Friday, December 21, 2012
How disappointing was Monday night? Arsenal win at Reading and overtake Norwich City in the Premier League, sending the Canaries down to eighth position.
Who’d have thought it? To completely corrupt the words of Muhammad Ali, but retain at least some of their sentiment, “whoever dreamed Norwich City would be even close to the mighty Gunners at any stage of the season needs to wake up and apologise”.
In truth, for tis the season to be honest and righteous, did anyone expect Norwich to be lording it up there in the top half of the table around the same time as Slade started to tot up their annual royalties and turkeys begin to realise now might be a good idea to start flying lessons?
What is more likely is that we expected City to be fighting not for seventh but for 17th, a position which guarantees another season with the rich and famous of English football. That’s the bottom line, the worst of the best.
Yet we’re not halfway through the season and already it has the makings of something memorable. Don’t worry, there will be no tempting fate here; there won’t be a prediction about what will happen between now and May (goodness knows, City are making mugs of a few of us who should know better than to try and predict what might happen next – I mean, 4-3 at Swansea???). No football team is trustworthy enough on that score, but what it is fair to say is that circumstances elsewhere are making it all look good for Norwich to achieve that minimum requirement.
For a start, Queens Park Rangers and Reading have given everyone else a head start in the survival race, while Wigan and Southampton are doing their best to give them a fighting chance of staying up.
Rangers could well make up the gap, given that Harry Redknapp not only manages to get the best out of players, but his presence at Loftus Road may well be an attraction for players in the January transfer market.
Reading look like gonners, which is a shame, because they are a decent club with decent people in the important seats. Wigan and Southampton may simply be too weak to cope. And their attempts to strengthen in January won’t be helped by the lure of... a relegation scrap.
And then there are the little surprises – Sunderland and Newcastle in particular, both struggling with the weight of expectation. Newcastle fans expect – every year, every week, every day. Still they wait for the real success which they believe is their right.
Sunderland have Martin O’Neill, which many people assumed was some sort of guarantee for a more than decent season. The media buy it every time, but it just isn’t happening.
But then comes a very difficult question: can you see any other teams who might be involved in the relegation fight?
Looking northwards from Sunderland, Paul Lambert looks to have shifted Aston Villa’s mindset into positive, and then we’re looking at Fulham, Liverpool, West Ham, Swansea, Stoke and Norwich. Can you really see any of those being involved at the wrong end of the table next spring? Tough to imagine isn’t it? Which is something of a minor miracle for City, given the dreadful start they had.
I am finding it just as difficult to predict Norwich for the bottom three as I am for including them in a top-six prediction. Mid-table mediocrity doesn’t really exist in the Premier League, simply because if you are in it you are supremely fortunate.
But for the purpose of this exercise, finishing around the middle bit, last on Match of the Day every week, with a negative goal difference, is absolute bliss.
I’ve never really understood “softly, softly, catchee monkey” but effectively it means, be patient. Don’t for goodness sake go planning a European holiday next year based on the off-chance that Norwich might be competing in the Europa League.
It might happen. But so might relegation. Best not to look at either. Best to simply accept that sitting eighth in the Premier League is absolutely spot on. It isn’t Europe, but it isn’t Burnley either.
It is, however, complete success.
• SO MUCH TO BE PROUD OF
FA chairman David Bernstein enjoyed the Norfolk hospitality last weekend, with a trip to Carrow Road for the 2-1 win over Wigan and a visit to the county FA’s Football Development Centre.
“Clearly they’ve been outstanding. Results have been fantastic and the quality of their football has been really, really good. It’s very good to see clubs like Norwich really punching their weight so well in the Premier League.”
Equally impressive are the FDC facilities, including the new 11-a-side ‘Field of Dreams’ grass pitch – the guided tour provided by the excellent Norfolk FA chairman Richard King and chief executive Shaun Turner.
“I’ve been really impressed,” said Bernstein. “I think it’s a fantastic site and I’ve enjoyed the discussion with the Chief Executive greatly, because I think what you have managed to do here is a very modern approach to developing a facility. You seem to have managed to create a semi-commercial situation, where there is cash flow and some income coming back into the county, whilst at the same time giving a really effective, inexpensive and quality facility for people to play. So I’m really very impressed and I think it’s something other counties should look at and hopefully could be rolled out across the country.”
Little old Norfolk, eh? Great place.