The more I look at this season’s fixture calendar, the more I think the footballing gods have done Norwich a favour or two.
Yes, in an ideal world everyone would have liked to have started with a home game. But as then City chief Nigel Worthington discovered, if you’re handed a home game on the first day of the season – against relatively simple opposition, to boot – and don’t win, then disappointment swiftly follows.
It is an ‘Uggghhh…’ moment; not a ‘Yes!’ one.
Which is why that point at Wigan on the opening day was so important; irrespective of the positives from the performance, Norwich didn’t lose to one of the sides that are likely to be joining them in the bottom third of the table.
I would still maintain that there’s enough much-of-a-muchness in the Premier League that the Canaries are quite capable of a 13th or 14th finish; just as they are capable of finding themselves scrabbling about for a desperate point to stay up on the final weekend of the season – such is the margin of error between at least seven, eight or nine teams in the Class of 2011-2012.
For me, that number wouldn’t include Stoke; these days I would have them mid-tier – which again ought to reinforce the idea that that was another good, good point against the Potters. A point that was, what? Little more than 60 seconds away from being two more?
Chelsea was what it was; a game in which the Canaries hit the required tempo from the off; made each and every Blues player work for the victory, but in the end found that little bit of luck deserting them when it mattered.
Against lesser sides, Norwich will play worse and win.
But here’s where the fixture computer has smiled. For pretty much after each and every ‘tricky’ game, City have been handed a winnable one.
Chelsea (a) is now followed by Sunday’s home clash with West Bromwich Albion; Manchester United (a) has Swansea City (h) to follow; Liverpool (a) has Blackburn Rovers (h); Manchester City (a) has Newcastle (h).
Somewhere on the back of a fag packet, City boss Paul Lambert and his No2 Ian Culverhouse have run through the numbers – as much as everyone will always insist they take each game at a time, the City managerial duo would only be human to have looked down the runners and riders and figured: ‘Yep, we should get points against them, them, them… and them…’
And in that ‘do-able’ list, I would put West Brom, Swansea, Blackburn and Newcastle. The fact that this autumn’s fixtures also includes home games against Sunderland and QPR suggests for me that there are plenty of points to be had – provided the tempo and tenor of Norwich’s performances continue at their current pitch.
And that’s where that run of fixtures will help; Norwich aren’t – or rather, hopefully, won’t – get the wind wholly ripped from their sails via back-to-back games along the lines of a Chelsea (a) and a Manchester United (h). Or a Manchester City (a) followed by a Liverpool (h).
No, of course, there’s no easy games in the top flight of English football. But there are easier games – and that’s where Norwich have been blessed. They have been given every opportunity to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and pick up fresh points and new momentum on the back of a Chelsea (a) or a Manchester United (a).
To employ some familiar boxing thinking, they are unlikely to get caught on the ropes fixture-wise; that if they get hurt away at Old Trafford and bump into a Wayne Rooney or an Ashley Young in one those moods, they can roll off the ropes in the next game.
They shouldn’t find themselves trapped in a corner, desperately covering up as blow upon Premier League blow rains down upon them wondering where on earth the next win is ever going to come from…
They know they have enough to beat a Blackburn or a QPR; to beat a Swansea or a Newcastle; or, indeed, a Sunderland or a West Brom.
And that’s the other point; hit their true potential, make the most of that famed team spirit and new-found width and athleticism, and City could find themselves with a little bit of a cushion points-wise going into the second-half of the season.
If they don’t look dead meat, it gives Lambert that much more of an easier ‘sell’ in the January transfer window and means that travelling away to Swansea, away to West Brom, away to Newcastle with ‘job done’ already at home will make an away draw look even better.
Take four points off your nearest and dearest out of your two encounters and you won’t be far away from survival come the end of the season.
You might even be sitting rather pretty come the second week in May.