Paul Lambert’s Norwich City continue to provide top value
So, just another average day in the Lambert era then…
Like every other facet of life at Carrow Road over the past three years, it shows how selling season tickets has been transformed.
In 2009, it took an FA Cup defeat to Charlton so devoid of any sign of the presence of a backbone or two that at times it brought a whole new meaning to the word 'spineless', and hastened an already-imminent managerial change, to ensure any kind of prompt renewal rate.
Now, though, you put on a battling and spirited display against one of the country's leading clubs and there's not the slightest chance of anyone mentioning the phrase 'an above-the-rate-of-inflation increase'.
It's far more likely that someone – in a Not The Nine O'Clock News style – would utter: 'I think the season-ticket fee is far too low.
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'I would willingly sell my house and all its contents to help Norwich City.'
At the start of this season you felt the only way that the Canaries might take a point or three off any of the top sides would be if said top sides either a) decided to rest a few big names (like leaving Rooney and Ronaldo on the bench, for example) or b) just didn't take us particularly seriously (see Sir Alex Ferguson in April 2005 – or actually not, since he blanked the entire media that day, including his club's own television channel.)
- 1 Body found in search for missing 87-year-old Margaret Smith
- 2 'I can't carry it' - Shock as plant starts growing eight inches a day
- 3 WATCH: 'Selfish' drug-driver ploughs into police detective's vehicle
- 4 Norfolk man who had sexual relationship with teen jailed
- 5 Two Norfolk businesses star in TV show
- 6 Fly-tipper travelled from Welsh border to dump in Norfolk
- 7 Aldi planning four new stores in Norfolk
- 8 The Range confirms new store at former Outfit on retail park
- 9 Funeral held for much loved windsurfer after body found in Sweden
- 10 Man charged with attempted murder after serious Norwich assault
You wouldn't have imagined that it might be down to Norwich simply going out and giving it all they had got – which is exactly what happened.
After an initial five minutes which suggested that we might be in for as one-sided a time as the Tottenham game, the Canaries never let up.
They couldn't afford to. Such was the strength of the Chelsea midfield that as they turned the screw and dominated possession in the closing stages City couldn't afford any of their usual defensive clangers.
They showed determination and kept their shape right until the very end.
This Chelsea performance was an awful lot better than the one in the 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge. It wasn't a victory, but it certainly felt like it.
Seven defeats in 22 fixtures tell their own story. City win their games that matter, and as often as not otherwise are now proving increasingly hard to defeat.
For all the talk on Match of the Day of how Chelsea might have won by two or three the fact is that they didn't. There were certainly quite a few glaring misses, but our defensive play and work-rate were superb.
And, as a season-ticket holder, that amount of effort is all you can ask for.
On the evidence of Saturday those towards the bottom of the waiting list won't be moving too far up any time soon as I imagine this year's renewal rate is set to break all records.
• NOW'S THE TIME TO GIVE OUR ALL TO THE FA CUP
We've lost once in eight league games and while we're not exactly safe yet it would possibly take a collapse of 1995 proportions for us to go down now.
And we're still in the FA Cup.
I'd like to think that Paul Lambert approaches Saturday's tie at The Hawthorns in the way that he did the last-eight Johnstone's Paint Trophy visit to Southampton in December 2009 - by taking it seriously and putting out a decent side. (At least if it finishes 2-2 after 90 minutes this time around we won't have to go straight into a penalty shoot-out.)
At St Mary's that night you sensed more than a whiff of Wembley in the air, and indeed there was – for Southampton.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that either Norwich or West Brom will reach this year's FA Cup final. And the chances are, that if City's last three fifth-round appearances are anything to go by, the draw won't exactly be kind should we get past West Brom.
Away to an in-form Premier League side, to be precise, following the experiences of 1995 (Everton, 0-5), 2003 (Southampton, 0-2) and 2007 (Chelsea, 0-4).
But everything points to this being our best chance of giving it a good go in the FA Cup for some time.
The league campaign is going to plan, we've got squad options and it's a trip that shouldn't be completely daunting.
If we lose, we lose – that's the way it goes.
But if we were to get through, and then managed to draw non-Premier League opposition, or at least someone at home, then who knows what might happen?
• THE CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE IS WE'RE STILL IMPROVING
An interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph at the weekend suggested that everyone in Norwich has been avoiding mentioning the B word – as in Blackpool, rather than Blackburn, and maintaining the 11-point gap between us and the bottom three.
Well, up to a point, perhaps.
But Saturday's game was the latest illustration why the Canaries won't be following the lead of the Seasiders.
Frankly, at lunchtime on Saturday I would have been happy with anything less than a two-goal defeat to Chelsea.
After all, the real result that mattered was at West Bromwich a week earlier, while the next must-win home is frankly against Bolton on February .
And there was also the small matter of City's spirited display at Stamford Bridge back at the end of August.
The way they took the game to the home side for long spells did rather make you think that Chelsea would come here knowing what to expect.
Except… they didn't.
A year ago Blackpool rather got found out in the second half of the season because opponents had worked them out. Paul Lambert, however, chops and changes from game to game, so his opposite number can have no idea what line-up or formation he will unveil next.
Any other club in our position might well make use of key players such as Wes Hoolahan in every single fixture. Lambert, however, realises that Saturday wasn't his sort of game, leaving opponents to have to figure out a totally unexpected line-up.
And it works. That's twice now the Canaries have proved more difficult opponents than Chelsea would have been expecting, and Lambert maintains his record of the Canaries never having been doubled during his time in charge.
Just Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham to go now then.
• TWO YEARS, AND WORLDS, APART
Why Paul Lambert should be named manager of the year come the end of the season – part 192:
Two seasons ago his Canaries had to work really hard to beat Stockport 2-1 at home and 3-1 away. But now, while City were taking on – and testing – a top side like Chelsea in front of a worldwide TV audience of many millions at the weekend, their one-time Cheshire opponents were battling to a 2-2 Blue Square Bet Premier draw at former Eastern Counties League stalwarts Braintree in front of 833 hardly souls.
If there's a better indication of how far City have come over the past two-and-a-half years I'd like to hear it.