Being a Norwich fan is getting just a bit too barmy right now.
City being top in late November is one thing but to have ‘them lot down the road’ languishing behind by 25 points? What did Ipswich do to pee off the football gods quite so much?
Please, forgive me then, for being sceptical that all this could possibly last.
Not that I’ve seen anything to suggest it couldn’t. We all know this by now, but we have two astonishingly-talented young full-backs, a very solid centre-back pairing that can actually pass the ball, a rejuvenated Alex Tettey partnering the Championship’s Xavi, and a front four packed not only with creative talent but the ability to stick the ball in the net. At one point on Saturday, Norwich had scored seven goals in their last 85 minutes of league football.
But here’s the thing – City’s next three games are Hull (23rd, A), Rotherham (19th, H), Bolton, (22nd, H). I know it looks bad, but please contain your gasps of horror.
For those of you who think I’ve gone round the bend – there’s a reason ‘Along Come Norwich’ is not only a popular phrase around our fine city but also the name of a well-known Canaries fan site.
Deep into injury time two weeks ago, we narrowly avoided the use of those three harrowing words when Jordan Rhodes struck in injury time to deny Millwall their first away win of the season. Giving a team a win when they haven’t done so all season, or a goal when they haven’t scored in a month is an incredibly ‘Norwich’ thing to do.
We are rubbish against rubbish teams.
Last season, against teams who finished in the bottom half, Norwich won just seven games of 22, accumulating 29 points (1.32 points per game (ppg)). They scored 26 goals and conceded 29.
Against teams who finished in the top half, City totalled 31 points (1.3 ppg), scoring 23 and conceding 31 in the process.
Surprisingly (or even unsurprisingly, depending on how closely you follow City), the Canaries averaged just 0.02 points more per game against the likes of Sunderland, Burton and Barnsley (the three relegated teams from whom they won five points) as they did against the likes of Wolves, Villa and Middlesbrough (all playoff teams from whom they won 10 points).
But here’s the truly surprising news – in eight games against bottom-half clubs this season, Norwich have won SIX, drawn one and lost just one also – against 13th-placed Stoke. In those games, they’ve scored 15 and conceded just six (and three of those were in one game against Millwall!)In four games against Hull and Bolton (Rotherham were in League One last season), City scraped two draws and lost twice.
What is going on? This is not the Norwich we know and love.
Although maybe it is.
Historically, it has always been City’s results against the worse sides in the division that has set the tone for their season. Had Norwich done the double over the Championship’s bottom four teams last year, they would have finished 5th on 78 points – as it was, they dropped 18 (EIGHTEEN) points against the league’s absolute-worst sides.
In 2010/11, however, when Norwich finished 2nd in the same league, they averaged 2.1 ppg against the bottom sides, winning 50 points from 24 games. The year before, when City won League One, they gained 57 points from the teams in the bottom half (2.4 ppg). And in 2003/04, when Norwich won the second tier, they won 54 points from the same games (2.3 ppg).
The secret to a top-two finish, it seems, is winning these matches.
As such, this is when City’s title-winning credentials will truly be tested. We know they’re a good team now – 31 points from a possible 36 is testament to that. The problem now, of course, is that everybody else knows too.
We saw first hand what happened last season when teams came to Carrow Road, happy to take a point – all ten outfield players would camp on the edge of their own 18-yard box, confident in the knowledge that Norwich didn’t have the speed or incision to break them down.
We saw it against Stoke last month too when City failed to create any serious chances against a team that wasn’t interested in attacking. Meanwhile, Wigan and Preston took 85 and 80 minutes respectively to finally be broken down.
Now, the teams struggling at the bottom of the table will batten down the hatches even further. Unlike many of the sides Norwich have recently beaten – Swansea, Brentford or Forest for example – they will scrap for goalless draws in a game they aren’t expected to win – while the pressure on Norwich has cranked up immeasurably.
These are the games that will define Norwich’s season. Win them all, and the barmy might start to become believable.