Is it time to sack Hughton?

It doesn’t take long to go from hero to zero when your job is to manage a Premier League football club. Just ask Norwich City manager Chris Hughton. After guiding his team to 11th position in the Premier League last season and bringing in some international level talent, it has not gotten any easier.

Chris Hughton

Norwich City manager Chris Hughton comes under fire from the Canary faithful

So far Norwich have been involved in 7 competitive matches. In the two Capitol One Cup fixtures the Canaries notched up a 6-3 win at home against Bury and a 3-2 extra time win at Watford. Both games would be cause for concern from a defensive point of view against lower level opposition. A total of nine goals scored in two matches offers plenty of hope though.

The start to the Premier League season hasn’t proved quite as kind to Canaries fans. The performances can best be summed up by the title of the 1966 Clint Eastwood classic, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.

The Good

The good would be our 1-0 victory against Southampton and the unlucky defeat at the hands of Villa where Norwich put in a much improved performance from previous weeks. In both of these matches the Canaries managed to create enough chances to be a serious threat.

The Bad

The opening fixture against Everton at Carrow Road brought a 2-2 draw which was an entirely flattering result. With Everton leading the way with 7 shots on target to Norwich’s 2, coupled with the Toffees having 67% of possession, it’s a wonder we got anything from this match.

The Ugly

The away performance against Tottenham was about as ugly as it gets. Tottenham were at their creative best and Norwich couldn’t string two passes together. Only losing this game 2-0 still seems astounding. The away defeat at Hull also ranks as a low point. The newly promoted Tigers hung on to a 1-0 lead despite spending over an hour with a man down thanks to Yannick Sagbo’s attempted headbutt on Russell Martin.

Given the bad and the ugly appear to outweigh the good, it’s no surprise to see the balance of public opinion swaying towards the sacking of manager Chris Hughton. There have also been many visible displays of disharmony between Canaries players during games.

Is it too late for Hughton to turn things around? He seems to have the right tools at his disposal in terms of playing personnel and last seasons wins against Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City prove he can motivate the team to succeed.

Club legend Darren Eadie suggested on last weekends Canary Call that the key to success could be playing our wingers on the side of their preferred foot. This would give wingers more opportunity to push towards the byline and whip in out swinging crosses towards the heads of our strikers. Given van Wolfswinkel, Hooper and Elmander are all very capable in the air it would certainly put the opposition centre halves under a lot more pressure. Whether or not Hughton opts to make this change is anyones guess but you can be certain that all eyes will be cast down on the Norwich City manager should the team once again fail to produce a good performance against Stoke on Sunday afternoon.

Hughton and his Signings

I decided to put these thoughts down in writing after reading plenty of comments on our forum about tactics, creating chances and passion following on from yesterday’s dreadful showing at Stoke.

Hughton is still in his first season and while it hasn’t been pretty a lot of the time, the remit is/was to keep us in the league, which I still reckon he will do.

A good way to judge a manager, in my opinion, is to look at A) his signings, B) his tactics, and C) team performances, and to compare those to his predecessor.

Now this is by no means meant to be a full blown account, and there are many other (albeit smaller) factors to consider, but hear me out.

Looking at our website we have just 24 players in the squad, of which 22 I would consider to be active. Given we name 18 on a match day, that’s pretty slim pickings for starters (this includes Leon but excludes the rest of the loan boys by the way).

Of this 22, 10 are Hughton signings. Here is my verdict on them, and I’ll give each a mark out of 10.

Mark Bunn

Bunn

Nobody expected to see Bunn as much as we have done this season.

When he came in, I was concerned about his experience, as he’d only played 6 times for Blackburn since the 08/09 season, and I have to admit that when big John got injured I feared the worst. I find Bunn nowhere near as imposing as Ruddy. He’s just not as big, has less of a reach, and I’ve found myself saying on more than one occasion when we’ve conceded “Ruddy would have saved that”. McCleary’s goal for Reading last week one recent example.

I won’t be overly harsh, as he’s had his moments such as the penalty save against QPR which was vital, but a top keeper is just as important as a top striker in this league.

Casting my memory back, how many points did Ruddy ‘win’ us last season? I’m going to say at least ten. He’s been a big miss.

5/10

Lee CampCamp

Won’t go too much into Campy, as he’s not had much to do. In fairness it’s a signing that had to be made as Rudd needed games of he’s ever going to become something here, and what he’s done he’s done it to the best of his limited ability.

5/10

Stephen Whittaker

Whittaker

I like what I’ve seen of Whittaker. If it wasn’t for his many injury niggles I think we’d have seen him more than we would have seen Russ Martin this season.

His versatility is very useful, and could help is greatly in an injury crisis, assuming of course he’s not one of those in the treatment room at the time. This keeps my mark low, although if it was based on game time, arguably it would be higher.

With Whitts being favoured for the last couple of games when available, I expect him to be a key first team member next term.

6/10

Sebastien BassongBassong

Solid, no nonsense and arguably one of our best performers this season. I do think, however, that of late his concentration has lapsed at some crucial times.

