Norwich City must deal with being part of the Championship’s establishment
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It says much for the job Neil Adams is doing there is a genuine sense of so much more to come from his Norwich City squad.
"There is still a sense of hierarchy and a higher caste system which Norwich City definitely belong"
Top at this juncture in itself will carry little residual benefit come next May, but to achieve that status when City have clearly not fired at Carrow Road is a testament to their body work on the road. Perhaps also a nod to a clutch of rivals who have ranged into view in recent weeks without quite managing to overhaul Norwich as they endure each frustrating fresh episode on home turf.
Derby County, under a manager in Steve McClaren who has re-established his credentials at club level after a forgettable, rain-sodden period in charge of England, will be one of the main dangers. With Chris Martin rediscovering his goal touch and a young, highly-rated squad the only real imponderable was how they might react to the cruel nature of last season’s Championship play-off final reverse at Wembley.
QPR, with Norwich midfielder Gary O’Neil in their ranks, prevailed despite O’Neil’s red card transgression which left the Hoops down to 10 men for the final 30 minutes only to win it through Bobby Zamora’s 89th-minute goal.
The Rams took just one point from their first two away league games after labouring to beat Rotherham at home on the opening weekend, but Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Millwall in the East Midlands denied them top spot.
Given City’s on-going labours to translate dominance of territory and possession in front of their own fans it was revealing to read McClaren’s post-match comments after watching his side fail to break down a well-drilled Lions’ outfit. They might chime with many in these parts.
“This is what we have to contend with,” said McClaren. “Teams come here and make it very difficult and frustrating. We had it to a certain degree against Bournemouth in the previous home game. We have to stay patient in such situations and eventually we believe our style of play will eventually get through but we didn’t have the quality in the final third against Millwall. We got in good areas but our final cross, final ball, final finish was not there and that is usually our strength. I have not seen that many crosses go behind the goal before.
“Ollie’s (Ian Holloway) team did a very good job. They set up a game-plan and succeeded and nearly got all three points in the end. It was a good away performance from them. Disappointing for us. We had four great chances, had we scored I think we would have gone on but the afternoon became more frustrating for everybody.”
The parallels between City’s struggles and another of the promotion contenders to convert their superiority, in regard to quality and technical ability, actually cuts to the heart of the matter. It relates to a truism just as applicable in the more refined surroundings of the Premier League.
At that level Norwich, over the previous three seasons, knew when they came up against the establishment they would have to forage without the ball for long spells and make the most of any opportunities; to strive for a prowess on set pieces and a work ethic to try and counter-act the greater quality in the opposition ranks.
Just as the top flight has its own recognisable fault lines, so too it appears in the Championship. For all its gruelling, attritional nature, the heavy workload and the less cultured surroundings of certain outposts, there is still a sense of hierarchy, a higher caste system, of which Norwich most definitely reside. Along with Derby, Forest and one or two others.
The qualifying criteria is less about history or prestige and all about the resources and the calibre of player each of those managers can draw on. Adams, just like McClaren, can expect plenty more of what Charlton and Rotherham produced at Carrow Road. And it’s perhaps those clubs and those managers who develop the best remedies and find the longer-lasting solutions that can be pivotal come next May, when the pecking order at the top of the Championship really does matter.