So, we’ve just been relegated.
It’s brought about changes on both the playing and coaching staff. But there is optimism, genuine hope that we can go straight back up at the very first time of asking.
Our start hasn’t been so good though. We’re into mid-October and have just had a disappointing encounter with Leeds United. So much of the play, so much pressure, so little at the end of it – and an unlikely goalkeeping error seeing them score.
That weekday evening match comes to a close with us 6th in the table. We hoped to be higher, expected it even. Such is football.
Played 13, won 5, drawn 4, lost 4 – including a defeat and two draws at Carrow Road we’d all rather not think about. Because dropped points at home, even at the earliest part of the season, can be crucial come it denouement.
Yep, welcome to the 2009/10 season. We’ve just lost 2-1 at Leeds, four defeats from thirteen now. Not what you’d want or expect of a team aiming to finish in the top two. And, whilst there are not quiet murmurings of discontent yet with our relatively untried and tested new manager, the jury, as far as some people are concerned, is still very much out.
Time will tell.
And it did. We won League One that season by a comfortable margin of nine points, with that Leeds game a watershed. Following that game, we went onto win 14 from our next 16 league games, form and results that saw us, following a 2-1 win at Brighton on February 2, four points clear at the top, a position we never relinquished.
All was, eventually, well.
A few parallels with this season then. Back then we saw off Wycombe and Hartlepool 5-2 and 2-0 respectively only to then go on a winless run of four league games that included defeat at MK Dons. Also an instantly forgettable 0-0 draw at home to Walsall that saw missed opportunities galore, Simon Lappin and Cody McDonald the most guilty of those charges with squandering good chances.
Were eyebrows being raised and questions after that game? You bet they were.
When we dropped down into League One for that one-off season, we were, all of a sudden, the big fish; the shark swimming amongst the minnows. Opposing teams came to Carrow Road and gave it a bit of a go, either that or, when we travelled away from home, we were the subject of a bit of the old, “…let’s see how they like The New Den/Prenton Park/Brisbane Road on a cold wet winter’s evening” thing and saw opposing teams raise both their game and, on occasion, their studs, to rattle us off our game.
They knew, just as we knew, or maybe hoped, that we were one of the better teams in the league, one expected to do well, the favourites, one of the division’s darlings. And maybe, because of all that, we might also have been one of the teams who didn’t like it when the perceived underdogs ‘put one up them’ – as Colchester United, Brentford, Walsall and Tranmere Rovers, amongst others, went on to show.
And just as we showed, in our three year Premier League tenure against Manchester United and City, Arsenal and Tottenham.
What we did unto others in other words, is now what we should expect others to do unto us.
And they are.
The draw at home to Rotherham United particularly hurt. After all, we were two leagues apart last year but now meet as equals. And they showed their entitlement to be regarded as same at Carrow Road during that 1-1 draw. We huffed and puffed but we couldn’t blow their house down.
It was hellishly frustrating. As was that 1-1 draw at home to Leeds. Their occasional ten man defence, their rare scoring chance and our profligate efforts in front of goal. Much the same things said by our fans in the aftermath as might have been said, for example, by the massed ranks of Liverpool fans after our 1-1 draw at Anfield in October 2011.
The Championship is not going to be the cakewalk many thought it would, the one that a few, even now, maybe still think it should be. We’re not the only ‘big’ club down there and we’re not the only club that has a strong squad, numbers and quality wise. And we’re certainly not the only one where there is an expectancy to deliver – in each and every game, without fail.
Take a look at the Championship table, Twenty four clubs. Of that number, eighteen have, at one time or another, been members of the Premier League. And make no mistake about it, they all, without exception, sure as hell want to get back there. And some of them have been waiting a very long time to do so. They’ll think, quite rightly, that this is going to be their season, the one that finally sees them back there. They’ll have all the supporting arguments, just as we have. And they’ll believe they can do it. Just as we do.
It’s not known as one of the most competitive leagues in world football for nothing. It’s dog eat dog, a real scrap with plenty of contenders. And we’re one of them.
It took time back in 2009/10 to hit our stride, just as it will do this season. But the signs are there. Yes, improvement is needed – the defence needs to be a bit more organised and assured (would Seb Bassong have made a difference there?) whilst the attack needs to start converting chances galore into goals. Two mighty big asks really when you think about it: a defence that needs working on and an attack that’s been misfiring.
Yet, despite all of that, we’re 5th in the table and four points off the top.
Who’d have taken that if offered it after 13 games into a long season back in June? My hand would have been up.
It isn’t going to be easy and it never was. But we can do it.
And if that attitude makes me a “happy clapper” then there’s only one response I can offer.
Russell Martin, centre half?
It still doesn’t feel or look right to me.
Russ is a very capable right back. He’s quick, gets forward well and is no slouch when it comes to getting back and either covering or taking care of the opposing teams left sided threats. He isn’t perfect of course, he has his faults. But that’s why he plays for us and not Chelsea or Liverpool. No Norwich player is ever going to be ‘perfect’; the archetype example of a player in that position. Because if they were, they wouldn’t be playing for Norwich.
Yet, for all of Russ’s pros and cons as a player, I’d far rather see him playing as right back than centre half. Each and every time.
We’re well stocked for centre halves at the moment. Even with Seb Bassong now at Watford and Ryan Bennett still out with injury, we have Michael Turner, Carlos Cuellar, Jos Hooiveld and Ignasi Miquel.
Once Bennett is fit, that’s a healthy store of five to choose from.
Yet Russ seems to get in ahead of them on most occasions.
I’m now beginning to wonder why we ever signed Cuellar. He must now be behind Russ plus Messrs.Turner, Bennett,Hooiveld and Miquel in the proverbial pecking order.
Russ, of course, has long stated that he feels centre half is his best position. It’s the one that Gordon Strachan sees him best fulfilling for Scotland and I am sure that Russ must have made his own preferences clear to Neil Adams as regards where he plays, especially given his pride at being regularly selected for Scotland.
But is it his best position for Norwich City?
It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Ryan Bennett is fit again.
Remember Robert Rosario?
Robert Fleck certainly does. He ranks Rob as one of the best players he has ever played alongside – brave, unselfish and endowed with not a little skill and technique as ‘that’ goal against Southampton at Carrow Road demonstrated.
Rosario now coaches in the US and is known to all as ‘Coach Bobby’.
He’s put on a little weight since his playing days ended, but his love and enthusiasm for the game have certainly rubbed off on his young American students.
Rob, sorry, Coach Bobby, cites a former Norwich player and coach as one of his biggest influences.
“The guy that had the most impact was Mel Machin. He handled most of our training at Norwich. Mainly he scared everyone, but was very intelligent and way ahead of his time. I use a lot of his former sessions with my teams now.”
More than a few ex-Norwich players had reason to be scared of Mel. But I bet he never thought that the post-‘A’ levels schoolboy that the club signed and almost immediately pitched into the first team during the 1983/84 season would end up doing things the Machin way in the US over three decades later.
Mind you, I bet Rob wouldn’t have believed it either.