Regardless of this I think few would fail to put him as the first name on the team sheet. His ability to weigh in with goals is crucial too, given our reliance on set pieces.

For the next two years at least, we can expect the defence to be built around the Cameroonian. He can hold his head high after a largely excellent season – we look a much worse team when he’s not there. In the three games this season where he wasn’t available or was injured in, we conceded 11 goals.

8/10

Michael Turner

Turner

Michael Turner had what could only be described as a horrific first month at the club. Error after error meant most of us were fed up with him by then, but the way he picked himself up and stuck to his task impressed me greatly.

Turner has grown stronger and stronger, and we now have a centre back paring that are settled, tight and who both chip in with goals.

Would be an 8 if it wasn’t for the first month or so.

7/10

Javier GarridoGarrido

Still on loan, one of the things I look forward to seeing this summer is if we will look to sign Javier permanently or if we look elsewhere. One thing for certain is that Tierney hasn’t had a look in all season, and that’s largely down to the early form of Garrido.

I was a massive fan pre-Christmas, however I must admit this has been tempered somewhat by his performances since. I always love to see full backs pushing up and whipping in balls, overlapping the wingers an providing support so the forwards can concentrate on being in the box.

Take Garrido’s assist for Pilks goal against United. However, that was one of only two assists this season (Russ has managed the same), and given that he’s been dropped to the bench in preference for Whittaker of late, I wonder if Garrido’s last game for City has already been played against Reading last week. Only time will tell.

6/10 

Alexander Tettey

Tettey

Quietly unspectacular in his work, we all thought we would have seen a few more goals from Tettey after his powerful strike against Arsenal led to Holt’s winner.

That remains Tettey’s only assist all season, as he’s remained the hard-working midfield anchor more akin to mopping up danger and breaking the play rather than breaking forward. What he’s done he’s done well but without excelling.

I want a kind of Tettey/Fox mash-up if something like that exists…

6/10

Robert SnodgrassRobert Snodgrass

We have the highest amount of set piece goals in the division, and it’s largely down to this guy. Not blessed with electric pace, he does – well, most of the time – have good delivery. He’s either scored or assisted 1/3 of our 33 league goals this season (5 scored, 6 assists), and there is likely more that he has been involved in.

In short, I’d worry where we would be now if it wasn’t for Snoddy’s efforts. He still frustrates me at times – especially if corners don’t clear the first man – but largely his signing has been a success and what we have I a young player who will peak in a few years time

A sound investment and someone we would make a profit on if we were ever to sell.

8/10

Kei Kamara

Kamara

Kei joined us at the end of January and, whilst he brings a wonderful vibrancy and a wonderful story, he hasn’t bought us much else. What you have to question is what Kei was brought in as – a wide player.

We’ve played him up top 90% of the time, so I have to judge him as a striker. And if I’m judging him as a striker, he’s less prolific this season than Holt or Jackson.

His 638 minutes have brought us a goal and an assist, which is the same as Jacko has done in his 404 mins this season (and I’m talking league only, not cup).

On a footballing level, I see them as similar players performance-wise with the only difference being one is better in the air and one better on the ground.

Whilst you could argue the service to him has been poor, in my opinion Kei hasn’t improved what we already have, and I would hope we’d be able to improve that area of the team in a better way next season.

4/10

Luciano BecchioBecchio

I’d love to be able to comment, but he’s hardly been on the pitch has he? 163 minutes to be precise. Now this is what rankles me – he’s our player. He’s not some loanee. Why he hasn’t been given more of a chance I don’t know. Is he performing poor in training? It honestly mystifies me.

He scored, what, 16 goals in 26 Championship games this season. In the last 8 games – in which we have scored 6 times (half of them by centre backs) – we have seen Luciano play 18 minutes.

EIGHTEEN MINUTES.

Heck, at least he is proven to know where the goal is. And he’s 29 – why give a whopping three and a half year deal to a 29 year old that you’re not going to put on the pitch when your side is desperately lacking goals?

I can’t give Becchio higher than a 1, because I’ve barely seen him strike a ball in anger.

1/10

Total: 56/100

I’ll give Harry Kane a mention, but haven’t included him in the above given that he played about five minutes and injury prevented him from us seeing more. Jacob Butterfield too, but as he’s not played a minute of Premier League football it’s hard to say. He does, however, have many years in front of him.

It’s also worth noting Ricky van Wolfswinkel too. A hell of a coup for a club our size and our record signing. We’ll let next season’s verdict decide on him.

Incidentally, we have to remember that most of the team that came up played last season. Of those that Lambert brought in, it’s not as if we have yet to see the best of Vaughan, Ayala, Ryan Bennett and to an extent Howson. You could say that Johnson, Naughton, Pilkington and Elliott Bennett have been successful to varying levels.

One thing I will point out is that Steve Morison scored 9 league goals and contributed 4 assists last season, something that would comfortably make him top scorer this season had he repeated it. He scored 1 goal in three starts this campaign… a better ratio than Kamara who has finished the season up top for us (1 in 7 starts).

I guess we’ll never know…

So who has made the better Premier League signings? It’s hard to tell. But this is the start of Hughton’s team, something which he’s only had 1/3 of the time Lambert had to mould and add to.

