The return that still feels crucial for striving Norwich City
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It wasn’t supposed to be this way. More than a year on from the walk-out, with three past meetings already done and dusted, the return of Paul Lambert should be barely a sideline to Aston Villa and Norwich City crossing paths.
Yet somehow City fans find themselves back in the position where they are not best pleased with the Canaries’ form and attitude on the road, and in need of three tasty points – with Lambert’s Villa next.
It shouldn’t be a big game for that. And in truth, inside the Canaries’ camp, it probably isn’t. Only two of Chris Hughton’s starting XI at Tottenham experienced playing under Lambert at Carrow Road.
That’s how quickly sides and squads evolve these days.
Yet the fans watching outside Carrow Road and especially the 25,000 packed inside were all part of that ride under the Scot – and for that very reason, the link will always feel more tangible.
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But it’s not just that. It’s the clash of styles and philosophies.
Of the men themselves, Hughton and Lambert are two managers very well liked by their players and well respected by their peers.
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Yet where there are differences, they tend to be stark.
The fact Villa will arrive on Saturday with a record of 26 games without a clean sheet will have plenty of City fans nodding knowingly. City’s last one came just two games ago. Similarly City’s disparity in effectiveness between being at – and away – from Carrow Road is widely recognised.
Saturday’s defeat at Tottenham – primarily off the back of a worse result at 10-man Hull three weeks earlier – has compounded the fans’ fears over City’s away form.
The trips to Swansea and Manchester City last season are City’s only Premier League wins on the road in 21 games under Hughton.
And maybe more strikingly – and possibly a window into the Canaries’ attitude away from home – is a little fact since late November’s 1-1 draw at Southampton.
In the 14 games on the road since, the Canaries have managed to level the score or better after going behind only once – that coming in the 3-1 defeat at Arsenal.
In the 23 games under Lambert away from home, City managed it eight times in 23 games.
But that means little come Saturday, obviously. City are at home – where under Hughton they have proved time and again things are different. And while Lambert will definitely rock up at his old hunting ground fuelled by getting one over his old club again, there’s a lot of water that has passed under the bridge since he was in the home dressing room.
So rather than for what happened last June and more so last weekend, City need to put their old boss to the sword. At least they should know where the flaws are.