Ian Clarke: Shortest month is big test for Norwich's promotion bid

Teemu Pukki of Norwich celebrates scoring his sides 1st goal during the Sky Bet Championship match a

Norwich City's togetherness will be key in the promotion push. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

So how did you feel about the Canaries' FA Cup exit?

Judging by chats I had with fellow fans and trawling social media, I was in the vast minority who seemed that bothered.

I love the FA Cup and really wanted another run. The memories of Tim Krul's heroics at Tottenham almost a year ago will stay with me for a long, long time.

The bond with the cup was further enhanced by watching the excellent Netflix drama series The English Game, which looks back at the passions around the early days of the great competition. 

I know the "head over heart" argument around the positives of Daniel Farke's men bowing out at Oakwell.

The eyes need to be on the real prize of getting back to football's top table.

Teemu Pukki will sit out Bristol City's visit and the FA Cup trip to Barnsley with a side strain

Teemu Pukki will sit out Bristol City's visit and the FA Cup trip to Barnsley with a side strain - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

While I really believe remaining in the cup can go hand in glove with the promotion charge, there's no doubt there's a gruelling run of Championship games coming up which test the squad to the limit.

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February may be the shortest month but it will ask all the questions about whether the boys really can bounce straight back.

Norwich City are in action at Middlesbrough this afternoon Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Norwich City are in action at Middlesbrough this afternoon Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

There are seven games in February - and when you tag on this Saturday's visit from Middlesborough and two games in very early March, Norwich play 10 games in just 36 days.

There's a real mixed bag of kick-off times to get used to (the next five games are all at different times), some awkward trips (who thought Swansea on a Friday night was a good idea?) and most of the opponents are either in the promotion mix or scrapping for their lives at the bottom.

Don't forget we're a long way from being out of the woods in terms of the injury problems and the impact of Covid on the squad.

As we start this crucial phase in the season, there's no doubt that the Canaries are in a really good place.

After Tuesday night's fixtures, City were six points clear of second, seven of third and 14 of seventh.

Norwich have won eight and drawn one of the previous 10 league games.

Twenty five points from a possible 30 is a pretty remarkable record - and just seven goals conceded (and no team has scored more than once against us in that time).

If Farke's troops can muster anything like that tally between now and the visit of Luton which ends this next 10-game run, promotion would be looking much more likely.

With every minute that passes before the transfer window shuts late on Monday night, we can be more hopeful that the likes of Emi Buendia, Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons will stay.

What a massive boost that would be  - and a sign of intent that they are really committed to the cause to get back up.

I never hide how much I rate Dereham's Finest. We've always known he has the skills and tricks but the work rate and endeavour he has displayed in recent weeks have confirmed what an all-round great player he is.

Todd Cantwell of Norwich celebrates scoring his sides 2nd goal during the Sky Bet Championship match

Will City be jumping for joy with a win on Boxing Day? - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Another aspect which has so impressed me is how Farke has clearly created a solid framework which everyone understands and buys into and whatever changes are made, the players who slot in know their role.

That adaptability will be so important in the range of tests coming up.

You can imagine there will be the need to really roll up the sleeves in the midweek tussles at Millwall, Coventry and Birmingham, whereas the top of the table clash at Swansea will present a very different challenge.

How will the likes of Stoke, Rotherham, Brentford and Luton set up when they come to NR1?

Defensively to still be on track to concede on average less than a goal a game is excellent.

If Krul can stay fit and healthy and with Aarons, Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley all being so solid, it's looking good.

Tim Krul of Norwich during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
Picture by Paul C

Tim Krul returns to Norwich City's starting XI against Bristol City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The arrival of new left back Dimitris Giannoulis is certainly exciting. Jacob Sorensen has been superb "filling in" in that berth and with Xavi Quintilla in the mix too, Farke certainly has very good options.

The impression may be that City haven't scored many goals this term so far and there's no way we'll get anywhere near the 93 tally when we went up two seasons ago.

Games have certainly been much tighter in this campaign.

Blackburn are the league's top scorers at the moment with 40  - five more than City.

Let's hope Teemu Pukki's side is soon fixed and he can be back in the fold. Jordan Hugill's hamstring injury appears not to be too serious and he has clearly shown he has a huge amount to offer in the run-in.

Jordan Hugill of Norwich celebrates scoring his side’s 1st goal during the Sky Bet Championship matc

Jordan Hugill celebrates scoring Norwich City's opener against Bristol City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

So, get the seat belts on and let's enjoy this frantic period.

What a mess

Eleven years ago, Paul Lambert was overseeing City's romp to the League One title.

Ten years ago, he was guiding the Canaries to a second consecutive promotion.

Today he is at the helm of one of the most depressing periods in Ipswich Town's history.

While I'm a passionate City fan and absolutely love winning derbies and seeing us firmly as the Pride of Anglia and always want the Tractor Boys to lose, I don't like tribalism and hatred. 

My view on the mess at Portman Road is that it comes from years of poor decision making at the top and failure to develop and grow as City have done.

Should Lambert stay there? If I was a Blue I'd say absolutely not - and I'd want Marcus Evans out too.

As a City supporter, I vote let them both stay - forever.

Inspiring evening in store

Over many years and particularly through the pandemic, groups like the Norwich City Fans' Social Club have done a brilliant job in keeping supporters together.

And their upcoming evening with City fan, sports presenter and all round top bloke Simon Thomas should be a great one.

It's always been great to see Norfolk-born Simon making his love for the Canaries so public on the national stage as he has worked with some of the very great broadcasters and pundits.

We all know about the family tragedy Simon went through and there's no doubt that he is now held with even more affection in these parts.

The event is via Zoom on Thursday February 18, 7.30pm.

Tickets are £5 per household and include an online raffle ticket. All the money raised will go to the Community Sports Foundation.

For booking and more information visit the NCFSC website or see their Twitter feed/Facebook page.