When Norwich play away, my Saturday afternoons usually consist of just one thing – whether I’m at home, in a pub, or standing in line at Primark holding any assortment of my girlfriend’s shopping bags, I’ll be on Twitter, endlessly checking the score.
This usually results in embarrassment for the people I’m with. On the first day of the season, when Onel Hernandez’s second equaliser resulted in those four capitalised letters (G-O-A-L) to flash up on my phone screen, I’ll admit – shopping went everywhere.
When I was forced to miss the Millwall game at Carrow Road last month, I was already at the other end of a London pub before Teemu Pukki’s goal gif had fully loaded.
However, Saturday evening, I was just at home, anxiously strolling around the living room with phone in hand. (At this point I should clarify that, as much as I enjoy the talents of Chris Goreham, football on the radio makes me agonisingly believe that both teams are about to score at all times – so Twitter it is.)
On about 83 minutes, I muttered to my brother – who definitely wasn’t listening – that, while 0-0 would be a good result at Blackburn, a 1-0 win would mean that this Norwich team are even better than I thought. Two minutes later, my brother had left the room, complaining about an unnecessary amount of shouting and forced hugging.
I don’t think I’m the only person who thinks that Norwich aren’t actually as good as they are.
Yes, I know – City are good. But, despite having a head coach, players and system that currently look a bit too clever for the Championship, I’m filled with the unshakeable belief that they can’t possibly do it.
So this one’s for the pessimists out there – let’s bust some myths so you can enjoy your Christmas in peace.
We’ll start with the one that Leeds fans, especially in their frustration, love to perpetuate – Norwich’s last-minute goals are ‘lucky’ (I bet they have a different opinion now but I’ll persist…)
Don’t forget, of course – Paul Lambert’s Norwich team of 2010/11 scored 12 goals in the 90thminute or later that season, earning themselves an extra 14 points in the process – and they rightly got promoted.
Scoring late has been a tactic utilised by title-winning teams since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of Fergie Time – which wasn’t actually the result of Howard Webb playing on until United scored, but the Red Devils making their quality ultimately count against a team they deserved to beat in the first place.
For the record, Daniel Farke’s Norwich side have scored 12 goals this season in the 80thminute or later and won 14 extra points from those goals – of course luck doesn’t come into it – insane levels of fitness and a dog-eared determination to win do, though.
“Fair enough”, I hear you cry through mouthfuls of turkey, “but City are flat-track bullies right? They haven’t actually beaten anyone who’s any good.”
I’ll humour you. Norwich have so far beaten ‘Boro and Villa at home (two sides that will probably finish in the play-offs) and won away games at QPR, Swansea and Blackburn (who up until yesterday had lost just one home game in 15 months).
But it’s true – three of City’s four losses have come to sides in the top six – Leeds (1st), West Brom (3rd) and Sheffield United (6th) – with the other coming to Stoke (9th).
This is a small problem, but one City will have a chance to address in the second half of the season. And there’s no reason why they won’t take that chance.
The defeat by West Brom came as a result of serious teething problems, for a start. The now vastly-improved Tim Krul made two errors leading to goals either side of a missed Jordan Rhodes penalty – the Baggies were good, but Norwich should have been on the right end of a 4-3 score line.
Meanwhile, Stoke defended superbly to claim a 1-0 win at Carrow Road but the chorus of ‘Yellows’ at the end of the game rightly suggested Norwich were unlucky to lose. They definitely weren’t unlucky to lose to Leeds and Sheffield United but the reverse fixtures will be extremely interesting – since the defeat by Leeds, Norwich have won 43 points from 18 games – Leeds have won 35 in the same period and the Blades just 29.
“That’s all well and good”, I hear you exclaim with a mouthful of mince pie, “I’ll admit we’ve done well so far but it can’t last can it? We’re on course for 94 points – that’s just unrealistic.”
I think we all heard the stat a couple of weeks ago that the team top of the Championship after 21 games has gone up automatically in each of the last ten seasons. Impressive, but I’ve dug a little deeper and looked at the top two at Christmas over the last 18 years (some of these stats are arguably irrelevant as Norwich will be 2ndat Christmas but when I wrote them all, Leeds were 2-0 down. Leeds fans can enjoy them I suppose.)
Since the 2000/01 season:
- 15 of 18 league leaders at Christmas have been promoted (83%). The exceptions are Watford in 2007/08, Ipswich in 2004/05 and Burnley in 2001/02.
- 12 of 18 clubs that were second at Christmas have been promoted (67%). Three of those teams – QPR in 2013/14, West Ham in 2011/12 and Bolton in 2000/01 were promoted through the play-offs, rather than automatically.
- 27 of 36 sides in the top two at Christmas have been promoted (75%), with 24 promoted automatically (67%).
- 15 of 18 clubs with 47 points or more at Christmas have been promoted (83%).
- Only once in the last 18 years have both the top two at Christmas failed to win promotion – in 2001/02, when Burnley were edged into 7thby Norwich, who then knocked out Wolves in the play-offs.
- Ipswich are the only team to be in the top two at Christmas twice and fail to win promotion either time (2004/05 and 2014/15 – maybe they’ll get another chance to blow it in 2024/25…)
I quite like those odds, so I’ll begrudgingly say it – Norwich might actually be the real deal. In the true spirit of Christmas, I believe!
Have a good one everyone!