Michael Bailey: Norwich City and neutrals will have their eyes on the Championship
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey sees the Championship tighten before his eyes and hopes he never needs mention ‘spygate’ again.
There was the initial shock of the rise: from wondering if the head coach was up to the job, to wiping eyes at the sight of Norwich City within striking distance of the summit.
Then came the euphoria of late wins and a spell looking down on the rest of the Championship field, that had started the season looking such a formidable bunch.
A scratchier spell followed – but it didn’t matter. Defeats were still sporadic and slightly freaky (it seems unlikely Daniel Farke will ever fully let go of that final game of 2018 and the floodlight failure accompanying it) and even now, Norwich City find themselves the other side of a fixture run where beforehand, supporters were simply hoping their side would still be in contact with the top two.
As it so happens, they are top – and off the back of a game that underlined how good this Canaries side really is.
Of course, human nature always demands more.
There have been times when it would have been wonderful to see Norwich take the division by the scruff of the neck.
Despite being in such truly consistent, relentless form, they have never shaken clear at the top. Perhaps City’s indifferent start in terms of results meant that was always likely to be hard.
And so here we are, looking at March on the horizon with another team (occasionally) in yellow and green earning a win in west London to tease football fans that the Championship could be a treat from here on in.
These are now the crucial weeks coming up for the extended pack.
Bristol City will be hoping their remarkable run of form expands into a top-two push – but with them still a fair way behind and with so many clubs to overtake, one slip and it’s done. Let’s hope that day is Saturday.
For that very reason, it still looks like two from four for automatic promotion – a tighter battle than maybe some of us in these parts would hope for.
But the tempting, tantalising prize and remaining fixtures mean it’s hard not to dream – one of the first things Farke wanted all Norwich City fans to do when he first arrived.
If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will.
• Thank goodness that is over – probably word for word what the EFL muttered, as they finally published the results of their ‘spygate’ investigation into the public arena and no doubt hoped for the best.
Norwich City have been arguably most vocal in wanting the EFL to do a robust job on the matter – although as has been said and written to death, the whole thing was never about points deductions or retrospective action affecting the Championship table.
The saga has been shrouded in myth, mirth and legend: from pink dressing room comparisons to pride in the aura of Marcelo Bielsa; from dispelling suggestions the Leeds employee knocking on Derby’s training ground door was carrying pliers, to the revelation they actually had secateurs in their car – it’s been quite the ride.
The fine was hefty too – £200,000 is significant enough an amount to register against the TV revenue of most clubs in the EFL.
In the end, no rule was broken – but Leeds admitted to breaching a league regulation over good faith.
And while the EFL will feel it has effectively drawn a line under the matter with Monday’s resolution, what happens now in terms of future rules will rumble on – especially when the clubs all meet the league next month.
In fairness the best thing is that with 13 games to go (for most), no one now needs to go on about spygate in terms of affecting the Championship picture or promotion race.
And given the actual worth of any spying had been greatly and regularly underplayed since the whole situation surfaced, here’s to it all being about what happens on the pitch from here.
• We are still in February, which makes it impressive that Norwich City confirmed eight of their academy products have already got the nod for next season.
Josh Coley, Billy Johnson, Ciaren Jones, Alfie Payne, Tom Scully, Anthony Spyrou and Jordan Thomas will have all been inspired by the efforts of Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey and Todd Cantwell.
In turn that will make them names to watch for every Norwich City fan waiting for the next academy success to appear off the Colney conveyor belt.
Likewise, the octet will all now have some very high expectations to match from here – having endured a tough season so far, in many cases playing ahead of their own age group.
In which case, good on them for getting this far and here’s to them continuing their development with the club.
• Fair play to Bristol City being optimistic and asking for their full, 1,500-strong allocation for Carrow Road this weekend – so long as they fill it.
Unlike most grounds in the country, Norwich can generally sell-out regardless how many their opposition bring – and if the Robins have over-estimated their supporters’ demand, that merely scuppers the chance for Norwich fans to see their side and leaves a wedge of empty seats.
If all the seats are gone, then we should be in for a cracking atmosphere to go with a tasty fixture. If not, then they probably owe Norwich an apology.
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