Second has proved to be a hard spot to hang on to
Is this Norwich City team currently producing the highest quality of football witnessed by the fans in the club’s 109-year history?
This may seem like a ridiculous question given that during this time the club has regularly performed in the top tier of English football and has even tasted some success in Europe.
However, when you consider that modern day professional football is widely regarded as being played at an increasingly higher level and quicker pace it may not be that ridiculous after all.
As far as many are concerned the standard in the Championship is easily higher than that in the Premier League as recent as 15 or 20 years ago.
Of course it is a debate for which there will never be an answer. Oh how we would all long to see Paul Lambert’s team do battle with the Milk Cup winning side of 1985 or Mike Walker’s European heroes.
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But whatever your views there can sure be no denying that at times the performance against Bristol City on Monday, and by all accounts Leicester last week, were of a standard unlikely to have been witnessed by many modern day supporters of the club.
At times during Monday’s 3-1 victory the passing, moving and above all else sheer desire to win was of such high quality that I doubt many Premier League teams could have held out, let alone a Bristol City one which seemed so intent on securing nothing more than a draw.
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There were stand-out performances all over the place and yet again Paul Lambert continues to defy with his ability to get a new level out of players who are already performing in a league they have little or no previous experience of.
Would Grant Holt, Andrew Crofts, David Fox, Zak Whitbread and Marc Tierney, all League One players just a year ago, look out of place in an established Premiership team like Everton or Aston Villa the way they are playing at the moment?
For me though there remain two key members of the team for whom so much of the current success relies upon – one of whom you will guess, the other you may not.
That Wes Hoolahan is unwanted by the Republic of Ireland the way he is playing can only be good news for Norwich.
In fact is it too late for Fabio Capello to check out whether he has a British grandmother hidden away somewhere?
He may have only received a six and a seven from Archant’s usually spot-on Norwich City correspondents, but I thought he was at the heart of pretty much every attack Norwich created.
Russell Martin meanwhile continues to sparkle and I would go so far as to say he is as vital to the team as Hoolahan the creator.
There’s a reason why Norwich are currently playing with no designated right-midfielder and that’s because Martin himself can perfectly fill the role, but at the same time maintain his defensive work.
That Martin is effectively fulfilling two position at the minute, bombing up and down the touchline with no hint of tiring, is key to the midfield’s success because that is where Norwich gets the extra man and are able to mount attack after attack.
And suddenly it all starts to feel very real. There has, at times at Carrow Road this season, been a bit of a tepid atmosphere. Almost suggesting that many of the doom and gloom merchants are just waiting for the bubble to burst.
You could sense the buzz on Monday and I’ll admit that, for the first time this season, I left the ground excitedly discussing the possibility of going to esteemed places like Old Trafford, The Emirates Stadium, Anfield and of course Bloomfield Road next season.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves because we are now in the position that it would seem every club this season is finding just a bit too hot to handle.
I spoke two weeks ago of the increased pressure being put on to the players in the past few weeks and the fact that the team that goes up will be the one that can best handle it.
And it appears all of Norwich’s closest rivals have been suffering from the heebee-jeebies as we enter the season’s climax.
When Norwich moved into second place on Monday it became the 12th time this year that this crucial position has changed hands. That’s a dozen times in just 10 weeks of football.
Furthermore, a closer look at the statistics show that each time a team moves into second, they then struggle for form.
In nine of the instances that a new team has moved into second they have failed to win their next game. Only twice has a team newly moved into second picked up six or more points in their next three games.
Once was Cardiff. The second was Norwich who moved into second place following a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace on January 29 and won two out of their next three games.
We can only hope this shows that while some teams can’t handle the pressure of moving into a top two slot, one of them is not the Canaries.
• FIVE OF THE REST
1. Where do Sky position their sound equipment? Those of you watching at home would have been forgiven for thinking there was a quiet atmosphere at Carrow Road against Bristol City. Believe me there was not.
2. Many Norwich fans may have grown used to our club being repeatedly ignored by certain sections of the national media but it is good to see that the influential Four-Four-Two magazine knows when credit is due. Wes Hoolahan was listed among its top 10 players in the Championship list and Paul Lambert one of its five best managers. Other top player highlights in their respective leagues included Brighton’s Elliott Bennett and our very own Cody McDonald.
3. Not only are there just six points between us and the four teams below but the goal differences of those teams ranges from plus 11 to plus 16. Andrew Surman’s injury-time goal could yet prove vital.
4. Two goals at the end of Monday’s game could not mask our one Achilles heel this season – finishing teams off when playing well. In only six of Norwich’s 18 wins this season have we been victorious by two goals or more, meanwhile our last six home games have stood at 1-1 as the game entered its final moments. Further proof of the need for that second prolific striker?
5. Speaking of which, when launching my “CMS” campaign I never expected to see action so soon. However, this week’s bid for Posh hot-shot Craig Mackail-Smith was great news and hopefully shows the new found ambition within the boardroom. Let’s hope he’s here in time for our assault on the Premier League, if not sooner.