Tactically speaking is another matter altogether, and that’s an account that I’ll leave to someone else (submissions welcome). But in my honest opinion, comparing Lambert and Hughton’s Premier League signings, I would say it is the latter that has the edge.

He’s certainly spent his money more wisely.

Mark’s Tips – Gameweek 30

Does Lawro talk utter shite? Canaries Down Under’s own Mark Larwood takes him on again in this week’s round of fixtures:

LAST WEEK’S SCORES

With work commitments meaning blogging time has been at a premium, we get back under way this week with some more predictions.

GAMEWEEK 30

We return to a full schedule of fixtures this week after the FA Cup decimated the schedule last time around. Norwich will be hoping to score a goal at least, as well as end a Sunderland hoodoo that dates back many years. Man United look set to continue their March to the title, and with Man City facing a tricky tie away to Everton it has to be assumed that anything other than 3 points for City will see the title firmly in Fergie’s grasp.

P = Perfect score, 3 points
C = Correct result, 1 point

PREDICTIONS

Predictions Score Lawro’s Predictions Larwood’s Predictions
SATURDAY
Everton v Man City x-x 1-1 0-2
Aston Villa v QPR x-x 1-1 3-2
Southampton v Liverpool x-x 1-2 0-3
Stoke v West Brom x-x 2-1 1-2
Swansea v Arsenal x-x 1-2 2-1
Man Utd v Reading x-x 3-0 4-0
SUNDAY
Sunderland v Norwich x-x 2-1 0-0
Tottenham v Fulham x-x 2-0 3-1
Chelsea v West Ham x-x 2-0 2-1
Wigan v Newcastle x-x 2-1 3-2

BETTING

Every week I will have a fiver on the weekend’s football via Bet365.

QPR HT / Aston Villa FT – $1 placed at 26.00

QPR have been in good form in the last couple of weeks, but so have Villa and this could be one topsy-turvy game. I really think QPR will start fast and go for it, and as Villa get more desperate they will prevail in the end.

Swansea to beat Arsenal – $1 placed at 3.30

Swansea’s form at the Liberty this season has been mighty impressive, losing only twice in 14 encounters. Arsenal arrive on the back of a spirited performance in Germany at the end of the week, but Michael Laudrup’s team will be keen to push on and take another big scalp before the season ends, and I can see them doing it here.

Arouna Kone to score first in a draw – $1 placed at 23.00

Wigan are normally resurgent at this time of year, and while they have shown signs that they can win in the cup, they’ve failed to replicate in the league. One of the few stars in the Wigan team this year has been Arouna Kone, who, along with Michu, Ronaldo and Messi was in the top ten scorers in La Liga last year. If Wigan go down, I would love to see him at Carrow Road next season. Newcastle too have been in good form, but after a hard fought win against Anzhi on Thursday, a fresher Wigan team will look to go at them.

Norwich to draw 0-0 with Sunderland – $1 placed at 10.00

In this week’s Norwich bet, it’s hard to see past a 0-0 draw isn’t it? I’ve lost count of the times I’ve woken up at 4am on a Sunday morning to see us labour to a goalless draw this year. Watch it be 3-3 now I’ve jinxed it.

And this week’s treble is:

$1 placed at 6.92

Goal in Man Utd v Reading before 21:00

Benteke to score anytime

Sunderland v Norwich under 2.5 goals

GOOD LUCK!

Do you agree with Mark? Add your comments below…

Goalscoring Woes

It takes a few key ingredients to win in the Premier League. You need a mixture of grit, determination, skill and creativity to ensure your team comes out on top. Often you might even say you need a little bit of luck. There’s also the old football cliche that defense wins football matches but only defenders say that, right?

The reality is that the only thing that will win a football match is scoring more goals than the opposition. You can have the perfect mix of everything listed above and still lose.

Top scorer Grant Holt has only scored 5 times in this Premier League season

Top scorer Grant Holt has only scored 5 times in this Premier League season

Manager Chris Hughton would be well aware that Canaries season ticket holders don’t pay to watch 0-0 draws. He would like to see goals as much as anyone. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have cracked the goal scoring code as yet.

So far this season Norwich City are tied on 12 with Everton and Stoke as league leaders at ending matches on level terms. The Canaries also lead the league with 6 points scored from games where the team failed to score. In total there have been 11 games where City have failed to score and only 6 games where the team has scored 2 or more goals.

The defence has been rock solid in recent times but the attack has almost dried up entirely. In the last 8 matches Norwich has scored a mere 3 goals. Despite this lack of scoring the team has only suffered 2 defeats in that same period.

Is it a lack of killer instinct from the strikers or a lack of service? Ice hockey champion Wayne Gretzky famously said “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take”. In the case of Norwich City they have had 3 shots on target in their last two matches and 0 goals to show for their efforts. Compare this with the Everton match where City racked up 9 shots on target to finish up eventual 2-1 winners. There is plenty to be said for putting pressure on the opposition goalkeeper and the Canaries simply haven’t done enough of that lately.

