Christmas may be over, but the fixtures in the Championship keep coming thick and fast!
We find ourselves in the no man’s land period between Christmas and New Year where nobody knows what day it is and we’re all either full from eating too much, drunk, or hungover (or all of the above).
The only ‘day’ we football fans recognise during this period is matchday, and this time it’s Millwall at The Den as we look to bounce back from our Boxing Day defeat to West Bromwich Albion.
Let’s begin this preview by looking back at the performance at The Hawthorns.
The biggest talking point is the Borja Sainz red card. While I appreciate the Spaniard’s frustrations, it’s common knowledge that officials are clamping down on dissent this season, so it’s utter stupidity to do that gesture whilst already sitting on a yellow card. He only has himself to blame.
What feels more disappointing is the fact that Sainz had started to thrive in yellow and green and had been one of our most consistent performers in recent weeks, scoring in home victories over both Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield.
I guess the only silver lining is that, if he had to be suspended for one game, most fans would have picked the Millwall fixture over our tough January games against Southampton, Hull, West Brom, and Leeds.
The hosts dominated proceedings in the first half on Tuesday and would have been disappointed to head in at halftime goalless. With the sending off to Sainz, a West Brom goal was almost inevitable, but after their goal came in the 50th minute, I thought Norwich did well to prevent an onslaught and keep the scoreline at 1-0, and on another day may have got something from the tie.
What concerns me is just how poor we looked in that early period against a team in the top six.
Since the November international break, our form has improved drastically with only two defeats in eight games. However, the teams we’ve beaten you could argue are among the weakest in the division.
Home wins over QPR and Sheffield Wednesday are to be expected with both teams in the relegation zone, Huddersfield sit just above the drop and were winless in four when they made the trip to NR1, and a late late show was needed against Bristol City who initially struggled to find their feet under Liam Manning.
The draw against Preston was incredibly dire, and the valuable point in the derby against Ipswich saw an elevated performance and a disregard for form due to the nature of the tie.
The two sides we lost to during this run, against an in-form Watford and fifth-placed West Brom, highlighted that we just aren’t good enough currently to hold genuine play-off credentials.
I fear, unless anything changes, we’re sleepwalking into mid-table mediocrity.
Wagner seems to have the ability to beat the lower mid-table fodder but comes unstuck whenever we face opponents with a point to prove. The previous run may have bought him more time in the Norwich hotseat, but if we lose in London you have to think the German would be under pressure again from both the fans and the media.
With this being said, bringing three points away with us from The Den is absolutely crucial, which will ensure we head into our difficult January fixtures with a victory.
Millwall look a shadow of the side that narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season and currently sit 20th in the division, with a six-point cushion between them and the relegation zone.
Similar to most teams around the bottom of the league, The Lions have changed their manager since the last time we faced them, parting company with Gary Rowett in October.
His replacement is Joe Edwards, who is embarking on his first managerial role in senior football. Under Edwards, Millwall’s stop-start campaign has continued, winning only two of his nine games in charge so far.
His tenure began with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on November 11, with his second victory coming in their most recent game – a 2-0 victory over London rivals QPR on Boxing Day.
Despite their not-so-impressive run, Millwall’s main threat will come from their strength in the forward areas.
Edwards seems to have got the best out of Scottish international forward Kevin Nisbet, who has scored three of his five league goals under the new manager and against teams higher than The Lions in the league, netting in defeats to Leicester and Ipswich, as well as in the 1-1 draw against Sunderland.
Experienced EFL firepower in the form of Tom Bradshaw and Duncan Watmore shouldn’t be underestimated, and Arsenal loanee Brooke Norton-Cuffy looks an inspired addition to the side, with the full-back gaining praise from pundits and fans alike, having played in the play-off final while at Coventry last season.
From a Norwich perspective, I’m sure we are all hoping for a repeat of the scoreline from the meeting at Carrow Road in August, which saw City cruise to a 3-1 victory with goals from Jonathan Rowe, Josh Sargent, and Ashley Barnes.
Despite a late goal from youngster Aidomo Emakhu, Millwall offered nothing on the day and we were able to pick them off with relative ease.
Although the talismanic Sargent still won’t feature at The Den, a returning Hwang Ui-Jo alongside Adam Idah, Rowe, and Barnes should be enough to see off the hosts on the day.
If I have to predict a scoreline, I’ll go for a 2-1 victory for Norwich.
It seems almost inevitable at this point that we’ll concede, with only Preston, Blackburn, and Rotherham conceding more goals than us this season, although with only Sainz and Sargent missing from what most would consider our strongest XI, I still think we should have enough to see ourselves over the line.
Whether I’m saying that out of desperation looking ahead to our upcoming fixtures, or genuine belief we will win on Friday night, I’m not too sure but a victory in South London will at least see us round off an utterly miserable 2023 with a victory.