High-flying Norwich United must answer looming promotion question

Norwich United manager Damian Hilton talks to his assistant John Edridge Picture: Denise Bradley

Norwich United manager Damian Hilton talks to his assistant John Edridge Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

To apply, or not to apply, that is the looming question for high-flying Norwich United.

Top scorer Matt Blake, pictured after scoring the winner against Wisbech in the FA Cup first qualify

Top scorer Matt Blake, pictured after scoring the winner against Wisbech in the FA Cup first qualifying round, has scored 20 goals in all competitions for the Planters. Photo: Bill Smith

The Planters are currently nine points clear at the top of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier Division and on a run of nine successive victories.

Having won 13 of their 14 league matches, a title-winning season is looking well within the grasp of Damian Hilton's side.

Lifting that silverware would open up the chance for promotion to the fourth tier of the non-league football pyramid at the end of the season – but United must turn their attentions to potential elevation soon.

Should the Blofield-based club decide they want to join Norfolk rivals Wroxham and Dereham in the Ryman League, they must lodge an application by November 30.

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With extra travelling, financial responsibilities and infrastructure demands, it is not a decision the club's hierarchy can take lightly, but chairman John Hilditch admits it is a definite possibility.

'I've said to Hilts (manager, Damian Hilton) that first and foremost, do the team and management want to go up? If yes, then we'll go for it if we're in a position where we are pushing for it,' Hilditch said.

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'But, with the greatest respects to Wroxham, are we the sort of club that wants to go up and get beaten every week like they did in their first season?

'He said he would speak to the lads and we've got until November 30 to make that decision, but I haven't been building all these years to stay where we are forever.'

Hilton wants to ensure the Planters do not try to run before they can walk though, with the former Lowestoft and Wroxham defender knowing non-league football well enough to remain cautious about grand plans for the future.

'We've had a chat with the players and we're still not 100 per cent certain. I think we'll probably make the application and then decide a bit further down the line,' Hilton explained.

'The club is moving along nicely but whether it's right off the field yet, I'm still not too sure.

'When I took over the club didn't have the greatest personnel on the pitch, they weren't the best team, but we've sorted that now.

'They didn't have a reserve team but we set up an under-19 team and we've got an under-18 team, so that will hopefully lead to us having a reserve team, so things like that.

'We've got to grow before we can make the jump and there are still a lot of things to sort, like we might need an academy as well.

'Certainly the team and squad we have got are capable of making the step up, I'm sure we could make the step.'

Chairman John Hilditch has told Hilton that the club is prepared to join Wroxham and Dereham at the fourth step of non-league football, the Ryman League, as long as his team want to take that step up.

Wroxham made that leap in 2012 after winning their eighth Eastern Counties title but found the going tough, finishing 15th in their first campaign and 20th last season.

However, Dereham finished seventh in their first year in Ryman North last term and both sides have enjoyed strong starts to the current season, proving that a successful transition is possible.

'I'm not sure whether some of the senior players are ready to make that step in terms of the travelling and work, you have to have a job that is very forgiving, or if you've got a young family like a lot of our boys do,' Hilton continued.

'If you want to make that step you have got to be prepared to keep going forward and I don't think we're quite ready. It's not necessarily a nice league but it's a stepping stone to a higher level.'

If the Planters do decide to be patient and keep building, they look to have a good coaching team in Hilton and assistant John Edridge to keep them on track.

Despite their dominance so far this season, life at Plantation Park got off to a shaky start for Hilton after succeeding Paul Chick in October 2012.

An inconsistent season ended with 13th place in the Premier Division in 2012-13 but big improvements followed, including a 14-match unbeaten run to finish in sixth position in 2013-14 and reaching the fourth round of the FA Vase for the first time in the club's history.

The records continue to fall this season for the club – established in 1903 and promoted to the Eastern Counties League in 1989 – with progress to the second qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time.

And Hilton says his main focus is to make sure that success continues, so that promotion can remain a possibility.

'It's nice to have the conversation. What myself and (assistant manager) John Edridge have said is, let's keep improving,' Hilton added. 'Certainly last year, for half the season, and this year have been a massive step.

'We keep beating what the club has achieved previously, the furthest in the FA Cup and fifth is the highest the club has been in the league before, so we want to beat that and win some silverware.'

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