At some point over the next seven days, I have to pen a short ‘half-time’ report for The Observer on Norwich City’s season thus far.
So, feel free to add your thoughts before I finally put finger to keyboard.
Without wholly stealing anyone’s thunder, my line will be something about City doing as well as anyone had any reasonable right to expect; that, by and large, they had beaten who they needed to beat; had fought well and lost to those you would expect them to lose to; and had played Manchester City.
Manager, players, supporters and finances are all a credit to the Premier League and come May, there will be three worse teams than Norwich occupying the bottom three places.
Anything I’ve missed?
I think City fans have reason to be quietly encouraged by the fact that the Canaries aren’t over-reliant on one, single player keeping a swift return to The Championship at bay; as hard as he grafts and, right now, as frequently as he scores, Steve Morison isn’t carrying the club on his back in the manner of a van Persie at Arsenal.
Norwich have more strings to their bow; Grant Holt, for one, still makes things happen whenever he sets foot onto the pitch.
And in between the likes of an Andrew Crofts, a Bradley Johnson, a David Fox and a Wes Hoolahan City probably have enough graft and guile to keep themselves out of real harm’s way and whilst the back four continue to have an ‘Ooops…’ moment in them at least once a game, spirits are still more than willing.
They merely look human when faced with the genuine Premiership article.
And nor are the Canaries about to change manager in mid-race.
Martin O’Neill’s appointment at The Stadium Of Light is a magnificent appointment to coin one of the Irishman’s favourite phrases, but he doesn’t suffer fools. And short-term, there could be feathers flying in that dressing room.
Not that I expect Sunderland to be relegated under his watch. But, likewise, both Martinez at Wigan and Kean at Blackburn appear to be on weekly life support – all of which merely adds to the air of tension and uncertainty that hangs heavily around such clubs.
Norwich have none of that – and are that much the stronger for it.
Yes, they got caned at The Etihad; and on the slow-mo, at least three of the goals didn’t look particularly big or clever.
But I wouldn’t be too swift to judge this Norwich side on that performance. The level of concentration required to keep those individuals under lock and key for 90 minutes is probably unsurpassed by any other opposition in the country right now.
And the manner in which they have already disposed of their neighbours – at Old Trafford – suggests that they could yet prove to be a one-off. As in the Premier League has become a three-tier league of Manchester City, a ‘Big Four’ of United, van Persie, Chelsea and Liverpool and The Rest. Tottenham lie somewhere between the Big Four and The Rest depending on which way Her Majesty’s Judiciary work come the spring.
Newcastle we will find out more about this weekend; but all credit to Mr Pardew. I eat my summer words on a Barton-less St James’ Park.
The one, other question that The Observer raises is a tricky one; who should the manager buy in the January transfer window?
And as we all start to pen our Christmas letters to Santa, I guess the same applies to Messrs Lambert and Culverhouse as they knock on Mr McNally’s door.
Goals will, ultimately, decide Norwich fate and it is to their credit that this season they have arrived from pretty much all corners of the side; they remain a collective force driven on by a highly individual manager as opposed to a collection of individuals looking after the individual.
But that will be the knee-jerk reaction – get in a proven goal-scorer to get Norwich across the finishing line.
That is a tricky one – given that every noise from both dressing room and board-room suggests that there a certain places, wages-wise, that Norwich won’t go.
And anyone who has ‘proved’ their worth in terms of a Premiership goal-scorer is probably beyond the pale, wedge-wise.
The trick there would be to find someone young and hungry and on the make – rather than one who has already made it. Someone like a fit James Vaughan?
Further back, would Lambert look at further bolstering his centre-half department when Messrs Whitbread, Ayala and Ward have yet really to have had a proper crack at it?
I wouldn’t dismiss Russell Martin’s efforts too lightly; City are still far from perfect when faced with an Agbonlahor or a Walcott, but they are a better defensive unit with a ‘talker’ at its core.
It’s a tricky one; which is one of the reasons for both the piece and the invitation – you’re Lambert, where do you spend your January cash? On one condition; rule out anyone who would command more than, say, £20,000-a-week.
I just don’t see City going there.
Otherwise, all yours…
Gordon Eagling says
How about adding a keeper into the mixing bowl, someone to give Ruddy some serious competition. He is still prone to mistakes, and we are getting punished for them. A more experienced keeper would allow Master Rudd to go out and play picking up that valuable commodity pitch time.
At the moment Ruddy has no real competition to keeep him on his toes, Rudd has far too little game time under belt
I really wish you’d stop refering to everyone and everything in the third person. Otherwise a good article as ever.
