In common with most of us at this time of year, my week has been dominated by various family gatherings.
Invariably, the conversation turns to football. And, invariably over the last 48 hours, one thought seems to dominate: ‘Weren’t Spurs a good side…’
To which there is only really one answer. ‘Yes…’
Sitting in the Carrow Road Press Box for the last 20-odd years – I think it is officially 20 years sometime towards the end of next year – I have always been grateful for the knowledge that some of my neighbours therein impart.
Not necessarily the scribes, rather the former professionals who can be found in their retirement adding their own views on the game to various radio stations and national wire services.
On Tuesday night, the one immediately to my left was nodding his head in glowing approval as Spurs stepped up through the gears and ping-pinged both ball and bodies ever nearer Norwich’s goal.
And as the final whistle went, there they were saluting a seriously decent team for whom Norwich – try as they earnestly might – had few, if any answers.
In either penalty area, the visitors were simply better. They weren’t too sloppy in-between, either. And in Gareth Bale they had the best player on the park. The lad doesn’t half finish well for a full-back.
The point is, of course, that as well as Norwich have performed thus far this season, there are still teams who lie beyond even the reach of a Paul Lambert; teams against whom you ‘take your medicine’, pick yourself up and go again – ideally in the form of a QPR. Or a Fulham – this weekend’s timely visitors to Carrow Road.
And – I think – through luck or judgement, most punters are pretty realistic as to where Norwich are in the Premier League pecking order. And, likewise, where the likes of a Spurs, a Manchester City or a Manchester United are by comparison.
It is no slight on the City players to say they were second best on Tuesday night; quite rightly, Lambert would point to the fact that Bale has destroyed bigger teams than Norwich in recent memory – his Champions League performance against Inter Milan being the case in point.
If a Bale or a van Persie or a Rooney or a Silva are on their game, anyone from Newcastle down are in trouble. Such players are a class apart. And given the salaries and the fees that they command, it is difficult to imagine a Norwich, a Stoke, a Wolves or, indeed, an Ashley-owned Newcastle ever being able to field similar talents on similar reward structures against such teams.
That’s the reality.
To be the ‘best of the rest’ is probably one way to sum up Norwich’s ambitions for the next couple of seasons as they bed themselves into that Premiership midriff. A decent cup run a la Stoke, a Europa Cup place on the back of a Fair Play ticket a la Fulham – these in themselves are decent ambitions to hold; neither are wholly beyond the realms of possibility.
Certainly as we head for the turn of the season, there are supporters with far more to fear than those in Norfolk.
Bolton and Blackburn appear in the grip of some dark forces; there appears to be real poison afoot at Ewood Park – even if, for now, it is Owen Coyle skating on the thinner ice.
Wigan appear to have gained a little more spring in their step; Wolves will have hoped for better than that 2-2 draw with the Canaries; QPR could do with a little more wind back in their sails.
The latter, of course, are likely to flex some serious financial muscle in the forthcoming transfer window – a luxury that both Bolton and Blackburn can ill-afford.
Norwich, too, have a couple of tricks up their sleeve and it will be fascinating to see which way Lambert turns over the next five weeks.
He will not rock the apple cart unduly – that is certain.
James Vaughan’s progress injury-wise will shape part of his thinking; as will both the wage and personality structure he has built within that dressing room.
Equally, will he be looking to bed people in gradually ahead of the 2012-2013 campaign – or will he be looking for players to make an instant impression? An immediate shot in the arm for Norwich’s hopes of a trouble-free end of season?
It is a tricky one to call; to stick now and twist in the summer – or to twist now and then twist again in the summer when his finances are that more certain.
Either way as 2012 nears, I don’t think anyone of Green and Yellow hue could have realistically hoped for a better 2011 – even if Norwich didn’t quite manage to trouble Spurs on a Tuesday night.
They are still marching onward – and upward. As, indeed, are the club itself – offering the kind of togetherness and unity that a Blackburn can only dream of.
Have a great New Year. And as for 2012, just bring it on….