League One habits keep Norwich City in the mix

It's 13 years since Middlesbrough last visited Carrow Road at this level, yet Saturday's game had the feel of a fixture a lot more recent than than.

It's 13 years since Middlesbrough last visited Carrow Road at this level, yet Saturday's game had the feel of a fixture a lot more recent than than.

About 12 months ago, to be more precise.

The defeat of Boro had all the hallmarks of one of our scruffy, ugly wins which were behind last season's title success.

A side with precious little to offer up front, but determined and hard to break down – how many times have we seen that before?


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Well, for starters, on October 24, 2009 when Swindon were edged 1-0 courtesy of another first-half winner.

This column does, I admit, tend to go on a lot about what happened a year ago, and there's a good reason for that.

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In the Paul Lambert era we've either learned from our mistakes of 12 months earlier or, as in this case, managed to continue previous successes.

And, as a result, I don't really get worked up about what the manager wants to do, because it seldom fails to come off.

Remember the current club motto: In Lambert nos fides (in Lambert we trust).

So I don't expect Lambert to be following the Roy Keane line and having a pop at supporters any time soon: 'A lot of supporters out there, not just in this club, don't know too much about the game.

'And I think a lot of people, particularly around this area, are probably set in their ways.

'Instead of worrying about tactics and systems, and moaning and groaning, I would say get behind your players, particularly the younger boys.'

So, if the City boss wants to rest Wes Hoolahan or Korey Smith, then so be it, until we're on the brink of the ignominy of featuring in another FA Cup first-round draw you're not going to find me complaining too much.

And it worked.

On the back of last Tuesday I have to admit I did have my concerns, what with:

• no opposition manager;

• an expensive, and mis-firing visiting forward line including a former City player;

• five successive away defeats and no away wins since the start of April.

It didn't auger well.

As it turned out, Boro had plenty of possession but never looked like doing anything with it, and it wasn't until the 91st minute that they might have got past City's central defensive pairing.

They're not the worst side I've seen this season – that's still Bristol City – but if their expensive, and supposedly experienced, forward line can't do better than this then they might turn out to be this season's Charlton and unexpectedly find themselves in the third flight.

As for us, well, there's simply no way that's going to happen – two years ago it took us until December 7, not October 23, to reach 23 points.

However, the wait goes on for a convincing home display in which we're able to establish a decisive 2-0 lead well before the 90th minute.

Perhaps we're saving it for November 20 or 28...

• STRANGE AS IT MAY SEEM, BUT WE'RE BETTER ON THE ROAD

Remember last year when anyone who went to the Wigan pre-season friendly then could not believe the collapse in form which followed just a week later against Colchester?

Well it might not quite have been on the same scale, but it must have been hard for anyone present for last Tuesday's game against Crystal Palace who had also been to QPR three days earlier to try to explain to those who didn't go to west London just how good they'd been against the league leaders.

Now you could point to our previous evening kick-off league results this season – 2-3 against Watford, 1-3 at Doncaster and 4-3 at home to Leicester – and know that the game would not exactly be straightforward.

But even so, I wasn't expecting it to be as bad as it was.

At QPR, City were outstanding, but three days later it was as though there had been 11 changes to the side rather than just the two.

It's almost as if Paul Lambert has achieved the seemingly impossible, making the Canaries a much better outfit on the road than at Carrow Road.

But for the loss of income, at the moment you'd probably rather City had more away fixtures than home ones.

So far this season I've been to all seven home league games and three of the away ones, and while I'm already struggling to remember much about anything that has happened at Carrow Road I can tell you lots about the latter trio.

It's not just the results – two wins and a draw – but the Canaries' whole approach.

On the road City really take the game to their hosts, clearly believing they can win every game.

And they've been sound at the back too; for all the hype and ballyhoo about QPR's defensive record, it's rather been overlooked that the Canaries have conceded as few goals on the road as Neil Warnock's men.

Somehow, though, at home they don't seem as assured, and get embroiled in the kind of dour, tactical struggles much more beloved of coaches than supporters.

That's not so bad if they're largely solid at the back, as, say against Middlesbrough, but when you defend as badly as they did in the second half against Palace you're asking for trouble.

It's not quite the same scale of wake-up call that Colchester was, but sides with top-six aspirations can't gift goals like last Tuesday's on a regular basis.

And they have to want the points – Palace's desire was far, far greater than ours, a very rare occurrence for a league match during the Lambert era.

Like Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, Burnley will come to Carrow Road next month without an away league win to their name this season. We have been warned.

• BOXING DAY CLASH DOESN'T SEEM FAIR

One final word about the Palace game.

You might almost say that Christmas came early for the visitors the way they were gifted those two second-half goals and, indeed, it's quite an appropriate turn of phrase, given that the return encounter takes place on Boxing Day.

This happens every year, and some City win, some they lose in terms of the timing, but why does the return of a festive fixture like this not happen at another holiday time?

It seems blatantly unfair to me that the Boxing Day hosts can more or less charge what they want because they know they'll still get a decent crowd, whereas the unlucky side at home on a chilly October night are forced to make a 'kids for a quid'-type offer.

The side at home on Boxing Day goes to the visitors on Easter Monday. Seems simple enough to me.

• WHAT SORT OF REACTION WILL BELLERS GET?

He might do something to hurt us when the game actually gets under way, but what sort of reception will Craig Bellamy get from travelling City fans at Cardiff this Saturday?

Pretty good, I'm guessing, and not just because he once scored a winner at Ipswich.

And, talking of which... you may recall that Leon McKenzie similarly had a rather good game at Portman Road.

Well, he might now be playing for struggling Northampton, but I see that although they've lost their last couple of League Two games, he's scored four times in them.

Will, I wonder, he extend this run when the Cobblers go to Ipswich in the fourth round of the Carling Cup tomorrow night?

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