Ten games into any season… that’s when some believe you can start to draw a few conclusions as to which way the cookie will crumble.
I suspect Paul Lambert is not one of those. The Canary chief was muttering on Tuesday night how this season was no more than “a handful of games” old; a line he was no doubt repeating at Ashton Gate yesterday as the Canaries breezed in and out.
So, without wishing to unduly ruffle his feathers, we will desist from making too many wild claims as to where events might be heading; instead, we’ll state the bleeding obvious.
Norwich are on a roll. And doing rather well.
They have ‘momentum’. And that is beyond price in football.
We won’t go over too much old ground, but I think it would be fair to say that probably each and every one of the club’s last four managers inherited a club on the slide.
Whether they hastened said slide or merely slowed it is for another time; the reality was that all four were batting on a sticky wicket; the force was never exactly with them.
It is, therefore, all to Lambert’s credit that not only did he apply the brakes in a remarkably short space of time, but he then managed to slip the Norfolk club out of reverse and into first, second and third gears within the space of two or three months of his arrival.
Indeed, you could almost argue that the Canaries are continuing to accelerate as Lambert finds himself a new goal-scoring hero in Simeon Jackson – whilst still having a Chrissy Martin sat on the substitutes bench smarting.
Therein lies evidence of momentum.
Traditionally, there’s no such competition for places; that one player arrives only when another gets seriously injured – and proves to be no match for the former.
Early days. But the 23-year-old former Gills striker has enough goals to his name from his days at the Priestfield to suggest he could focus Martin’s mind on winning his place back; he can’t afford to cruise through games thinking that he’s a shoe-in every Saturday.
He has to deliver; put a big shift in – week in, week out – to deny Jackson his starting berth. Big shift put in, the roles are now reversed. Jackson has to keep Martin at bay by repeating his West Country heroics.
Too many times, one wrong injury to the wrong player at the wrong time and Norwich’s slide would continue; few managers have had the luxury of being able to spark one striker off against the other – not to the calibre of the current Jackson v Martin clash.
Football is, of course, littered with clichés. At the end of the day, there’s only so many ways you can describe a goal; there’s only so many ways a manager can describe a game. They can’t all be Ian Holloway.
So the line about ‘winning becoming a habit’ is an all-too familiar one… but it’s true.
Players, teams – and, indeed, crowds – can get into a mind-set when they don’t expect to lose; they don’t compute being on the wrong end of the scoreline. And if they are, it is a freak; a one-off. As it was against a Hull.
So come the mid-week clash with Leicester, even Martyn Waghorn’s 78-second opener was greeted with a collective ‘Whatever…’ There was enough belief and confidence in the tank to believe that the rightful order would be restored. As it duly was.
It wasn’t a perfect performance; Leicester would grab two more goals before the end.
But it was a performance that oozed belief; it offered yet more compelling evidence of this rich vein of form and fortune that the Canaries now find themselves in.
Alas – in a sense – they now have a two-week enforced break when many might have wished for another game this Tuesday; when you’re ‘hot’ you want to play every day… ask any golfer. Any cricketer. When your eye is in, it’s in… keep me on the fairway; get me back out into the middle.
But given the Canaries managed to go the whole summer without – Watford opener, apart – missing a beat from last year’s title triumph, there is no reason to expect anything will come to a jarring standstill once play resumes.
Indeed, on current evidence, it is hard to work out just what will stop the City bandwagon from rolling on.
I can think of one ‘event’ that all concerned can do without. But I think that ought to remain nameless for the sake of not tempting fate.
But that apart, it would take the most wretched of injury runs to rip the heart out of this side; there appears to be a depth of talent and belief to the squad that should be able to withstand much of what Mother Nature might throw at them.
Is one player wholly irreplaceable? One player without whom the whole play-off edifice comes crashing down? I guess Wes Hoolahan might come close; might. I half suspect Martin has a bright enough footballing brain to step into that diamond-tipped role if needed.
The Canaries have hardly looked any less of a threat when switching to a flat four in midfield; in Anthony McNamee they have pace. And width. And another player who both team-mates and crowd ‘get’.
No. As much as Lambert may be keen to water down expectations on the back of City’s opening to the 2010-2011 season, there appears to be little or no reason why such starts can’t run and run.
The momentum – much like the force – is with them.