep them at arm’s length.
“At the start of the season you look at these games and you hope to pick up as many points as you can from the teams you think may be in and around you come the end of the season,” he said.
“They’re really important – points against the likes of Spurs and Arsenal, they’re bonuses.”