Colin Mason says
May be a mention of a squad of virtually all british players and from where they came (lower leagues). There are a number of ‘big time charlies’ in teams below us. Team spirit is key even Man Utd appear not to be a happy bunch at present may be the Rooney, Giggs or Ferdinand effect becomes a problem for some younger players I cant imagine those 3 putting their arm around a ‘lesser’ team mate?
The next 2 months especially I think are going to be hard for us I suspect we will need around 39 points to stay up so about a point a game should suffice.I still think we lack a ‘special’ talent someone for other sides to worry about. Another D H would be good!
Michael D says
I’m not sure if I fully agree with you, Rick. If your report smacks a bit too much of one thing it is complacency, and if there is anything that will do undo City between now and May it is complacency. We haven’t been so good the last few games when Wes and Fox haven’t started, and we haven’t yet kept a clean sheet. Against QPR, although we won 2-1 we had slightly less than half the possession, despite City being the home side, and I thought we looked far less fluent in midfield than they did. Was happy to see Surman back in the side though, since he is also a good distributor, even if his role is on the left. But I am not yet convinced we have enough depth yet, including in mid-field, and I don’t think we can afford to let the early season energy levels drop for too long, as they have in the last few games.
Newcastle will be a good test. I think we need to show we have the belief both to keep the majority of possession and to win this type of game. And as for January, actually I would like to see another mid-fielder, one who can not only defend but help to get others in the game much more, in the style of Foxy. In front, if Vaughan isn’t to come back soon, how about Jordan Rhodes, not that Lee Clark would be amused at us taking his second star in a row.
The starts been fine, but we still have a lot more graft + creativity + resoluteness at the back to go before we can look forward to the next season in the same league!
Andy S says
I really think something needs to be done to shore up the defence. No clean sheets so far and for all the effort the centre backs put in, I have yet to be convinced that any of them are of Premiership quality.
I was dubious about some of them in the Championship, so not really surprised we have been shipping goals in every game, often due to being caught in possession or making dubious decisions in the box. It’s another centre back for me!
Carlton Cole – wages may be a problem but he needs to play in the premier League to get in the Euro squad. So, we buy Naughton and have Cole on loan.
Liam Ridgewell – experienced and able to play a number of cover positions.
Robert Snodgrass – surely Lamberts real Christmas wish? Will he pay the £8m Leeds want though? He could well be the Huckerby factor and if he is then £8m is cheap.
Need experienced GK as cover and competition, and to allow Declan out on loan.
Need a one quality midfielder who can make better decisions and can pass more accurately and effectively than Johnson and Crofts.
Need a sharp, pacey and intelligent striker to play off a strike partner who can hold the ball up and bring him or others into play – that’s Holt in case you hadn’t worked it out.
Crofts and Jackson don’t meet the above specs and should be moved on in Jan. Johnson to subs bench.
As well as we are doing so far, I would throw in a rather large note of caution. Over previous seasons, several promoted clubs have got off to a great start but have then witnessed a slide during the 2nd half of the season. See Hull and Blackpool.
Whilst I am happy with our progress so far, realistically I still think it will be a close run thing and even with just a slight downturn in results, could see us closer to the bottom 3.
Lets not pop the champagne corks just yet. Just when you think we may have cracked this league, it could easily come back to bit us on the backside. This is why it’s so vital to get to 24 points by Jan 2nd. The winning post (40 points) would be in sight, though 16 further points to gain is still an ‘on so close but so far’ total.
Achieve that and I will be more optimistic!
Find ourselves on 20 points or under come 2nd Jan though and reality could hit that we are still only halfway to our target despite all the good work so far. And don’t forget we need to ‘hit’ our target before our nightmare last month.
Rogers of Norwich says
Douglas Millar says
I am cautious about prospects for ultimate survival because it is common for the lesser Premier League teams to have a long losing run at some stage in the season. For that reason Saturday’s victory over Newcastle is a hopeful sign that Paul Lambert can instill belief in the team despite the hammering at Manchester City. The team are doing well and are showing a commendable ability to get results in important matches.
I agree that it is important to get points on the board as quickly as possible and I am reassured that the manager understands this and is not getting carried away.
Several of our players have been surprisingly effective including Pilkington, Johnson, Russel Martin and Tierney but all have been shown up at one time or another. Those without good close control, including Barnet and Crofts, put team mates under pressure and make keeping possession very difficult.
I think that Morison, Hoolahan and Fox have been most effective. Morison’s energy strength and ability to put opponents under pressure without committing fouls has been especially impressive.
As for new players,I would favour another quick full back (remember Agbonlahor and Walcott) and either a centre back or another pacy attacker if the manager thinks that Whitbread and Vaughan are unlikely to be fit on a regular basis in the new year. I would look at Birmingham and Ipswich to get players unhappy about their clubs’ prospects