When push comes to shove

CHRIS WISE Darren Huckerby is fed up with constantly being on the back foot in away matches - and he would be furious it had happened to Norwich City again at Sheffield Wednesday this afternoon.


Darren Huckerby is fed up with constantly being on the back foot in away matches - and he would be furious it had happened to Norwich City again at Sheffield Wednesday this afternoon.

The Canaries have endured a miserable time on their travels this season, with a meagre haul of 19 points from a possible 63 preventing them from mounting a serious challenge for promotion.

There is one simple, straightforward explanation for City's travel sickness - their infuriating habit of conceding the first goal of the game. That has happened in 18 of their 21 away fixtures in the Championship this term and Huckerby knows only too well how much that grim statistic has cost his side.

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He did his bit by opening the scoring in the wins over Ipswich and Brighton in the autumn, while Paul McVeigh netted the only goal of the game at Leicester on New Year's Eve. But in every other the game the opposition have got their noses in front first, and as far as the flying winger is concerned that simply isn't good enough.

“At Preston last week we didn't really create anything at all, which was very disappointing,” said Huckerby. “Time after time we seem to concede the first goal and that seems to deflate us. I don't know if it is a hangover from the Premier League or not, but we got used to going behind then and that seems to be the case this season as well whenever we play away from home. We have got to cut that out next season.

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“We have got to be pushing teams back and scoring the first goal. It's a big part of the game.

“We have got to start winning away games, there's no doubt about that. Our form away from Carrow Road has not been good enough and we are determined to take a step in the right direction at the weekend.

“Hillsborough is a great place to play. It's an impressive stadium with a massive pitch and you can play football on there. It should suit us, so hopefully we can get it right this time.”

The Canaries go into today's fixture with nothing but pride to play for after slipping 14 points adrift of the play-off zone with just four games left to play at Deepdale last weekend. But Huckerby knows preparations are already under way for the 2006-7 campaign and reckons the trip to Sheffield is a vital one for the players.

“You have still got to try and win as many games as you can. It's about getting as many points as we can and finishing as high up the table as possible,” he said. “It has been a very tough season for us and it's important that we finish it well. That will give us something to build on when we come back in the summer.

“We have got to improve next season, that's for sure. If we don't we are going to be in trouble, we know that.

“It has obviously been very disappointing. I wouldn't say it has been a culture shock coming down from the Premiership. At the end of the day we just haven't been good enough this season. You can say certain things haven't gone for us and I don't think the Dean Ashton saga helped. He didn't look like he wanted to be here for a few months.

“But the facts are that we haven't been up to scratch, individually or as a team.

“We have under-performed. But I did say when we won this league that it would probably be a one-off. Everything went for us that season - we won games we could easily have lost and didn't pick up many injuries. Things don't work out like that every year, they really don't. If they did then everybody would be near the top.”

From a team perspective it has clearly been a season to forget. And from a personal point of view Huckerby has also found it tough, with an undiagnosed bout of glandular fever midway through the season doing little to help his cause.

“I always enjoy playing - but I don't enjoy losing games, and that has happened rather too often for my liking,” he said.

“It has been a tough season for me personally because I was ill for much of it - and I didn't really know what it was until after I had recovered.

“I'm not saying it affected my performances, but for several months I didn't really feel myself. That's life in football - and you have just got to get on with it and keep on playing.”

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