Claridge backs Norwich City
Norwich City will never have a better chance to realise their Premier League dreams than this season, according to Steve Claridge.
The Football League Show pundit believes the Canaries are in pole position to secure the second automatic promotion spot after the 6-0 demolition of Scunthorpe on Saturday and thinks the City board have handed manager Paul Lambert a timely boost with the additions of Daniel Pacheco and Sam Vokes.
Saturday's victory opened up a four-point gap between Norwich and their nearest rivals and Claridge is looking forward to seeing how Lambert's men cope with being favourites to join leaders QPR in the top flight.
'It's all been a bit of a bonus for Norwich and their fans so far but they have done such an outstanding job that perhaps the supporters now expect to get promoted,' said Claridge, who briefly worked with Lambert when the Scot was at Wycombe Wanderers.
'The way the fans look at it will have completely changed over the course of the season. The expectation level goes up and everyone around the club has to also cope with that.
'Other teams like Cardiff and Nottingham Forest simply expect to be up there. That brings a whole different pressure itself.
'But Norwich are ticking more and more boxes each week and you just can't see them not seeing it through.'
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Claridge believes Norwich have got the momentum and thinks Lambert will be the calmest of any of his rivals going into the last seven games of the season.
'Norwich look like a side that you know exactly what you are going to get from them every week. He (Lambert) will be the most relaxed manager out of all the teams going for promotion at the moment. You don't know what you are going to get with other teams, like Swansea losing at Preston. When his side goes out he knows exactly what he is going to get from them and more often than not this season it has been good enough. The other sides just haven't been consistent enough.'
Claridge says the fact that none of last season's relegated trio of Hull, Burnley and Portsmouth have been able to pose a serious threat at the top of the division has also helped the Canaries.
'I'm not sure Norwich would be in second position in other years – there's no West Broms or Newcastles this year and it really is a great chance to go up for any side. All of a sudden Norwich look to have a real depth to their squad. I looked at the bench on Saturday and he had some excellent options there.'
The 'trust' that exists between the City board and Lambert has also been key to their success this season.
'The people at the top have never wanted anything other than success for Norwich City,' added Claridge. 'They have just made some appointments that didn't work out. When you do that you can pay the price as they did with relegation but they have now got a man in charge in Paul Lambert who knows exactly what he is doing and they are reaping the benefits of that.
'There's a trust between him and the board, as demonstrated by the signings Norwich have made recently. When that trust is there it can only help.'
Claridge can't wait to see Saturday's promotion tussle against Swansea but the former Leicester City striker says that all the pressure will be on the Swans after their surprise defeat to Preston.
'Norwich know they can go there, lose and they will still be in second position. The other sides around them just don't look consistent enough to me. I can't see anyone stopping Norwich – it's theirs to lose.'