Omens are good as City face real test of character
Getting 10 matches under your belt is generally seen as the first marker point in the football season – the day when you begin to see what kind of campaign might be in store for your team.
City’s current position in the table is certainly a dramatic improvement on their standing at the same stage of their last three Championship seasons and probably exceeds the expectations of those fans who spoke about this as being a campaign for consolidation, whatever that is.
Four years ago today, a 4-1 home defeat by Burnley left City in 17th place with 11 points from 10 games and signalled the end of Nigel Worthington’s managerial reign.
Three seasons ago, the 10th league match was the 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers that left the Canaries third from bottom with eight points and led to Peter Grant’s exit as manager by mutual consent.
Go back two years and a 2-1 home defeat by Derby meant City were fourth from bottom with 10 points from 10 games and a similar pattern was emerging, although Glenn Roeder’s departure as boss did not come until January, when his team was still fourth from bottom.
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For the purposes of this comparison, Paul Lambert’s newly-promoted side already has 16 points and one game to spare, more on a par with Worthington’s first three full seasons in charge when City had 19, 21 and 20 points, respectively, from the first 10 matches.
We all know that the first of those seasons led to a play-off final and the third to the Nationwide League title, but it’s premature to talk in those terms.
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As I said a few weeks ago on this page, the fixture list from mid-October to the end of November – starting with the trip to current leaders Queens Park Rangers and ending with the derby at home to Ipswich – has a more testing look about it than the schedule so far and is likely to tell us more about the Canaries’ capabilities.
But kick off December still in the top six and who knows where it could lead . . . don’t book a holiday for May just yet.
• TIME FOR AN END TO THESE SHENANIGANS
There are quite a few sights on the football field that we could do without.
The match officials’ synchronised warm-up is one, a kind of Strictly Come Prancing routine, in this case for the judges rather than the contestants.
Goalscorers leaping into the front row of the crowd to embrace supporters is a needless bit of self-indulgence. Fans are told under no circumstances to come on to the playing area, so why should the players invade their territory?
Then we have the great time-wasting drama, especially in international matches and European ties, of scorers charging across to the dugout to embrace everyone within range bar the fourth official.
Players taking the ball down to the corner flag, turning their back on their opponents and rolling it under one foot is another no-no. It’s nothing less than obstruction in my book and if they get kicked in the back of the legs, they can hardly complain.
And we saw another of the great irritations at Carrow Road on Tuesday night – the mad scramble for the ball in the back of the net after a late goal is scored.
Matt Fryatt was deservedly sent off for his assault on City’s Leon Barnett, a moment of madness given that the Leicester substitute looked the best striker on show, a player well capable of completing a hat-trick and earning his side at least a point, had he stayed on the field long enough.
No matter how quickly the attacking team gets the ball back to the centre spot, they still have to wait for their opponents to kick off.
Surely the sensible move is for only goalkeepers to be allowed to retrieve the ball from the net, leaving the referee to make his own allowances for any time wasting. It would negate the need for an unseemly tug-of-ball between forwards desperate to hurry the game along and defenders equally determined to stop them.
• CLASSIC CANARY CLASH
The last time the Canaries recorded a victory at Ashton Gate, it marked the end of an era in many ways.
They won 3-2, virtually condemning Bristol City to relegation from the top flight, to which they have never returned – though the Robins came very close when they reached the Championship play-off final two years ago. On that April afternoon in 1980, City goalkeeper Roger Hansbury saved a penalty and Keith Robson scored twice but the game was notable in other ways. It was the last away victory the Canaries achieved under John Bond – and Martin Peters scored the 50th and final goal of his City career.
And the Bristol City centre-forward that day, making his last home appearance for the club, was the Norwich City centre-forward by the start of the next season – none other than Joe Royle.