Perceptions have hit Norwich City all season – but now they have a Championship corner in their sights to turn against Huddersfield Town, can they turn it?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Perception can be defined as the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted – and it’s been kicking Norwich City where it hurts for almost the entirety of a shocking 2016.
When City were considered safe by many in the Premier League last season – especially compared to Sunderland – they fell apart.
This season when the side made their flying start, relegation hangover cast aside and a Championship title tilt surely guaranteed, they capitulated in a heap like Jordan Ayew under a gust of wind.
And of course, we then have the last few months when things hit rock bottom – or at least they did when you compare it to people’s expectations back in August.
For many, the rollercoaster Norwich City are on is what they would consider standard fare. Meanwhile, some Championship clubs list on in the same division for season after season, barely getting annoyed at their players, manager or board for entrenched mediocrity – and obviously I could be talking about any Championship club that plays in blue and white.
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Perhaps that is a juxtaposition deserving of more time than it gets.
Some fans will tell you Russell Martin can’t play at centre-back. Others will boo him to make the point. On Tuesday it was Sebastien Bassong’s turn – before a single ball had been kicked in anger against Aston Villa.
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Yet the facts state the centre-back that helped City to promotion two seasons ago has also helped the Canaries keep two clean sheets in three Championship games – however poor the opposition.
In fact while City’s form has felt dire, their tally of 33 points from their opening 21 games is exactly where they were at the same point in 2010-11 and 2014-15.
So all’s well, right? Well not really – given this time around the Championship’s top two are much further off in the distance and arguably with the proven pedigree to last the course.
But perhaps more pertinently, is that City themselves picked up 53 and 54 points respectively over the remaining 25 games in those seasons.
Which takes us to the present. Against Brentford, City steamrollered a side whose confidence was shot to bits 5-0, and the result got a lukewarm reception from the home fans. On Tuesday, once again 25,000-odd supporters went to a game fearing the worst – with no doubt some hoping for it too.
The lengthy yellow army chants omitted the manager’s name like a relationship in full breakdown.
Aston Villa’s performance was only marginally better than the Bees, despite the perception they were a different beast under Steve Bruce – no one seemed more disappointed with that revelation than the man himself.
And yet, one piece of Youssouf Mulumbu persistence, one dollop of Nelson Oliveira composure and one collective decision to back the men in yellow busting at least a portion of their gut before their eyes, and the perception Carrow Road has had enough was shattered. The noise like the glimpse of an old flame.
This particular relationship is so complex and the wounds so deep, that come tonight’s visit from Huddersfield the environment could still prove enough to kill it.
But perhaps the perception is now that City can at least see a corner in front of them, to work out if they can get round it.
• JUST SAYING
• It’s been really interesting to speak to two ‘new’ faces after City’s last two games.
Nelson Oliveira is proving a lot of people’s initial judgments wrong – mine included – as he hits his stride. Moreover, he spoke to me so well about wanting to make the most of his big permanent switch after six loans away from Benfica. The hunger was great to see.
And despite arriving in the summer of 2015, Oakwell was the first time anyone had the chance to speak to Youssouf Mulumbu. He admitted to me City fans are still yet to see the best of him – but after Villa and come tonight, you’d like to think we’re now, finally, getting close.
• It’s hard to remember a sacking that has left me more bemused than what Birmingham did on Wednesday.
Gary Rowett deserved so much more; Gianfranco Zola really has his work cut out from here.