Michael Bailey: Canaries may well be better out of the usual January madness
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey gets caught out by the arrival of January and asks, where’s the panic headed to this season?
It says a lot that it took a fair amount of New Year’s Day for me to twig the January transfer window had effectively opened.
There have been seasons where patching up, repairing, lending a hand or trying to reach the next level have all kicked in weeks before the actual window opened. January 1 was then fever pitch.
It was all shaping up just like that at Ipswich Town, until Tuesday’s horrible home defeat to Millwall. Paul Lambert’s recruitment sales pitch is going to need to be better than anything else he has ever muttered – and he is going to need to believe it himself too.
But it’s not just Ipswich that are likely to look at the month planted almost exactly halfway through the season, and see it as last chance saloon.
Links with Sam Allardyce and David Moyes as managerial candidates at Stoke – with Gary Rowett still in post, by the way – suggest the Potters plan to go big with their first attempt at a Premier League return.
No doubt their player recruitment will follow a similar path, whatever happens.
Swansea and Hull are both in midtable. Both well aware of their financial Premier League legacy and wondering how much to gamble on sneaking into serious play-off contention. Maybe not enough to tempt Nelson Oliveira to south Wales of course, but never say never.
Middlesbrough were supposed to be cashing in any attempts at entertainment, for relentless points and clean sheets accumulation under Tony Pulis, but it just hasn’t happened. They are another side who will be getting twitchy at the fact they don’t seem to be consistent enough to guarantee a top-two finish – something no doubt expected given their outlay.
Meanwhile for Aston Villa and West Brom, the thought of losing real loan stars in Tammy Abraham and Harvey Barnes surely isn’t a total shock to the system – it was always there as a possibility in contractual black and white.
But by the same token either scenario wouldn’t half land an awkward and challenging task on the Championship pair, given how the first half of the season has panned out. And again, both Villa and the Baggies will have everything geared towards going up this season.
Certainly in Villa’s case, history says they’re not too fussed about preparing for the worst.
Even Leeds, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and to a lesser extent Derby will all be casting a glance at where their spare few quid will be best spent for one more push upwards.
All of this will have some Norwich City fans squirming. Especially when a sentence like the next one follows: I don’t think City will bring much in themselves.
Losing ground, tight, lack of ambition... I can hear the flow of tweets as I type. And of course if everything really does unravel between now and May, they would be legitimate questions.
But if there is one thing that should have been learned since the start of the season – maybe during last term too – it’s the power of belief and trust.
I was asked this week by a reporter in Portsmouth to pin down where the extent of Norwich City’s shock improvement has miraculously come from.
It’s also a theme I have written about in the new edition of The PinkUn Magazine.
And of course, the best bit is that none of it is miraculous – but rather deliberately inspired. A plan laid out before the event, that has delivered unprecedented preliminary results. A squad structure that requested four transfer windows to deliver, and this is number four.
Far from complacency, false comfort or bemused gratitude that it’s all gone so well, so far. Instead Norwich City are doing the equivalent of when they chase a late winner without chucking the ball in the air – they are trusting the recruitment work they did before the season started, and looking at the next month to tweak around the edges.
Given the amount of change that has been around the club in recent years, you wouldn’t even say things just need that bit of freshening up. The changes have been vast – and if you really want a new signing, then get ready to welcome Kenny McLean and Louis Thompson back to the first-team fold from injury layoffs.
Fitness will always play its part. If any side loses its big players for a prolonged spell, it’s hard to replace them. That’s just being hostage to fortune.
But for everything else, Norwich have become the epitome of a well-run club. Like their Championship position, their lack of need to dabble in January’s fun and games says it all.
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