If Norwich are going to be scoring more they need to be getting the ball into more dangerous areas. This would involve a re-think of the current build up play. In recent times the build up play has become rather slow and obvious, with the ball moving around midfield with a series of short passes. By being less direct in the approach towards goal it has created too much emphasis on scoring from set pieces. With strong forwards like Holt and Kamara it’s fair to say that a quick early cross into the box will not be something opposition defenders will look forward to. To make this happen would require both wingers to gamble on forward runs a little more often instead of being hemmed back around their own 18 yard box. Both full backs should also be creating more offense by putting in their own fair share of crosses.

Chris Hughton has conditioned his players to defend as a team and for that reason alone Norwich City are a tough team to beat. It seems like this approach now needs to be used for attack as well. With more risk involved the rewards can become higher. That’s why 1 win is worth 3 draws. Maybe it’s time to throw caution to the wind and attack the opposition more. Perhaps we’ve reached a point where it’s safer to go for 2 wins instead of 6 draws to ensure Premier League survival.

Mark’s Tips – Gameweek 27

Does Lawro talk utter shite? Canaries Down Under’s own Mark Larwood takes him on again in this week’s round of fixtures:

LAST WEEK’S SCORES

Larwood’s good run continued as he pipped Lawro by a point in the last round of Premier League fixtures. Having had a break for last week’s FA Cup games, we turn back to the league in a weekend that could really see the title sail to Old Trafford should Man City fail to beat Chelsea at the Etihad.

GAMEWEEK 27

I can’t see Man City beating Chelsea, but there could well be a few goals with the talent on the pitch. Elsewhere Reading and Wigan contest a real ‘six-pointer’ and Man United could well streak to 15 points clear and surely a 20th title.

P = Perfect score, 3 points
C = Correct result, 1 point

PREDICTIONS

Predictions Actual Score Lawro’s Predictions Larwood’s Predictions
SATURDAY
Fulham v Stoke 1-0 2-1 C 0-1
Arsenal v Aston Villa 2-1 2-0 C 3-1 C
Norwich v Everton 2-1 2-0 C 0-0
QPR v Man Utd 0-2 1-2 C 0-1 C
Reading v Wigan 0-3 1-2 C 3-2 C
West Brom v Sunderland 2-1 2-0 C 1-0 C
SUNDAY
Man City v Chelsea 2-0 2-1 C 2-2
Newcastle v Southampton 4-2 2-0 C 2-1 C
MONDAY
West Ham v Tottenham 2-3 1-1 1-3 C

BETTING

Every week I will have a fiver on the weekend’s football via Bet365. Last week saw us win the Southampton/Man City over 3.5 goals bet, and come painfully close to a tasty treble as Spurs held on to win against Newcastle. Here’s my tips for this week:

Fulham v Stoke, under 1.5 goals – $1 at 3.00

I don’t think this fixture will be one for the purists. In fact, I can’t imagine too many people setting the video to record in anticipation of the highlights. If anyone saw our game against Fulham and lasted the full 90 minutes, you would have seen two teams plodding their way to relative safety, with very little excitement. This game will be won with a single goal at best.

Reading v Wigan, over 3.5 goals – $1 at 3.00

Neither time are famous for defence, but they both have the potential to score plenty at the other end. With Wigan likely to bring Arouna Kone back in this week after a brace in the Cup against Huddersfield. The exploits of Adam Le Fondre have been noted by many, and with a game so crucial to both teams I would imagine it would become quite open.

Lambert to score first in a Newcastle win – $1 at 31.00

Rickie Lambert is really this season’s Grant Holt. Someone who has risen from the lower leagues to punch with the best and score against the big teams. Lambert has been in a rich vein of goalscoring form away from St Mary’s, but I do expect Newcastle to run out eventual winners as they – with the exception of their loss to Spurs last time around – have been in better form of late.

Norwich v Everton, under 1.5 goals – $1 at 3.40

Like the Fulham v Stoke game, it’s hard to see this game seeing any goals. Everton lost without scoring last time out at Old Trafford, and whilst their form has been reasonable, they come up against a Norwich side that have recently been very stingy in defence. Unfortunately Norwich have been really stingy in attack too, and the low goal-scoring option seems the way forward here too.

And this week’s treble – $1 placed at 12.31 :

West Brom to beat Sunderland to nil

Arsenal to score before 30.00

Aguero to score at any time

GOOD LUCK!

Do you agree with Mark? Add your comments below…

Perspective in football

Perspective is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to go through a tough time in life, a moment that feels like the end of the world, only to put things in perspective at a later date and realise things weren’t quite so bad.

Being a Norwich City fan never seems to be easy. It’s a roller coaster ride that most football fans aren’t up for. It can be hard to keep things in context when you go from extreme lows to amazing highs. City began the season with no wins from their first 7 games and followed this with a stunning 10 game unbeaten run. Now we’re right back where we started with a 9 game streak without a win.

