Canaries facing huge challenge

STEVE GEDGE There will be one big difference from the past two years when the Canaries kick off the 2007-8 campaign on August 11, just 12 weeks, five days away - complaining about any lack of ability to challenge at the top of the table will be rather more futile than before.

STEVE GEDGE

There will be one big difference from the past two years when the Canaries kick off the 2007-8 campaign on August 11, just 12 weeks, five days away - complaining about any lack of ability to challenge at the top of the table will be rather more futile than before.

In the past two seasons City have had the serious financial wherewithal to make rather more of a push for the top six than they actually did. That it got frittered away on a succession of poor buys and ill-judged loans is now, sadly, merely history.

This time around, minus some £6million in the Carrow Road coffers, things are going to be very different.


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And unless Norwich can follow the example, say, of Wolves, and pluck a non-league gem such as Michael Kightly from the obscurity of Grays Athletic, it's hard to see how they're going to get too much closer to the top six than before unless (a) they somehow eradicate their total inconsistency of the past two seasons, and (b) the only injuries they pick up are those sustained by celebrating too many goals being shared around the squad.

A lot may be resting upon how quickly the likes of Jon Otsemobor or Mark McAllister can settle down to life at Carrow Road.

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Yes, City can boast phenomenal support, the level of which is sometimes hard to understand, but merely having large numbers of fans ceased to be any guarantee of success maybe a couple of decades ago.

And if a year ago City were unable to attract quality players of the calibre of Steven Howard or Nicklas Bendtner to transform their prospects, their chances of doing so now must be non-existent.

No, rather than trying to sign million-pound hopefuls such as David Cotterill - one goal in 16 league games for Wigan, and counting - Norwich are now back to where they are at the start of 2003, when it was all they could do to splash out £65,000 on Keith Briggs from Stockport.

With no sign of any sugar daddies or mummies on the horizon, City now face the ultimate of Catch-22 scenarios. Norwich charge reasonable prices to fill their ground regularly. However, to keep this large number of supporters they have to challenge for honours. To challenge for honours costs money, which might now be only found by increasing ticket prices, thus alienating said expectant fans.

I have to say next season is not one I will approach with much in the way of great anticipation. Despite all his endeavours, it is likely to take more than one full season for Peter Grant to arrest City's slow, steady decline back to where they were a decade ago.

Just as you can sub-divide the Premiership, so the Championship can be split into separate sections. Let's, for the sake of argument, call them 'Will challenge for promotion', 'Might challenge for promotion', 'Going nowhere', and 'It's success if we finish 21st'.

After relegation two years ago, City started off life back in the Championship as a genuine promotion contender. Twelve months on, while not exactly being named as too many pundits' tip for glory, they were at least still in the second bracket. This season, though, you fear they might yet slip back into mid-table anonymity in the third group were they to receive an offer for Robert Earnshaw that proved too good to turn down.

When you sit down and look at next season's line-up it's certainly going to be an open division. The Canaries' one salvation, in the event of an injury-free campaign, is that this time around there will only be four, or possibly even three, clubs in receipt of parachute money rather than six a year ago. But it's hard to look beyond the cash-rich clubs, even though we're told it can be hard for relegated clubs to challenge for an immediate return to the Premiership. Whether City belong in the second or third category will become a lot clearer over the next three months.

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