Norwich City’s performance at Sunderland will act as clear reminder
One would not expect one defeat to seriously damage morale in the Norwich City camp after what was a positively triumphant January for Paul Lambert’s team, but Wednesday’s result at the Stadium of Light will have reminded anyone who needed reminding that there is still work to do to secure Premier League football for another season.
The Canaries may be as little as three wins, at the most four, away from reaching a points total that will guarantee safety and, with 15 games to go, there is no reason to suppose they are not capable of getting them.
But the poor display against Sunderland, one of probably only four league matches this season when City were distinctly second best – the others being Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham – cannot afford to be repeated too often if there is not to be the odd glance over the shoulder in the weeks ahead.
Without considering the pleasant distraction of an FA Cup fifth round home tie, a rarity we should savour in spite of the killjoys who disparage the competition, February has a tricky look to it and beating Bolton Wanderers, or at least securing a draw that maintains the points gap on the fourth from bottom club and takes City to the 30-point mark, is important, not least because of the two games that follow.
The victory at the Reebok Stadium in September, the first on City’s return to the top flight, was more impressive than the 2-1 scoreline suggested, but it will not be so easy.
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Bolton’s goalless draw with Arsenal on Wednesday night made it just one defeat in eight games for Owen Coyle’s team, so the green shoots of revival are starting to show and they will be in good heart ahead of the trip to Carrow Road.
After that comes a trip to Swansea City, not a particularly happy hunting ground, taking on a team beaten just once at home and with the second best defensive home record in the division – only seven goals conceded in 12 games at the Liberty Stadium.
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Joint leaders Manchester United arrive on February 26 and they have been beaten just once on their travels, at Newcastle, where they conceded three of the seven goals they have let in away from home in 11 games, the best defensive away record in the division.
In short, any points taken from the Swans or United have to be regarded as a bonus, putting just a little more significance on the Bolton game.
March, with home games against bottom pair Wigan and Wolves, still appears to be the month when City can do most to put themselves out of harm’s way.
• ‘JED GOOD’ HITS HIGH NOTE ON HIS DEBUT
Goalkeeper Jed Steer’s man of the match performance on his debut in the 2-1 FA Cup win at West Bromwich Albion is just the latest in a long line of memorable first outings for City’s young brigade.
The 19-year-old, labelled “Jed Good” in one national newspaper, deserved the plaudits heading his way, though he was made to wait for his second appearance when John Ruddy was recalled at Sunderland.
But until the Return of the Jed, here are 10 more of City’s teenage dream debuts . . .
• Clive Payne (aged 18 v Ipswich, Sept 3, 1968): Full-back Payne was one of three teenagers to feature in a memorable 4-2 League Cup win over newly-promoted Town at Portman Road, when Hugh Curran scored a hat-trick for the Canaries.
• Phil Lythgoe (aged 18 v Manchester City, Jan 21, 1978): Match of the Day cameras captured winger Lythgoe’s first outing in place of the injured Jimmy Neighbour, but a promising display could not prevent a 3-1 home defeat, City’s first of the season.
• Justin Fashanu (aged 17 v West Bromwich Albion, Jan 13, 1979): Another Match of the Day baptism as the aggressive centre-forward made his presence felt against Ron Atkinson’s Albion in a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road.
• Billy Steele (aged 18 v Ipswich, Dec 26, 1973): A surprise Boxing Day derby debutant in John Bond’s fourth game in charge, Scottish youngster Steele’s thunderous shot rebounded off the bar for Ted MacDougall to give City the lead. Alas, Town hit back for a 2-1 away win.
• Dave Bennett (aged 19 v Manchester United, Sept 26, 1979): With just one substitute’s appearance under his belt, former Manchester City apprentice Bennett was handed his full debut in the League Cup against United and scored in a 4-1 home victory.
• Robert Green (aged 19 v Ipswich, Apr 11, 1999): No sign of nerves as Green was thrust into an East Anglian derby, flattening skipper Matt Jackson with one attempt to punch clear and making a brilliant save from David Johnson to keep a clean sheet in a goalless draw.
• Louie Donowa (aged 19 v Manchester United, Oct 3, 1983): After two brief outings as substitute, Donowa marked his first full game for City with a dramatic last-minute equaliser as they fought back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3.
• Ryan Jarvis (aged 16 v Wolves, Apr 21, 2003): Two days after a record-breaking first appearance as a substitute at Walsall, Jarvis briefly became a TV star, his confident full debut the one bright spot in a 3-0 home defeat that ended City’s play-off hopes.
• Andy Marshall (aged 19 v Newcastle, Dec 31, 1994): Four days after his first outing as a substitute for the badly injured Bryan Gunn, Marshall was handed his full Premiership debut, defying Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle as the Canaries won 2-1.
• Dale Gordon (aged 17 v Liverpool, Aug 25, 1984): Caister-born winger Gordon tormented international full-back Alan Kennedy with a brilliant debut performance at Carrow Road as City secured a 3-3 draw with a last-minute Mike Channon penalty.