The dreaded international break has reared its ugly head again.
Roy’s boys may well have picked up two wins on the road (ferry or train more sensibly) to France 2016 but it’s the trip to Craven Cottage on Saturday that is uppermost in the thoughts of most Canary fans.
Will Fulham get the better of our boys (again)?
Being a pessimist – probably, with Ross McCormack playing his first blinder of the season.
But maybe this time things will be different. Why? Well, according to many fans, Neil Adams has assembled what is arguably the best squad that we’ve ever had – certainly for a second tier campaign.
This is our 10th season at this level since 2000/01 and the first time we’ve been top at this point – after eleven games. We had more points in 2002/03 (24pts, 3rd place) but only finished 8th. Promotion came in 2003/04 and 2010/11.
I hereby offer the case for season 2003/04 – under the guidance of Nigel Worthington – as being the closest rival to the present one.
The comparison is merited firstly by the spooky fact that after 11 games of that season, we had exactly the same record as this (6 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats). Then however 21 points was only good enough for 6th place with West Brom clear at the top with 25.
Arguably we should have 25 under our belts right now – curse that dodgy home form which compares poorly with the 5 straight wins of 2003.
We’d scored three fewer goals and conceded two more back then but still the statistical similarity is remarkable. On the October 4, 2003 (game 11) we drew 1-1 with Wigan with Iwan Roberts getting a second- half equaliser.
Apart from that game being played in front of just 9,500 brave souls in Wigan, ‘striking’ similarities exist with events of the October 4, 2014 (Rotherham at home).
One more coincidence: by league game 11 of 2003, we had already been dumped out of the League Cup (1-0) by lower league opposition – Northampton. Sound familiar?
How about a closer analysis of the respective teams which played those Wigan and Rotherham games to get a feel for which might have been the better outfit? Let’s assume 4-4-2 in both cases to make comparison easier:
2003/04: Wigan (away)
Green; Edworthy, Fleming, Mackay, Drury; Huckerby, Mulryne, Holt, Francis; McVeigh, Roberts. Subs: Rivers, Henderson, Lewis, Shackell and Easton.
2014/15: Rotherham (home)
Ruddy; Martin, Hooiveld, Turner, Olsson; Redmond, Johnson, Howson, Hoolahan; Jerome, Grabban. Subs: Murphy, Lafferty, Rudd, Whittaker, Tettey, O’Neil and Odjidja.
Point 1 – Keeper: Very close contest based on Rob Green’s form at that stage of his career (before most of the horrendous incidents which have blighted him since) and the similar number of appearances for the two of them. Maybe John Ruddy just gets the nod as Green wouldn’t play for England for another couple of years. Verdict: 1-0 to 2014/15
Point 2 – Defence: Although Marc Edworthy was a ‘fresher’ that season, the near combined 500 matches of the other three at the time has to give that back-four the nod over the current one. In particular, the Fleming-Mackay pairing is just about the best one since Watson and Bruce. Verdict: 1 – 1
Point 3 – Midfield: Again it’s a close one. Gary Holt, in my opinion, stands out in the middle over Bradley Johnson. Phil Mulryne over Jonny Howson for me while the Wes/Redmond combination pips it (it was Darren Huckerby’s first season ). So, that’s a score draw or half-point each. Verdict: 1.5 – 1.5
Point 4 – Strikers: No contest. As exciting and promising Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban have been, and promise to be, they are both freshers. The McVeigh-Roberts combination (approximately 350 appearances at that time) has to be a clear winner. Verdict: 2.5 – 1.5 to 2003/04
Point 4.5 – Subs: 2014 is much stronger looking but only a half mark is up for grabs in this category (Hey, I don’t make the rules – oh wait, yes I do). Verdict 2.5 – 2 to 2003/04
So, according to my arbitrary marking system, 2003/04 comes out on top. That side finished top of the table with 94 points (8 clear of second place) with a plus 40 goal difference.
A repeat of those stats come next May would be very welcome indeed, although the overall standard in the second tier is probably higher now than then, making it a tough ask for the current squad to emulate their predecessors.
But hang on. What about Lambert’s promotion-winning squad of 2010/11 I hear you ask?
Ruddy, Drury, Barnett, Martin, Ward, Lappin, Crofts, Smith, Martin(C), Holt, Jackson etc. In game 11 (QPR away) they drew 0-0; had 20 points and were in 3rd place. My score is 2.5 (2003/04) – 2 (2010/11) and 2.5 (2014/15) – 2 (2010/11). I’ll leave you to work out the details!
I hope my little comparison exercise has been a momentary distraction from the eternal wait for league action to resume at Craven Cottage. Neil and the boys have made a great start but the road is long (especially up to Middlesborough) and they have many deeds of daring to perform if they are to reach the heights of the class of 2003/04.
The best of British to ‘em.