Five games to decide the fate of Norwich City’s season

Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan started on the bench on Saturday. Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan started on the bench on Saturday.

Monday, October 1, 2012
5:11 PM

Luis Suarez scores six goals in the last five league games at Carrow Road. City players manage five. Says it all, really.

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We needed opportunistic strikes, as scored by Steve Morison and Grant Holt, when it really mattered – in the 47th minute at only two goals down, or against QPR and West Ham to turn poor draws into much-needed wins.

Our only idea of a Plan B on Saturday appeared to be changing a striker for a striker. It didn’t work when we needed it to.

At least we managed to score. The current general outlook is just starting to remind me of what was happening this time five years ago: a manager who had replaced a long-serving and successful predecessor and everyone was willing him to make a go of things, but it just didn’t happen.

A run of five games without a win or a goal and only a solitary point against Scunthorpe did for Peter Grant.

The next 450 minutes will tell us a lot about Chris Hughton.

Forget the next two matches – Chelsea and Arsenal are now nothing more than damage-limitation exercises: anything less than four will be a bonus this Saturday, that’s for sure.

But if we get to November 10 and haven’t beaten at least one of Aston Villa, Stoke or Reading with nearly a third of the season gone, we’re going to start having to hope for a Wigan-type escape route.

And by then the Pink Un message board will contain even more threads with titles such as “We’re going down and it’s Holt’s fault!” or “Worst defence in the Premier League”.

I’ll be glad to see the back of September. White Hart Lane apart it’s been a complete letdown and there are already some worrying Premier League similarities with 2004/5 springing to mind – little obvious team spirit, new signings not gelling, an inability to score and no obvious victories in sight.

But worse than eight years ago, when we simply weren’t good enough, we add up to less than the sum of our parts.

Eleven months ago we went to Liverpool and gave it a real go. At the weekend it was effectively game over within a couple of minutes.

There’s only one certain home fixture in recent years which was worst than Saturday’s embarrassing outclassing. Liverpool could have scored at will, such was the gulf in quality between the sides. We’re lucky they effectively declared after 68 minutes.

Michael Turner’s defending for the second goal wouldn’t have looked out of place against a certain team in August 2009 and Leon Barnett’s penalty let-off rather made up for his red card early last season.

I dread to think what could happen at Stamford Bridge if Sebastien Bassong is still unavailable.

And that’s just the defence.

Given the amount of midfielders we’ve got now it’s surely time to see what someone else could do now –David Fox, anyone? – and up front who knows what we might get?

We might as well use the next couple of fixtures for practice, because our fate will probably be decided by playing Stoke, Reading, Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea and Wigan in the run-up to Christmas.

Too much caution and not enough points and it may be some time before Suarez can add to his Carrow Road goalscoring spree.

• NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS

Reasons to be cheerful from the weekend? Well, Southampton continue to concede goals at an even faster rate than us, Reading still can’t win and hopefully QPR will slip up again tonight against West Ham.

It comes to something when that appears to be our only hope at the moment – that all the usual suspects can go on being incompetent and that this season might be one in which far fewer than 40 points might be enough.

Meantime, though by Saturday evening we could be bottom of the table depending on the result of Swansea’s visit to Reading.

Incidentally, I see it’s all gone a bit quiet on the media’s Swans love-in, given how they have gone four games without a win and haven’t scored in their last three.

• CAPITAL ONE CUP HELPS HIGHLIGHT CLASS GAP

For all those who might mourn the passing of reserve-league football, there is actually a replacement – the early rounds of the Capital One Cup. Cheap tickets, fairly young audience and half-empty grounds with suitably muted atmosphere? Tick, tick and tick.

I can’t have been alone in going along to both games this season just to see some different players in action, in the way a couple of decades ago that if someone didn’t get a match against Liverpool they’d get a run-out versus Luton’s reserves. But the most noticeable thing from both the Scunthorpe and Doncaster ties is how there’s now a real ’us and them’ aspect to English league football.

And we’re really in the ’us’ camp.

It was only three seasons ago that we were a division below both our cup opponents, but in the two ties at Carrow Road this season the gulf in standards – our inability to score notwithstanding – has been huge. And that’s with our second string.

There are now two levels between us and Scunthorpe and Doncaster and you have to say that unless the Carrow Road hierarchy manage to oversee as dramatic a business decline as that seen at JJB Sports we might never play either on a level playing field ever again.

• The other point that struck me from the Capital One Cup, and again I cannot be alone in thinking this, is that it’s a pity we played MK Dons in last season’s competition rather than Manchester City. I’m sure we’d have taken the occasion a whole lot more seriously.

• BRADFORD AT HOME WOULD HAVE SUITED EVEN BETTER

Tottenham at home, then, and arguably Norwich’s biggest home tie in the League Cup since, I would suggest, Arsenal came here for a third-round replay 19 seasons ago.

In the intervening time we’ve reached the quarter-finals twice and played Premier League opposition here – well, Bolton, anyway.

But there have been plenty of nights to forget – such as a Barnet first-round tie – which, if I remember rightly, didn’t have any cheap ticket offer and attracted a crowd of just 5,429.

A visit from Tottenham isn’t the tie I’d have chosen – call me a glutton for lower-division punishment but I’d have been happy if we’d got Bradford City at home. It will, however, be both a big occasion and test.

Coming as it does in the middle of Spurs’ Europa League campaign, perhaps it might not be top of their priorities.

But as it’s a competition they’ve taken very seriously in recent years it won‘t be as hollow an experience as playing a Scunthorpe or a Doncaster.

And however we’re doing in the league by the time the start of November comes around, I’ll take any confidence-booster going.

Besides, with the size of our squad we need a cup run and it’s not exactly going to make our fixture programme demanding.

Who knows, it might even attract more than a few league regulars along. Because if there’s one thing the last six seasons have shown it is that there’s still a certain hard core who will always go along to a League Cup tie, no matter the pricing policy or quality of opposition.

Everyone else avoids them like the plague – and you can‘t blame them for that given the general indifference shown to the competition by the Canaries in recent years.

Five of the last six home ties have attracted crowds of 13,000-odd, and it’s fair to say that the only reason the figure for the visit of Sunderland reserves three years ago dipped to 12,345 was that the game was screened by Sky.

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