Norwich City’s past holds clues for success

Norwich City striker Simeon Jackson is targeting a place at the World Cup finals in 2014 with Canada. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd. Norwich City striker Simeon Jackson is targeting a place at the World Cup finals in 2014 with Canada. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
3:48 PM

Maybe the answer to unlocking Norwich City’s Premier League potential again is remembering what got them here in the first place.

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I doubt many of us thought the Canaries would finish 12th after their first shot back in the big time last year. Personally, I felt 15th was possible when asked for a prediction ahead of the great leap forward from the Championship. In the end, even that proved pessimistic given the way City acclimatised after recovering from a rocky start.

This season has begun in similar fashion. You can point fingers at the managerial change, the influx of new players, the toughness of their early season fixture list, the rather tiresome second season fever I keep hearing about. All manner of reasons why some undoubtedly positive displays have failed to yield the points to propel Chris Hughton’s men up the pecking order.

Simeon Jackson touched on another potential factor recently; City clearly have lost the element of surprise. That imperceptible phenomenon has now passed to Reading and Southampton.

The Canadian striker is right in as much as newly-promoted teams appear to differ in approach from the ‘established’ set. The Saints have been admirably fearless - albeit with limited success so far – much in the same way that City collectively set about their task after promotion.

But in regard to styles of play or strengths and weaknesses of playing personnel, those are all facets the opposition can and do plan for. With the scope that exists for statistical analysis allied to the forensic detail that goes into preparation should we really expect Premier League clubs to be caught by surprise? It seems an intrinsically flawed notion.

As such, I take issue with Pat Nevin, writing in the Chelsea match day programme at the weekend. The former Scottish international was a fine player and an excellent pundit, but I contest whether Nevin is right to assert: “Norwich will be aware that their team shape is no longer a surprise to the rest of the Premier League, so there may have to be a few adaptations with the system as they go along.

“Another change is of course the manager. Naturally he has tried to put his own stamp on the team, but the playing staff hasn’t been hugely altered. Therein lies another potential problem – those individual players may have to evolve their personal styles a little as well due to the fact the opposition will have played against them and figured out their strengths as well as their weaknesses.”

Yes, City may have lost the element of surprise, but that does not necessitate a rejection of the model or the principles their success was founded on last season. If anything the arrival of Hughton should offer a fresh way of thinking, a new tenor to the work the players do on the training pitches of Colney.

Hughton’s style is completely different to his predecessor, but City’s manager is no fool. He is far too experienced to try and dismantle a structure upon which Norwich’s recent rise was built.

City’s starting line up at Chelsea featured just three of the men he brought to the club during the summer recess.

Hughton’s task is to embellish what already worked. In that regard he has been hindered by injuries to the men he brought in. Steven Whittaker and Jacob Butterfield have yet to play one minute in the Premier League. Robert Snodgrass and Sebastien Bassong have impressed in phases, but injury has also intervened to temper their progress. Alex Tettey’s Premier League career is literally just up and running.

Only Michael Turner has struggled to get to grips with what is required. And two Premier League games is a ridiculously abbreviated sample to pin any lasting judgement on.

City need a degree of re-invention. Unquestionably. But a far more precious commodity is time. Time for Hughton to integrate the old and the new elements of his squad. And there is still plenty of that left this season.

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