Paul Lambert's attacking style appealed to many fans

Paul Lambert’s attacking style appealed to many fans

While it’s difficult to maintain perspective during the hard times, it’s inherently easy to look for someone to blame. Manager Chris Hughton is the obvious target. Coming off the back of the mind boggling success from Paul Lambert’s era as manager, Hughton has some rather large shoes to fill. Hughton’s controlled approach towards managing the team will often seem dull compared to the hyperactive Lambert.

The two managers appear to be worlds apart, but is that really the case? Their approach to the game may be vastly different but their results are deceptively similar.

At this point last season Norwich had 35 points after 26 games. This left the team in 8th position, 14 points clear of the relegation zone and 5 points away from the magical 40 point mark that usually guarantees Premier League safety.

Fast forward to 2013 and the team sits in 14th position on the Premier League ladder. After 26 games Norwich have accumulated 29 points and there’s still a decent sized buffer of 6 points back to the relegation zone. Despite this position Hughton constantly seems to be under fire.

While this comparison looks at points gained across 26 games it doesn’t actually tell the complete story. Under Lambert’s reign the fixture list appears to have treated him rather kindly at this stage of the season. From the seven teams he had faced twice, only Chelsea and Manchester United would finish in the eventual top 8. It’s worth considering that Hughton has already played two matches against Newcastle, Fulham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Is it any wonder that the current run of form is so bad? This could quite easily

Hughton's more disciplined approach has yielded few goals during City's run without a win

Hughton’s more disciplined approach has yielded few goals during City’s run without a win

account for the six points lower that we find ourselves this time around. In fact, if we were to directly compare the two managers after having played each team only once at the end of Round 19, you might be surprised to note that Hughton comes out on top with 25 points to Lambert’s 22.

The only real difference is the lack of goals being scored with Hughton at the helm. His focus on defence first is bound to irk fans of Lambert’s all out attack. It’s not the beautiful game as we like it played, but it did manage to provide us with the joy of defeating Manchester United and Arsenal. With a good run of favourable fixtures coming up there is plenty of cause for optimism. So perhaps with a little perspective things aren’t quite as bad as they may seem.

The Greatest Game I’ve Ever Seen

I was lucky to be born into an era where Norwich City Football Club have enjoyed some of their greatest successes.  I have also seen some of our greatest moments of despair.  I’ve been blessed with so many amazing memories of wonderful occasions, many of which I’m sure you will have enjoyed (or otherwise) alongside me.

Milk Cup

I remember standing with my Mum and Dad by the roundabout at the top of Heartsease Lane and watching the bus come round with Milk Cup.  I caught a flag thrown from the top.  I wish I’d been old enough to appreciate at the time what I was witnessing.  Funnily enough, I don’t particularly remember the game, just the cheers from my Dad.  That is my first Norwich City memory.

That is my first football memory.

The others that I recall (and cause me to smile) include Aston Villa at Fortress Carra in March 1993.  John Polston’s late goal which sent 18000 people crazy at the thought of a title challenge and sent a thousand Brummies home devastated that their title dreams were over.  It’s hard to believe that less than 20000 were at Carrow Road for that match.  How things have changed!

That was followed by arguably the greatest 45 minutes Carrow Road has ever seen.  “Walking in a Rivers Wonderland”, followed by “We Love You Paul McVeigh” and then…..Malky!!!!!  And all at the end in which I sat with my Dad. The first leg of the Play-Off Semi v Play off semi finalWolves is right up there.  After squeezing in to the play-off’s on the last day of the regular season, the pre-match tension was unbelievable!  Then there was the deflating first half, with crosses from Rivers and Easton constantly hitting the first man or flying into the stand.  Yes young ones, twas always thus.

I’ll even put the Cardiff Play-Off Final in there.  It was a wonderful day, save the long drive back to Ascot.  The atmosphere was incredible, and the way that stadium split into half yellow and half blue was something to behold.  Then there was the actual match.  90 less memorable minutes you will struggle to find.  The saving grace being the performance of ‘Three Lungs’ Holt who produced one of the best midfield destroyer displays I’ve seen in the Yellow shirt.

And then came Iwan.  We’d never been so close to being back in “The Best League in the World”, and when that ball hit the back of the net it didn’t feel real.  When Birmingham equalized it almost felt like a sense of relief swept round the stand, as if being 1-0 up and so close to the Premier League was just too stressful.  I don’t think anyone expected the shootout to go our way.

Believe it or not, that day out in Putney will live long in the memory, and strangely it’s all positive.  The way we filled Craven Cottage; the party atmosphere that took over that little corner of London and then the very swift realisation that the dream result wasn’t to be.  I was living in London that year and attended all but two (I think) of our away fixtures.  We didn’t get relegated at Fulham.  We got relegated at Selhurst Park, St. Mary’s and Fratton Park.  Craven Cottage simply hosted the wake.TOTLAPR

But what a party it was!  Fulham were nice enough to put us out of our misery early.  I think I saw Damien Francis and David Bentley inthe centre circle on the phone talking to their agents in the 15th minute.  But boy did we enjoy ourselves!  And there were more of us applauding Fulham when they did their end of season lap of honour than there were Fulham fans.

