Time to dream again of return to top flight for City then...
PUBLISHED: 08:07 01 April 2017
It’s been a funny old week for Norwich City fans, with no club football to distract us from the apparently interminable saga of Stuart Webber’s move from Huddersfield and little to get excited about on the international front as England’s relentlessly lateral passing made hard work of breaking down an almost totally passive Lithuania.
Whilst it seems that Webber’s arrival at Carrow Road is simply a matter of time, with Huddersfield confirming on Thursday that he has been placed on gardening leave, it is inevitable that the perception amongst fans will be that progress in other areas, particularly the hunt for a head coach, has been put on ice.
That may, of course, be true, but (and this is purely hypothesis on my part), if Webber is Norwich’s Sporting Director in all but name then surely there is no reason why the club shouldn’t be able to pick his brains, even though they are unable to have him physically in post?
While I fully understand why Huddersfield would be highly reluctant to let such a key individual go quickly, with Wednesday’s meeting between the clubs a possible factor, it’s not hard to see why the City job is so attractive to Webber as he would have significantly more power and influence at Carrow Road, regardless of any additional financial inducements.
We will have to wait for matters to run their course on that front, but at least we have the return of the Championship this weekend, and a game against a club that most of us would have expected to be much closer to the top of the table than they currently are.
In many ways, Aston Villa are the perfect template for the club that some fans would like City to be. They have a flamboyant foreign owner in Dr Tony Xia, who seems to have very deep pockets, having spent a reputed £75,000,000 in the transfer market this season, and a high-profile manager in Steve Bruce.
In both transfer windows this season they have vacuumed up a succession of strikers who have featured on the wish lists of many City fans, the most high-profile being Ross McCormack, whose signing was accompanied by boastful tweets from Xia about how much money they’d thrown at the player to secure the deal, although whether he feels quite so self-satisfied after McCormack produced just three goals in 20 appearances before being branded as being “nowhere near fit enough” by Bruce and shipped off to Nottingham Forest on loan, is unclear.
In addition to McCormack, Villa also added Jonathan Kodjia and Albert Adomah to a squad already containing Jordan Ayew, Gabby Agbonlahor and Rudy Gestede, and have subsequently replaced Ayew and Gestede with Scott Hogan, yet they have scored only 39 goals in 38 league games and are currently four places below City.
They do, however, have some momentum, with five wins in their last six games, and will feel that, like City, they have an outside chance of the play-offs if they can maintain their run.
Given City’s parlous away form this season, along with their less-than-impressive record at Villa Park, this is a game that has home win written all over it, and it will be a massive test of Alan Irvine’s impact on the psychology of the City squad.
I have no doubt about City’s ability to produce goals, having scored 26 more than their opponents this season, but I think that, realistically, it will be hard for Irvine to eradicate the regular defensive lapses that have littered the last two seasons.
However, if he can manage to do so, and City are able to come back with three points then they may just find the impetus for a concerted push for sixth place, although it’s important to stress that that’s a very big “if” in the context of how their season has gone so far.