Tis times like this – less than 48 hours before the big kick-off – when certain people get paid for putting their neck on the line.
For gazing into the crystal ball and assuring all who will listen that all will be well come next May. And that by next August, Norwich City Football Club will still proudly have their noses firmly in the trough of Premiership football.
There might even be the first signs of a second tier on the City Stand as the Canaries make themselves right at home in the land of milk and honey.
And I think they will.
It won’t always be easy; it certainly won’t always be pretty. But I think the Premier League is an altogether different beast since the Canaries last hit the dizzy heights of the top flight – just as the Canaries themselves are an altogether different beast since Nigel Worthington led his troops into battle.
The opposition first. By many a reckoning, in 2004-2005 the likelihood was that relegation would be between three of four teams. Three of whom were the teams that had just got promoted.
That rule of thumb has gone out of the window of late as madness descends on the bottom two-thirds of the Premier League and basket cases abound.
Without re-tracing over old ground, survival can just as much be decided off the pitch as on it. Compared to the likes of QPR, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, Norwich are streets ahead in terms of being a ‘club’ in the proper meaning of the word.
And try as I might, I can’t see too much difference between a Sunderland and a Wolves; a Bolton or a Swansea. Fulham seem a happy enough ship; West Brom could be OK. Aston Villa are starting to look a little ill-at-ease.
Anyone of the above could find themselves in the mire come next Easter. Stoke have probably got enough continuity and stability under the current owner and manager to avoid being in the bottom third. Ditto, probably, Everton.
The two Manchesters, a Dalglish-inspired Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and to a waning extent Arsenal will fill the top six places.
Otherwise, it’s a free-for-all. Where spirit, togetherness, pace and someone with half-an-eye for goal will keep you safe for another term.
That and a decent manager. Which can be taken as read in Norfolk.
As for the Canaries themselves, compared to the Class of 04-05, they have both height and pace where it matters – and age is on their side.
I haven’t done the sums, but I guess the average of this squad would be around the 23-24-year-old mark; in 2004, it was probably nearer 29-30. The legs were starting to go in some cases; the heart in others.
This particular group looks and feels that much leaner and meaner. And still has no real ‘stars’ in their midst.
I strongly suspect Kyle Naughton might well be; he looks a proper peach of a player. And Anthony Pilkington, likewise, has an air about him that bodes well.
Otherwise, however, it is the team that goes into battle – not a Darren Huckerby, upon whose fleet feet all-too many hopes were left to rest. If Hucks didn’t deliver because he had two players on his case for 90 minutes, who would?
This time round and it will demand a very canny Premier League manager to decide just *exactly* where the threat is coming from – is someone detailed specifically to sit on Wes Hoolahan? Or is it increasingly David Fox that sets the beat for the team? Is he the one you stop from playing?
Fox is interesting. Sat at the base of that midfield diamond, he is almost assigned the role of the quarter-back in American football.
Granted enough time by the likes of an Andrew Crofts or a Bradley Johnson to look up and pick a pass, does he aim for the ‘wide receiver’ of a Naughton? Or tuck a little ball into Hoolahan’s dancing feet in the hope that ‘going short’ can gain the Canaries that extra yardage?
To one very trained eye that invariably sits next to me in the Press Box, the Manchester United-schooled Fox is the most improved player at the club over the last 12 months.
And I’m not sure I would disagree. He makes the big calls these days; go short, go long, keep the ball, wait, wait, release…
And, equally, he’s the one that I wouldn’t like to see get injured any time soon. I think he has something extra to his passing game that even Lambert would find hard to instantly replicate.
I don’t think City will score hatfuls of goals; nor – against the bottom 12 – will they concede by the bucketload. The trick, as ever, is not to get too disheartened if four fly in at Stamford Bridge. That’s where survival won’t be won or lost.
And Norwich will need luck. Every team does. At some point in the first 4-6 games – ideally at home to Stoke, if not at Wigan this weekend – Norwich need to rack up their first three points. Get the belief and the adrenalin flowing; get early points on the door.
That way, they have something to both defend and offer when it comes to the January transfer window – the very real prospect that the Canaries aren’t just passing through the Premiership for a season. That they are properly out to make it their new home.