Anyway, there are so many others I could mention.  Seeing Rosario score goal of the season against Southampton in September 1989; Culverhouse scoring against Mike Walker’s Everton in 1994 and I have to include one Norwich v Ipswich memory.  “Top of the League, at Portman Road”.  One of the greatest football songs ever at one of the best occasions ever.  Leon Mackenzie, I thank you.

Now on to the Greatest Game I’ve Ever Seen…

It started off like any other day.  Woken up by a screaming child at 5.30am, breakfast, get ready, pile into the car (which we park just off Thorpe Road) and head to Lloyds to meet my brother, who is obsessed with Wetherspoons, a chain for whom I have a deep dislike.

It was Boxing Day so there was a certain joy in the air, but boy was it cold.  The pub was packed and we were getting stared at, sometimes followed by a big grin.  The reason will soon be evident.

City v MilwallWe made our way in to Carrow Road, grabbed a program, a cup of tea and found our seats.  I hadn’t been back for what felt like an eternity.  The moment I walked in it felt like I’d never been away.  We’d managed to get seats in the Barclay Upper and I inhaled the view of the whole ground.  It was magical.

To my right sat my wife, attending her first match since Dean Ashton’s hat-trick against Southampton.  And there to my left sat my Dad, positively beaming as he stared at his 3 month old Granddaughter, rugged up in a bundle with just her little face peeping out and a Norwich City hat perched on top.

It was December 26th 2009 and my first-born was attending her first Norwich match.  We won 2-0 against Millwall, it was our eighth consecutive home win and we saw goals by Hoolahan and Holt.  Leeds were running scared, and we were on our way to the League One title.

I’m glad we won on her first trip there but I remember none of the details.  The memory is seeing those Yellow shirts at Carrow Road and being there with my Dad and my Daughter.

Some football fans will never get that experience.  Some have lost their club because of money, greed and impatience.  I’d love a Wembley visit or to see a multi-million pound striker lift a trophy.  But I bet Portsmouth fans would swap places with us.

We have the Club, we have Carrow Road and we have Yellow and Green blood running through our veins.  I’ll never want anything more that.

MATCH REPORT: Norwich City v Fulham

It was Champagne football, poetry in motion.  It’s the kind of thing we have come to expect; one touch, instant control, the ball reaches a team-mate without so much as a glance in that direction.  Absolutely magical.

Then Bradley Johnson kicked the magician in the face and the magic seemed to fade.  But that moment from Berbatov in the warm-up was something special.

images-4

Before the match, much of the discussion centred on the line-up.  Would our latest recruit from the nursery in Yorkshire start against Fulham?  Becchio’s brief but purposeful appearance against QPR suggested few nerves at this level.  Would he start alongside Holt, for whom goals have been hard to come by this season but whose effort cannot be questioned?  Would Hoolahan be rested after his midweek heroics for Ireland or would we try to harness the confidence that his goal and subsequent plaudits will have given him?

Hughton had those decisions taken away from him.  Holt pulled out with a back spasm, replaced by Becchio and so Hoolahan kept his place, supported by Snodgrass and Bennett, who replaced the injured Pilkington.

Of greater interest was the bench.  News of the inclusion of MLS loan signing Kei Kamara after he impressed in training was warmly received.  The recall of Harry Kane by Spurs manager Andre Villas Boas and the injury to Holt giving him an opportunity he may not have expected so early.

Nor FulFrom kick off Norwich started aggressively, with Tettey, Snodgrass and Hoolahan looking like they were determined to make a winning impression.  Hoolahan in particular seemed full of energy and confidence.  Bennett and Garrido combined to create an early chance for Becchio to make a big impression, but his shot was straight at Schwarzer in the Fulham goal.  That was to be his best opportunity of the match, though a couple of headed efforts at goal suggest he can be the man to cover for Holt.

Without that early goal and with Fulham’s defence (wonderfully marshalled by Brede Hangeland) playing a very high line, Norwich seemed to lose belief that they could score.  And with that stoppage for a bleeding Berbatov the momentum faded from the game early.

The first half passed by with little to keep either teams supporters warm.  Fulham had greater possession, but due in the main to Turner and Bassong and tireless work from Johnson and Tettey, Bunn remained largely untroubled.  One effort of note from Steve Sidwell calling him into action.

When the teams emerged for the second half the Canaries tried to take the game to their visitors but still created little.  Fulham manager Martin Jol had earlier stated his desire that his side be more solid at the back.  His players appeared to have listened.  Far fewer risks were taken going forward compared to the previous week in a narrow defeat to Manchester United and Berbatov in particular often cut a frustrated figure.  The Bulgarian carried on playing his little touches and dancing around tackles but to little effect as his team-mates time and again wasted possession.  This whilst clearly attempting to play it safe.

It was obvious with an hour played that Fulham were happy with the point.  The introduction of the wonderful Emanuelson underlined the fact.  Norwich in contrast started looking like they wanted to win with twenty minutes remaining.  Hoolahan, having showed little in the attacking third to complement his defensive work appeared to wake up and offer the ever industrious Snodgrass some much-needed support.

Nor Ful 2

Finally with fourteen minutes to play, the pace up front finally appeared, Jackson replacing Bennett who appeared to have taken a slight knock.  Suddenly Wessi had someone to look for, and importantly so did Becchio.

