Norwich City fans need to brace themselves for a tough winter

Consistent team selection has helped Jacob Murphy this season. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Consistent team selection has helped Jacob Murphy this season. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

With virtually a quarter of the season gone many of the concerns of the summer may have become a distant memory but Alex Neil will know that the hard work of sustaining a promotion bid has really only just begun.

It was roughly at this point two seasons ago that City returned to the top of the Championship with victory at Bloomfield Road and while their win at Molineux didn't quite get them back to that lofty perch it was still an impressive away result and re-established their credentials as genuine contenders for one of the automatic spots.

There are other parallels between the early stages of the two campaigns, notably the concerns about the unconvincing nature of some of City's performances and worrying signs of defensive susceptibility, but we must hope that the next two months don't follow the pattern of that previous season in the Championship when City's next nine games after the Blackpool trip generated just six points as they slumped to 11th in the table.

However, while the relentless nature of the Championship programme virtually ensures that every club will go through difficult spells I think that are much better equipped than two seasons ago.

Much of that is down to the fact that they have that earlier experience to draw on but also because whereas Neil Adams seemed unable to decide on his best line-up or which formation to use Alex Neil has shown a pleasing continuity of selection policy which has gone some way towards banishing the spectre of his own vacillations as City slid towards the Premier League trapdoor last season.

He seems to have a clear idea of his best back four and that can only help the unit, which seemed to be in constant flux last season, to develop a better understanding, but more importantly he has shown a reluctance to tinker too much with the basic shape that City have employed.

That may perhaps be a result of the fact that, unlike last season, City have been on the front foot in virtually every game, but even at St James' Park where the Canaries would have expected to have much less of the ball he stuck to his guns and resisted the temptation to sacrifice any of his attacking weapons until the late Newcastle onslaught as he showed faith in the players who had got the club to the top of the league.

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Of course that has meant that the three summer purchases have seen very little first team action, but to have that sort of talent waiting in the wings is a luxury that few other Championship clubs can dream of and may well pay dividends down the line as injuries and suspensions inevitably become a factor. What's more, it must also have given the likes of Jacob Murphy a huge boost in confidence.

The message that is being sent out loud and clear is that a City shirt is not something that can be earned lightly, but that those who wear it with distinction will be backed by the manager. Players who feel that they know where they stand and are being fairly treated make for a united and committed dressing room and I think that we're starting to see the benefits of that.

However, despite the feel good factor around the club at the moment, no-one should doubt that it's going to be a long hard winter in the Championship, but City now have a run of fixtures which should allow them to generate even greater momentum and its essential that they make the most of them, starting today against Rotherham, because it was just this sort of game in which City stumbled in that disappointing run two years ago.