Norwich City pre-match rallying cry just what was needed

Norwich City players salute the efforts of the Carrow Road crowd on Saturday. Picture: Paul Chestert

Norwich City players salute the efforts of the Carrow Road crowd on Saturday. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Crisis, what crisis? With hindsight, Reading were a very poor outfit, the ultimate 'on loan to the Premier League'-type Championship line-up, and surely none of the pre-match hype was needed.

Except, of course, it was.

Look back to 1995 and that new-year collapse during a run of one win, seven draws and 12 defeats which saw us plummet down the table.

Buried away in that lot were results such as a defeat at soon-to-be-relegated Leicester, a 2-2 draw at West Ham in which we conceded twice in the last 10 minutes and a meaningless point at home to lowly Aston Villa on the final day of the season.

Had we won that little lot instead – which we would have done if we had maintained our form of the first half of the season – we'd have comfortably stayed up and the club's outlook for the following decade might have been very different.

And you look back to 1985 and you can also see similar less-demanding fixtures from which an in-form side would have confidently picked up points.

If we didn't have that recent history in our minds, these past few weeks would have been very different. What do they say about bad luck coming in threes?

Most Read

It's what made Saturday such a pivotal fixture. Win and however unconvincingly it was done enough confidence would be mustered as a result to go on and record other victories.

Fail to beat Reading and you might as well give up any hopes of victories in the remainder of the campaign. Heads would have really dropped – after all, if you can't beat an out-of-sorts team like the Royals who can you beat?

Saturday was the ultimate all-about-the-result occasion. Just as well, because as matches go it was awful. That second quarter in which we resorted to lumping hopeful, aimless balls forward showed a worrying lack of quality. Precision passing was just something that other clubs do.

And I did begin to fear the worst when we came out for the second half with an unchanged line-up, but whatever was said at half-time by Chris Hughton outdid anything muttered by his predecessor.

Sunday marked the second anniversary of a certain crucial win on the way to promotion from the Championship. You might remember it, six goals scored, took place on a Thursday night, not terribly far to travel...

But at 4pm on Saturday all that hard work to get into the Premier League looked like it was being thrown away and we could start planning for a first league visit to Bournemouth in a very long time.

Somehow we upped things at the start of the second half and two goals should have been enough. But we still couldn't put the game out of Reading's reach and the closing stages were an experience I can do without being repeated at Carrow Road again, thank you very much.

If we'd thrown away a two-goal lead at Reading that five-point gap on Wigan would not have looked at all secure in the circumstances.

As it is, the fact that we held on means that we will somehow manage to summon up enough to go on and win at least once more this season and make absolutely sure of things even if Wigan to embark upon another of their epic finishes.

But this is a game to be remembered rather than celebrated – the reaction at the final whistle was all about relief.

We should never allow ourselves to get into this position again. For whatever reason Lucchio Becchio was missing on Saturday we played Russian roulette in the January transfer window and we might have just got away with having leading scorers on the five-goal mark. It wouldn't happen in most seasons.

Taken in isolation, Saturday was a desperately nervy occasion and we were extremely lucky that Reading didn't decide to really go for it in the closing stages and bring on the likes of Adam Le Fondre.

Had we been playing anyone higher up the table it might have been very different – I suspect Aston Villa will be a lot, lot more challenging opposition the weekend after that.

And yes you can point to City's recent form being only three defeats in 11 rather than two wins in 17, but there has to be a change in attitude and approach if not personnel next season because we have been sleepwalking our way to relegation in recent weeks – or so it has seemed – because of our inability to go on and win games rather than settle for a point.

At any other time, taken in isolation, a narrow win over such an out-out-form struggling team would be a cause for major concern and worry.

But when you think back to the games against Newcastle, Southampton and especially Fulham, when you could see vital extra points being casually thrown away, if what we needed to get a survival-clinching win was to sit through Saturday's fare then so be it.

Strictly speaking we're not safe yet, but are we going to see a repeat of two years ago, when Birmingham and Blackpool went down with 39 points, or 2003, when 42 points couldn't keep West Ham up? It's unlikely.

One win to be absolutely sure of staying up now? I'm a lot more confident of that now, although – much as I want it – I don't think it will come against Aston Villa.


Now it could be that Wigan win three of their last five games to put our apparently safe-looking points total under some pressure.

Can't see it myself at the moment, but you wouldn't bet against them doing something against Arsenal or Tottenham. That's the way they are.

But the happiest by-product about us getting to 38 points? It means that all the talk about Ricky Van Wolfswinkel shouldn't be tempting fate too much any more.

In the build-up to the Reading game he was comfortably outdoing Dean Windass as the player most talked about in the Norwich media who had never actually turned out for the Canaries.

And had we failed to beat Reading and now be looking at the Championship squarely in the face, does anyone really think he'd be at Carrow Road on August 3 to face the likes of Doncaster or Brentford as the 2013/14 season got under way.

No, as with all modern contracts, some way would be found out of it; if not cancelling the contract as a whole you could certainly imagine him being loaned out.

Instead, we can now look forward with a lot more certainty to the Dutch striker turning out in yellow and green next season.

You suspect this could turn out to be one of the Canaries' busiest summers, as staying in the Premier League for a third season marks something of crossing a line.

The Chris Martins, David Foxes and Daniel Ayalas of this world will surely be moved on as Chris Hughton tries to recruit a different level of player.


So at last we know the answer to that eternal Canary Call question: 'So, what do they do in 'tray-nun', Neil?'

They practise, practise, practise penalties. Okay, the final – winning – spot-kick might not exactly have been textbook stuff, but when did we last see a clinical first-team shoot-out like that? Not very often. I seem to recall all the kicks at Swindon in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy being converted, but some of the other efforts, quite apart from Cardiff 2002 were rather lame in places.

Hopefully in a season that in a year's time will be largely forgotten the final will now be on a par with the two Carrow Road highlights – the victories over Arsenal and Manchester United.

A nice touch too, with the pricing arrangements for the final – you'd like to think they'd have been able to afford that even if City had been in the Championship rather than the Premier League.