Chances started to present themselves as Norwich searched for a break-through.  Snodgrass got his head on a cross and Johnson blasted wide under pressure.

Then with four minutes remaining, the imposing figure of Kamara was introduced, and it is fair to say he made quite an impact!  Showing excellent awareness strength and pace, there suddenly appeared to be a few nerves in the Fulham defence.

Unfortunately, the main impact Kamara made in his limited time was on Schwarzer.  As the Fulham custodian came to claim a loose ball, the big striker from Sierra Leone won the ball and the two collided.  Howard Webb’s award of a free kick to the away side was goalkeeper protection in the extreme.

The final whistle soon followed to the disappointing sound of boos from a small number of the Carrow Road crowd.

To summarize, we can accentuate the positive, but we cannot ignore the negative.  So let us start with a very obvious negative.  Again, we have failed to score.  That is the tenth time this season and the fourth in our last six at home.

Fulham played a high line and were content to be patient, hold possession and wait for a gap.  They were asking to be hit on the break.  It would take a brave manager to change formation after fifteen minutes; it would take a braver man still to change personnel so early.  However, Becchio on his own up front is not the man to exploit a high defensive line.

Elliott Bennett has pace, but when facing full-backs as good on the front foot as those of Fulham, he was regularly forced to assist Martin and Garrido in the defensive half, as was Snodgrass.  This left us with very little pace in the attacking third to exploit the gaps.

The timing of the substitutions has to be questioned on this occasion in particular.  Fulham were there for the taking, but we only looked like we could win after the introduction of a forward with pace with fifteen minutes to play.  This against a side who had won only twice away from home all season and were on a run which suggested they lacked confidence.

images-5The biggest negative in my opinion is the feeling in the ground and indeed on numerous forums including our own.  I have heard the name of Chris Hughton cheered or chanted on very few occasions and very little that he does garners positive opinion, except amongst on-looking critics.

He received very little praise when he guided Norwich City into the top half of the table and yet was quickly criticised when points were dropped.  I don’t believe it is a personality issue, just look at the dour exterior of our previous manager.  I believe the culprit is expectation.

We have been entertained for the past three years having been at our lowest point for over fifty years.  We enjoyed two unexpected promotions and then defied expectation by surviving comfortably in our first season in the Premier League, and that despite a goals against column that would see most sides relegated.  All this was achieved under a manager that we took to our hearts, a manager who guided us to two incredible victories over ‘them down the road’.

Now to accentuate the positives.

Norwich City Football Club enjoyed our longest unbeaten run in the Premier League era earlier this season.  We have enjoyed stunning home victories over Manchester United and Arsenal and a breath-taking win at Swansea, a side who currently sit seventh having suffered defeat at home only twice this season.

At the end of our ten game unbeaten run, we were ten points clear of the relegation zone.  Nine games later that number still sits at six with home fixtures including Everton, Southampton, Swansea, Reading, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion to play.

Chris Hughton’s recruitment so far has been excellent.  Bassong, Turner, Garrido, Whittaker (when fit) and Tettey have become part of arguably the best defensive unit this club has seen in my life-time, certainly the best in twenty years.  Except when we play Liverpool.  That is, as we hear time and again, the bedrock of a successful side.  When supporters and critics alike looked back on last season, the fixing of our porous defence was high on the list of priorities.

Whether you credit Hughton with it or not, Snodgrass has been introduced to the side.  This is another summer recruit who will certainlyBecchio feature in our Player of the Season discussions.

Hoolahan’s game has changed and some of the work he does in front of the back four has been superb.  Yes, he still gives the ball away on occasion, but he also picks it up from the centre backs and puts the opposition on the back foot.  That defensive work-ethic has been added to his game under the stewardship of our current coaching staff.

Chris Hughton is a good man and a fine manager with friends (and more importantly contacts) throughout the game.

This season above any other, due to this incredible new television deal, staying up is all the matters to those in power at Fortress Carrow Road.  Chris Hughton was hired with one single goal, do not finish lower than 17th.  I for one am certain we won’t.

Mark’s Tips – Gameweek 26

Does Lawro talk utter shite? Canaries Down Under’s own Mark Larwood takes him on again in this week’s round of fixtures:

LAST WEEK’S SCORES

Lawro got an absolute hiding last week, losing 12-3 courtesy of Larwood amassing three perfect scores in the games hosted by Reading, Wigan and Fulham that left him wishing he had a flutter on those instead.

Can Lawro come back from that humbling this week?

GAMEWEEK 26

Some curious games this week, with many on a knife-edge. Whilst many may feel that Norwich can end their drought against Fulham, our recent record against them hasn’t been great. Wigan gave Chelsea a scare at Stamford Bridge last time out, a resurgent Newcastle face Spurs and Liverpool team on a strong run at home take on the Baggies who have lost 5 of their last six away from The Hawthorns.

