City boss Chris Hughton admitted that he was well aware of the so-called ‘second season syndrome’ as the Canaries prepare to fight the good fight for Premier League survival again – all kicking off with tomorrow’s opener at Fulham.
The theory runs that swept up on the wave of confidence and belief that comes with a successful promotion campaign – two in the case of Paul Lambert’s Canaries – the newly-promoted teams have sufficient wind in their sails to see them survive in Year One.
Come Year Two, however, and as the likes of a Reading, a Southampton and a West Ham United enjoy their return to the top tier of English football, so a Norwich, a Swansea or a QPR hit the doldrums.
And minus the ‘established’ tag that a Stoke might now enjoy, slump back into the Premier League’s lower reaches. Managerial change, the argument can run, can only hasten that process.
Momentum would be the key word; how do you keep moving forward after such a triumphant first season back?
“I am conscious of it,” admitted Hughton, quizzed on the subject at yesterday’s pre-match Press conference.
“And what you have to do is to respect that – it’s normal for people to think that way,” added the City chief, as expectations vary from Europa League finishes to a return from whence they came in the glorious summer of 2011.
“There will be a group of supporters who look at this season with just the aim of us retaining our Premier League status, but I do also realise that there will be a group who will expect what they saw last season,” he added, which was, of course, that famous 12th place finish. Survival achieved with both room and breath to spare.
“But these are the challenges and there’s no point in shying away from it – expectation levels do change a bit. And, ultimately, we will be one of a group of clubs that will be fighting to make sure that they’re in this division next season. And then see what happens.
“And I think that’s where we [Norwich City] would have started last season. I’m sure the last manager [Paul Lambert] wouldn’t have been quite sure what to expect from the season – and I think we’re exactly the same.”
Travelling to Craven Cottage on the opening day of the season as opposed to the last will help as far as the travelling Yellow and Green Army are concerned.
And for those still anxious after the final dress rehearsal ended with that 2-0 home defeat by Bundesliga giants Borussia Monchengladbach, bear in mind Fulham ended their own pre-season with a 2-1 defeat behind closed doors at Charlton Athletic.
No-one, stressed Hughton, will be under-estimating the challenges that await from three o’clock tomorrow.
“There won’t be one player at this football club – whether they were here last season or have just joined it – who won’t realise that it will be every bit as difficult as it was last season. It’s a demanding, tough league full of quality players – and every game will be a difficult game.
“So I think it’s a case of getting the preparation right for every single game,” said Hughton, inserting a welcome dose of reality into a league that is ever-more constructed around two tiers. Them – and the 12 of us.
“You know you’re going to lose games and you know that you’re going to have to pick up players when things are not going so well – that’s a normal part of the job and particularly where we are. But there won’t be one player that won’t know what the challenges are this season.”
Nor will Norwich’s fate be determined by an hour and a half on the banks of the Thames.
“It’s always nice to get off to a good start,” he said, with the City manager revealing that he will formally decide on his choice of captain shortly before kick-off.
“If you’ve got a choice then, of course, that’s what you would always prefer to do,” he added. “But it is over a period. And you can not win your first game, but see lots of good things in that game that will inspire you going into the next group of games.”
So, let the games commence…
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