The gap Norwich City must close to chase Championship promotion
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With next season's opponents confirmed the fresh Championship challenge is beginning to take shape for Norwich City.
Rotherham completed the second-tier roster with victory over Shrewsbury in the League One play-off final, joining Wigan and Blackburn in bouncing back from relegation at the first attempt.
The trio replace Barnsley, Burton and Sunderland, who slip to the third tier, for the first time in 26 years in Sunderland’s case.
At the other end it is Stoke, Swansea and West Brom who replace promoted sides Wolves, Cardiff and Fulham, with all three relegated clubs having spent the best part of the last decade in the Premier League.
While that is likely to bring drastic financial and cultural adjustments for the big boys, the clubs stepping up look unlikely to have the financial muscle to be genuine contenders, teeing up a division where favourites are far from obvious.
Whether the Canaries are capable of mounting a promotion chase is another discussion for another day but here are the facts.
In the past 10 seasons an average of 88 points has been achieved to finish in second place and gain automatic promotion to the Premier League.
This spans highs of 93 by Brighton (2017) and Burnley (2014), and a low of just 79 by Hull (2013), to secure a place in the top two.
The average to finish sixth and secure a play-off place since 2009 is 74 points, with Fulham needing 80 in 2017 but Leicester a full 12 points fewer on 68 four years earlier.
To put this into Canaries context, Daniel Farke’s squad will need to pick up 14 points more than the 60 they managed in 2017/18 if they are to reach that average of 74 points – and be in with a strong chance of a place in the end-of-season shakedown.
At the other end of the division 45 points is the average total achieved by the team filling the final berth in the lifeboat heading for League One.
Barnsley were the team to occupy 22nd place this season, two points adrift of safety, with 41 points seeing them join Burton and Sunderland in being relegated.
Back in 2013 a respectable final tally of 54 points wasn’t enough to keep Peterborough up in a very tight campaign – just six less than secured 14th for Norwich in the season just finished – but Charlton (2016) and Portsmouth (2012) went down on 40 points.
Again, in City terms, finish 15 points worse off than during Farke’s first season as head coach and they are likely to be in the thick of the relegation scrap.
Given the Canaries spent just a fortnight in the relegation zone and crept into the play-off positions for a single week, it was a season which epitomised mid-table mediocrity – bouncing between 12th and 14th throughout the second half of the campaign.
That should send out a warning to those at Carrow Road in itself, when casting an eye over the proverbial garden fence to their neighbours to the south.
Ipswich are gearing up for their 17th consecutive season of playing in the second tier of the English football pyramid and remain the Championship’s longest serving club, by a distance.
Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest and Derby County are their closest rivals for that unenviable crown, as they begin their 11th seasons in succession at the same level.
By contrast, Norwich are entering their third consecutive Championship campaign for the first time since 2008/09, thanks to the roller-coaster ride which that relegation season launched. However, City did spend nine years in the second tier after top-flight relegation in 1995, so are well aware of the dangers.
In just over three weeks the Canaries will learn their fixtures for 2018/19 and anticipation can begin to build. There’s just the small matter of a World Cup to get out of the way first...
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