Ten things we’ve learned about the Premier League

1. The impact of getting your first win on the board early cannot be underestimated enough.If we’d only drawn at Bolton a week ago we’d now be bottom of the Premier League table by a clear point and if not fearing the worst certainly feeling a trifle uneasy.

As it is though, we go into tonight’s game with realistic hopes that we could actually manage back-to-back home and away wins in the top flight and put some serious space between ourselves and the bottom three.

Two wins, two draws and two defeats would mark an extremely satisfying start to the season, and having out-thought one side there should be no reason we can’t do it against another.

It would certainly be a contrast to seven years ago – when the second victory of the season finally arrived in fixture number 17.

But whatever happens against Sunderland the frustrations suffered in the first half of the 2004/5 campaign have been banished for now – at least.


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2. There’s no substitute for Premier League experience and we’ve got to pick it up fast. Two seasons ago there was something of a bedding-in period for the Canaries – we won just two of our first nine fixtures but there was still more than enough time to make up for such a slow start.

Last year we lost three of our first eight, but again cancelled this out with just five further defeats in the whole campaign.

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This time around we have to put early points on the board: we’re unlikely to get the chance to make amends.

Which is why the West Brom defeat was so frustrating because it was a fixture most people would have targeted as an achieveable victory.

And that’s probably also true of tonight’s game. Maybe Sunderland will come here with the same gamesmanship approach displayed by the street-wise Baggies, I don’t know, but we cannot afford to be out-thought.

This game, plus next month’s against Swansea and Blackburn, will probably decide our fate – we can’t bank on a repeat of 2005 and four successive home wins to close the season.

3. There is no room for sentiment any more. The last time we came up from the Football League it would have been unthinkable to suggest that the player of the year plus a man who had figured in every minute of every game the season before would not continue to be the first names down on the teamsheet.

But the Premier League just doesn’t work like that any more.

Some of Paul Lambert’s starting line-ups have been a little surprising, to say the least, but as long as we go on averaging a point a game who am I to complain if he decides to unveil a new strike partnership of Simon Lappin and Zak Whitbread?

Last week against Bolton shows how far the manager and his squad have come – there were a few raised eyebrows about Grant Holt not starting but no “you don’t know what you’re doing” chants.

Remember when he was sent off against Brentford in January 2010? The subsequent three-match ban almost seemed like the end of the world.

4. You can now rule QPR out of the running to be the favourites to go down. Sadly – for us, anyway – the Rangers side which started the season is light years away from the one which is going to end it. From a City perspective you just hope that we don’t end up missing out on anything to Bolton by three points or less because Owen Coyle’s side are never going to have as easy a fixture as they one they had at Loftus Road on the first day of the season.

5. We will have no more instances of what the local media might call Woolnoughgate.The national press might be indifferent to City, patronising or maybe just pun-tastic.

But, from what we’ve seen so far, it’s unlikely no one is going to hand out a real kicking and suggest that we shouldn’t be here as long as, for the most part, we go out and give it a real go.

The adventurous Paul Lambert is unlikely to be on the receiving end of an attack to match the one handed out in December 2004, when, after City’s 4-0 rout at Chelsea, the Daily Star’s Brian Woolnough said that the Canaries were “gutless”, that they would “stink the place out with any more Premier League displays like that”, and that, on the basis of the Stamford Bridge performance he “hopes they go down, and good riddance”.

6. Amazingly, there are still instances of outrageously good value to be had in the Premier League. Like a �22 ticket price – less than at Scunthorpe last season, although I appreciate that the clubs operate on totally different income streams – to watch last week’s win at Bolton, in a stadium which actually had proper leg room for anyone over six feet tall.

And unlike the tyrannical stewarding seen at the likes of Southampton and Sheffield United, no-one minded whether you stood up and it was generally a world away from the flashy, corporate, fake world of the Premier League you would expect – even if the Reebok Stadium does now appear to be surrounded by an ever-expanding retail park.

Mind you, the result did rather help. If we’d have got anything at Chelsea I’d probably now be of the opinion that a �50 ticket price at Stamford Bridge represented good value for money. And talking of which…

7. How on earth can anyone afford to regularly follow a Premier League club in away games without having to make financial sacrifices elsewhere? Top prices for the first six games this season – Wigan �20, Chelsea �50, Bolton �22, Manchester United �52, Liverpool �44 and Aston Villa �40. Throw in travel costs, and for that total you could probably fly to the furthest reaches of the Far East. Compare these figures with two years ago in League One: Exeter �15, Brentford �20, Hartlepool �20, MK Dons - didn‘t go, so let’s say �20 again, Gillingham �23 and Carlisle �17. The one that stands out this season is Aston Villa.

Two cheap tickets, and three at top clubs and/or grounds that always sell out, so that’s pricing which is fair enough on the simple economic basis of supply and demand. But �40 for Villa Park? To subsidise top stars of the calibre of Darren Bent? In a ground that doesn’t consistently sell out?

Honestly, if you didn’t know better about football clubs you’d almost think that this was a greedy pricing policy based on the fact that last time Norwich went there we took a large following of 3,595 as a result of Dean Ashton making his debut.

And we were charged just �23 – adding up to a slightly above inflation 74pc rise in ticket prices in just over six and a half years.

(And before I start getting complaints from anyone pointing out that Carrow Road ticket prices aren’t exactly cheap this season, I would have to agree. And if City were to make it into the Premier League for another year I would also expect to be paying an awful lot more than �414 for my current season ticket. But when you can regularly more or less sell out your ground for every game you are not about to adopt a Bolton or Wigan-type ticket pricing policy.)

8. That Sky remain obsessed with Norwich versus Sunderland fixtures despite past let-downs.Have they got a cheap batch of Milk Cup final film they want to use up, or is there a contractual obligation to use the likes of Gary Rowell as an expert summariser and they can find no other fixture in which to use him?

There was that postponed game at the Stadium of Light in 2004, which, if it had kicked off at 3pm rather than 12.30pm, would surely have beaten the big freeze.

And then there was the Carling Cup second-round tie of two years ago – why? – when Sunderland made nine changes from their Premier League team the previous weekend and yet still ran out way too strong.

It’s rather reassuring that they won’t be taking us that lightly tonight, although Grant Holt, Chris Martin and Wes Hoolahan, as the likely sole City survivors from that 4-1 thrashing, should have a point to prove.

9. That a certain Norwich City player is plainly destined never to get an international call-up. So Wes Hoolahan scores on his Premier League debut and has generally looked as if he might pull a few strings in the top flight – and still can’t get into the Republic of Ireland squad, never mind a starting place. It defies belief.

10. The chances are that we might just not get anything at Old Trafford on Saturday. Since their last home defeat – against Chelsea in April 2010 – Manchester United have won 32 times and drawn the other three.

Avoiding embarrassment, injuries, suspensions and any more penalties are maybe all we can hope for, but then so probably did the Norwich City team which visited Old Trafford in the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1967.

But then the main thing to consider about this Saturday’s fixture is that it completes our rise from the abyss. Ninety-nine weeks after we entered the first round of the FA Cup against a village side in front of barely 2,000 spectators we will play in front of the fourth biggest crowd in our history – and the largest outside Wembley – when we go to Old Trafford.

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