Norwich City's 2008-2009 Championship season will get off to a, frankly, uninspiring start on Saturday, August 9, with an all-too familiar trip up the A14 and an away clash at Coventry City.
Exactly the kind of mental examination that the Canaries need to pass next season, said City boss Glenn Roeder, as he swiftly passed judgement on today's fixture announcement.
“In our first five games we've got three away games at Coventry, Cardiff and then Plymouth,” said Roeder, who could have added a fourth – the Carling Cup first round trip to MK Dons on the first Tuesday of the season. That one, likewise, comes with the traditional warning bells attached.
Bring them on, was Roeder's robust response.
“It gives us the perfect chance to put one of last season's key problems right – namely our away form,” said the Canary boss, speaking to the club's official website this morning.
“Although we did have some good performances away, far too many times we created and missed too many chances and we lost points as a result.
“That's something we'll obviously be looking for a clear improvement on and there's no reason in my mind why it shouldn't happen – it's a mental barrier, simple as that,” he added.
“We have to improve away from home and with the fantastic away following we have there's even more incentive to do just that. They come in such impressive numbers and they deserve to see chances being put away and good performances which bring good results.”
The announcement of the 2008-2009 fixture list always provides a decent talking point or two in the midst of a thus far barren summer transfer-wise and today's publication of Norwich's forthcoming campaign proved no exception as supporters scanned up and down the list for the bigger dates for their diary.
Saturday, December 6 – or in every likelihood, Sunday, December 7 – will be one; the first derby clash of the season with Ipswich Town.
That one is at home; the return fixture at Portman Road comes right at the back end of the season in the midst of a tricky-looking run-in.
At home to Watford on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, April 13, the Canaries make the short trip south of the border on the following Saturday, the 18th. As with the home fixture, the police – if not the Sky TV cameras – will surely switch that to the Sunday.
City play their final home game of the campaign against newly-relegated Reading a week later before rounding off their season away at Charlton Athletic.
As for Christmas and the New Year, Boxing Day comes with a special treat – a chance to share all that festive goodwill with Neil Warnock and the good people of South Norwood as Norwich are asked to make the much loved trip to Crystal Palace; New Year will be in the lap of the footballing gods as the FA Cup third round gets earlier and earlier with every passing season.
One of the traditional tricks is to avoid an early clash with those clubs with a definite wind in their sails – in this case, the three newly-promoted clubs from League One, namely Swansea City, Nottingham Forest and Doncaster Rovers.
For while all three might eventually slip back into the relegation pack a la Scunthorpe last season, come August and September time and the belief and the promotion 'buzz' is still firmly in place – hence why the fact that City's first meeting with any of the new-boys is not until the back end of October with the home clash against Doncaster Rovers is one of the better pieces of news from today's fixture list.
For a club that can, on average, spend up to 13 days in a car once its travels up and down the country are put back-to-back, the football fixture computer usually takes great delight in throwing more than the odd, lengthy mid-week away trip into the mix.
This season, however, and an element of reason appears to have entered the computer's thinking with the longest away rip being the trip to St Mary's, Southampton, on the night of Tuesday, September 30.
Thereafter and midweek trips to Derby (October 28), Watford (December 9), Wolves (February 3) and early promotion favourites QPR (March 3) are relatively tame by comparison to previous years.
The longest hauls – to Swansea's new Liberty Stadium, for example – are all on Saturday. Ditto Blackpool, Burnley and Preston North End.
Overall and Glenn Roeder's first priority will be to ensure that the Canaries aren't let to play catch-up from the start – that somewhere within the opening batch of fixtures, his newly-built side can start to whack points up on the board ASAP.
In which case the fact that Norwich's first home game of the season is against cash-strapped Blackpool will come as something of a blessing. Likely to be without two of their more prominent players from last season – sometime City transfer target Kaspar Gorkss now seemingly bound for money bags QPR and Wes Hoolahan, still presumed in many a quarter to be the man who will step into Darren Huckerby's shoes next season – Simon Grayson's side could face a long and difficult campaign in their second season up.
Nick a result at the Ricoh the week before and with three points bagged against the Seasiders, City can make the long trip to Cardiff a week later in a bubbly frame of mind.
Certainly Roeder appeared happy enough with a trip to the Ricoh for starters. “I'm happy to start at Coventry as I know Chris Coleman well and I know his sides like to try and play attractive, positive football – something we also strive for. It should be a great start to the season.”