December 12 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
One of the downsides of life in the Premier League can be those annoying and frustrating 5.30pm Saturday kick-offs.
By the time you’re starting, everyone else is long since finished and your game can feel like a bit of an after-thought – especially if other results haven’t exactly gone your way and you‘re having to play catch-up.
With, of course, the notable exceptions of Saturday and April 9, 2005, because beating Arsenal at the weekend was on a par with the defeat of Manchester United eight seasons ago.
Both totally unexpected wins and a throwback to a time when the Canaries were more than a match for such illustrious opponents.
There was always a lingering suggestion that the Canaries didn’t so much beat Manchester United in 2005; rather it was a case of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side taking us too lightly and losing.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday. City thoroughly deserved their victory – a viewpoint best summed up by the lack of times that John Ruddy was called into serious action for all of Arsenal’s possession.
The scalp of a Champions League contender was perhaps the one thing missing from a year ago. Good as beating Newcastle 4-2 might have been it wasn’t quite the same.
This was an outstanding result which you just couldn’t have seen coming.
With hindsight, though, it’s not hard to see why.
You can say that Alexander Tettey added a bit of bite in midfield in his role as an enforcer, that Grant Holt appeared a lot sharper and more alert after his goals in the previous two games and that Wes Hoolahan looked like a man reborn.
Yes, these were all factors on Saturday, but the key factor was that the Canaries went out and gave it a real go against Arsenal – as opposed to other home games this season. There wasn’t a weak link on show anywhere. Even when Arsenal came out and upped things in the second half City stuck to the task in hand.
It was – and I hesitate in this of all weeks to use the words “Paul” and “Lambert” – the sort of display we came to expect over the last three seasons: players believed in their ability and oozed self-confidence and belief.
It certainly wasn’t the sort of performance that you would expect from a side aiming no higher than finishing 17th.
I can’t imagine that Arsene Wenger expected he would have to be needed on the touchline in his stylish padded ‘onesie’ coat with barely 20 minutes on the clock.
He couldn’t even find an official to blame afterwards – though in fairness he was probably quite staggered that at least a couple of his players didn’t add to the collection of yellow cards picked up by the Canaries.
This one result puts the next three fixtures in a whole new light. Perform at this level during that time and we should really have turned a corner.
Unless this was as much as a one-off and ultimately irreverent as was beating Manchester United eight seasons ago – and remember we went into that game firmly stuck in the last-chance saloon being seven points adrift of safety with only seven games to play – this week’s boardroom talk of a third Premier League season hardly looks as fanciful as it might have done at 5pm on Saturday.
Certainly Reading and Southampton have an awful lot more to worry about than us.
Whether we can add at least a third name to that list will become a lot clearer by around 2.30pm this Saturday.
And if that’s the case there will be little to beat an early kick-off time.
• HUGHTON’S RECORD PROVES HE CAN BE UP FOR ‘NEEDLE’ GAMES
This might require a bit of a leap of faith, considering the ignominious manner of his departure from Carrow Road. But bear with me and imagine that Glenn Roeder had been able to find another managerial role and then faced Norwich City during Paul Lambert’s time in charge here.
Would his successor be up for the game? You bet he would. It would be like the fixtures against Ipswich, Colchester, Charlton, Portsmouth or anyone else you might care to nominate. A big stage and a must-win occasion.
And that is exactly the same approach that Chris Hughton has to take into Saturday’s visit to Villa Park.
Bearing in mind events of the past five months or so, getting any kind of positive result this weekend will be right up there with any of those past Canaries triumphs.
Back when the fixture list came out it would have been impossible to imagine that Villa would go into the game with just one win and five points from their first eight outings.
It means that it’s an occasion that Lambert needs to win as much as any of his past successes at Carrow Road.
Given that his next four matches are away to Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland – and remember how, shall we say, deferential he was there last season – and then against Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal it’s not hard to imagine that his stock might have sunk to the level of his predecessor in another four weeks.
Which is somewhat ironic when you consider that Alex McLeish accrued nine points from his opening eight matches a year ago.
Given that Hughton’s 15 Premier League games at Newcastle included a 6-0 rout of Aston Villa, a 5-1 derby demolition of Sunderland and a victory at Arsenal it’s not unreasonable to assume that he can be as up for the big occasion as much as his opposite number this Saturday.
• TIME TO PICK AND CHOOSE AWAY TRIPS
Being one of David McNally’s 12,143 followers on Twitter, I was extremely interested to see his request for suggestions for away ticket allocation arrangements from next season onwards.
Personally, I think this particular horse has already long since bolted, since people are now voting with their wallets.
Arsenal, Manchester United, possibly Manchester City and maybe Liverpool apart, I think that enough away fans have had their fill of high ticket prices so pretty much anyone who wants to go to a game away from Carrow Road will be able to get a seat.
But perhaps our chief executive might like to broaden his brief next season so that we don’t get a repeat of the Aston Villa pricing scheme.
The live-on-Sky fixture, let’s not forget which is costing travelling City supporters £39 a time in the Doug Ellis Stand.
But as long as home clubs offer home fans the same ticket prices in that particular area it’s up to them what they charge elsewhere, such as £23 or £28 behind each of the goals, or the special offer of four tickets for £44 in the North Stand Upper.
All within the laws of the league, if not exactly the spirit of the game.
As much as I might consider the pricing policy for the Capital One Cup tie against Tottenham to be pretty disgraceful, at least the Canaries get a cut of the proceeds.
That isn’t the case at Villa Park, so I know which of the next two fixtures I’ll be prioritising.
• TOWN PLIGHT SOUNDS FAMILIAR
So, Ipswich Town then.
Throwing away a lead late on due to non-existent defending, sinking towards the foot of the table, six loan players among the 14 on duty – of which a completely minimal amount have been brought through the club’s youth set-up when you really need then as an ever-more indebted Championship club…
Remind you of anyone, ooh, four years ago, say?