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Norwich City must grind out wins and take full advantage of slip-ups from rivals

PUBLISHED: 06:30 21 March 2015

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Mathias Svensson slides the ball past Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Darren Ward in the 14th minute of Norwich City's 1-0 win against Nottingham Forest at Carrow Road on Boxing Day 2003 - the day on which Darren Huckerby was unveiled as a permanent signing before kick-off.
 Picture: Bill Smith

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Mathias Svensson slides the ball past Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Darren Ward in the 14th minute of Norwich City's 1-0 win against Nottingham Forest at Carrow Road on Boxing Day 2003 - the day on which Darren Huckerby was unveiled as a permanent signing before kick-off. Picture: Bill Smith

EDP pics © 2003

The only certainty involved in supporting Norwich City is that nothing will ever be easy.

After the contemptuous swatting of the likes of Watford, Wolves and Ipswich, this week seemed perfectly set up for City’s imperious ascent into one of the automatic promotion slots after victories against an injury-hit Derby and a struggling Huddersfield.

We should, of course, know better. Two games on and not only has the gap between City and the top two stretched from one point to five, but the comfortable buffer separating them from seventh place has shrunk to three. The pressure is well and truly on, and while City played well enough to have won against Derby, Tuesday night brought a return to the sort of lacklustre away performance with which we became all too familiar under Alex Neil’s last two predecessors.

Passes went astray, chances were missed and glaring defensive errors were made in a game that Neil had confidently asserted (and with some justification) was there for the winning if City applied themselves properly. What’s disappointing is that Huddersfield didn’t really need to raise their own game, but simply preyed on City’s errors, and even the dramatic late equaliser did little to lift the spirits of most fans.

Inevitably that result triggered the latent fatalism that seems to be encoded in the DNA of most City fans and after the game, predictions of impending doom and, sadly, a few rather unpleasant attacks on players deemed to have let the team down (presumably from people who have never themselves made a mistake at work) appeared on social media.

It would be wrong to suggest that the last seven days have been anything other than dispiriting, but after the tremendous run since the defeat at home to Brentford it was almost inevitable that City would have to pause for breath at some stage, particularly given the competitive nature of this season’s Championship.

Since Tuesday a number of respected columnists have suggested that City now have to win seven of their remaining eight games to achieve automatic promotion but football’s never quite that clear cut. There is no question that City need to put another run together, starting today, but ultimately, with many fixtures coming up between sides in the top eight over the coming weeks City’s task may not prove quite so onerous in practice, particularly if they can beat Middlesbrough in the ultimate ‘six-pointer’.

It’s a natural part of the psychology of football supporting to see opponents as potential banana skins for your own team but cannon fodder for everyone else’s, yet with the possible exception of Blackpool and Millwall every team in this league is capable of matching any other on its day, as City have discovered several times. While Bournemouth and Watford in particular may look unstoppable at the moment, so have the likes of Derby, Middlesbrough and City themselves at different points in the season, yet no one has sustained a winning run indefinitely.

What’s more, the dynamic of a season changes as the finish line approaches. Being top in October is very different to being there in March as each game becomes more and more crucial.

The sides above City might not suffer slip-ups before the season ends, but I would bet my bottom dollar that they will, and probably in unexpected fashion. What City must do is to grind out results and keep the pressure on them so that they can take advantage if the opportunity arises.

Ultimately they may not make automatic promotion, but a strong finish is necessary to even ensure a place in the play-offs. It was at about this point that Paul Lambert’s promotion team started to make their move. Let’s hope that history will repeat itself.

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