P = Perfect score, 3 points
C = Correct result, 1 point

PREDICTIONS

Predictions Score Lawro’s Predictions Larwood’s Predictions
SATURDAY
Tottenham v Newcastle 2-1 1-1 2-2
Chelsea v Wigan 4-1 2-0 C 3-1 C
Norwich v Fulham 0-0 2-1 1-0
Stoke v Reading 2-1 2-0 C 1-0 C
Sunderland v Arsenal 0-1 1-1 1-2 C
Swansea v QPR 4-1 1-2 0-0
Southampton v Man City 3-1 1-2 2-3
SUNDAY
Aston Villa v West Ham 2-1 1-0 C 2-1 P
Man Utd v Everton 2-0 2-0 P 1-0 C
MONDAY
Liverpool v West Brom 0-2 2-0 3-1

BETTING

Every week I will have a fiver on the weekend’s football via Bet365. Here’s my tips for this week:

Swansea and QPR to draw 0-0 – $1 at 10.00

QPR have been in better form of late, only losing twice in their last six away and keeping plenty of clean sheets in their recent run of good form which included last week’s 0-0 against Norwich. Swansea haven’t been scoring of late, and whilst they have got a few more at the Liberty, a goalless draw on offer at 10′s is a bit too appealing.

Southampton and Man City, over 3.5 goals – $1 at 2.75

The Saints are good at scoring at home, and Man City are good at scoring… full stop. I can’t see this one being low scoring, whether it is Man City running riot or whether both teams go at it hammer and tongs. One thing for sure is that should City fail to win here, then United could be distant by the end of the month.

Norwich to beat Fulham – $1 at 2.30

Luciano Becchio last goalscorer – $1 at 7.00

Really fancy a Norwich win here. City have faltered much since their last win in mid-December, but recent performances have been encouraging. Fulham were obliging in giving QPR their long awaited win earlier in the season, whereas Norwich’s desperate need for goals leads me to believe that our latest recruit from Elland Road will poach a winner off the bench. Well I hope so anyway.

And this week’s treble – $1 placed at 58.66 :

Tottenham/Newcastle to draw

Goal before 27.00  in Southampton vs Man City

Benteke to score first in an Aston Villa win

GOOD LUCK!

Do you agree with Mark? Add your comments below…

The Season In Numbers

City have played 25 games and have 28 points.  At this rate that equates to 43 points which we would all accept.  But this simple equation can be misleading, how are the lads doing when you break the season down?

Of the 20 teams in the premier league, you can separate it into three groups:

  • The four teams, most likely to be fighting over the title:
    •  Man U, Man C, Chelsea and Arsenal
  • The seven teams that will occupy the European places and maybe challenge the big four:
    • Tottenham, Everton, Newcastle, Liverpool, Stoke, Sunderland and Fulham
  • The final group will probably contain the three relegated teams:
    • Villa, QPR, Reading, Southampton, Swansea, West Brom, West Ham, Wigan
  • Plus City to make up the 20 teams.

The teams in these groupings can be argued over, but this is the way I did the analysis.

When planning the bare minimum for survival, 40 points is the magic number, so this is the target I worked towards.  For each of the games it was assumed that a result was a home win and an away draw.  If City managed that for the entire season we would finish up on 76 points, which might be enough to avoid relegation but maybe a tad unrealistic.

If you said we could get:

  • 1/4 of the results from the top group, i.e 1 win and 1 draw
  • 3/7 of the results from the middle group
  • 6/8 of the results from the bottom group

That would give us 10 wins and 10 draws, strangely enough 40 points.

So how are we doing?

Against the top teams we have played all 4 at home and 1 away and have 2 wins and 3 losses.  A plus of 2 points with 3 games to go.

The second group we have played 5 home and 5 away and have 2 wins 4 draws and 4 losses.  A good return so far only needing to get 1 win from the four remaining fixtures to achieve target.

The bottom eight is interesting.  We have played 4 home and 6 away and so far have 2 wins, 6 draws and 2 losses.  Still needing 4 wins  from the remaining 6 games against this group.

Target

Actual

Wins

Draws

Wins

Draws

Top Teams

1

1

2

0

+2 pts

Middle Teams

3

3

2

4

-2pts

Bottom Teams

6

6

2

6

-12pts

As you can see from the table above we are slightly under performing against the teams around us.  The plan is simple for Chris and the boys.  We need to get some more victories against teams around us.

The remaining difficulty for City’s fixtures for the rest of the season does not ring any major alarm bells.  By ranking the home and away games for each team and increasing the difficulty for the away games, Norwich’s fixtures rank 12.  The top ranked team with the hardest run is West Brom.

West Brom

207

Aston Villa

193

Reading

183

Sunderland

173

Everton

205.5

Chelsea

191.5

Norwich

179.5

QPR

166.5

West Ham

202.5

Newcastle

191.5

Wigan

179.5

Arsenal

165

Tottenham

198.5

Fulham

189.5

Man Utd

178

Stoke

163

Swansea

195

Man City

183.5

Southampton

173

Liverpool

157

Of the teams below us only Villa have a run much harder than ours and QPR have on paper the easiest run.  As we face Man U, Man C and Arsenal, all away from home the rest of our fixtures look very promising.

It all makes for an interesting run-in.