Norwich City have no margin for error this time around
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There is one crucial difference between Norwich City's perilous position now and the desperate, dispiriting manner they exited the Premier League in 2013/14.
It has nothing to do with the manager or the style of play or even the personnel. But everything to do with perception.
At this same stage two years ago, with 12 games left in the Canaries' top flight odyssey, the fear, the sense of impending doom was largely absent from those inside and outside the walls of Carrow Road. Norwich were above the waterline and comfortably clear of rivals in greater peril.
Chris Hughton's squad actually won their next match, a battling 1-0 Premier League home win against Tottenham no less, to put even further daylight between themselves and the relegation places. Then they imploded.
City won just one more league game over the run-in, added two more draws to that paltry points tally, and were sunk by Sunderland's stirring run to retrieve a lost cause from a seemingly impossible position. Hughton went, Neil Adams stepped up amidst a backdrop of rancour and recrimination, but the tailspin proved irreversible.
There was almost an element of surprise to the decline, or at least the speed City unravelled as they careered towards the Football League. Setting aside that unforeseen turn of events on Wearside, Norwich compliantly waved goodbye to the big time – which only heightened the sense of loss and pain.
There is no similar feeling of complacency this time around. How could there be after a wretched run of results since the turn of the year? Russell Martin's pre-match words, prior to the Canaries' 2-2 Premier League draw against West Ham, illustrated those who matter, those who shape the club's destiny, know it has to happen and happen fast.
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Norwich have no margin for error this time around, perhaps only Aston Villa look incapable of staging an improbable escape. Arguably it was City's recent 2-0 league defeat at Villa Park which forced Alex Neil, his squad and any fans who felt confident they had enough to prevail to confront the gravity of this unfolding situation.
Pertinently, given it is title-challenging Leicester City this weekend, Norwich are not quite in what should forever be labelled as the Foxes' survival territory. Nigel Pearson guided Leicester to seven wins and a draw from their last nine Premier League games 12 months ago to defy the pundits and gloomy forecasts. Despite Pearson's untimely close-season exit the foundations had been laid for the current fairytale unfolding in the East Midlands.
Realism is the currency for Norwich and their captain, you suspect, is keen to make himself heard as one of the survivors from last time.
As Martin himself said on the eve of the Hammers' recent visit: 'The truth of the matter is at this stage of that season we weren't under pressure. We were comfortable. Everyone thought we were going to be safe and that was the problem. Sunderland went on a run that no-one could see happening.
'The aim and the focus are a bit different this time around. Last time we all felt we would get over the line and get the points we needed. Now we know exactly what the target is.
'It is about getting above that line and staying there. We have spoken about it among the lads recently. It hurts more than anything. I don't want another one on my CV, that is the same for the other lads. It will still hurt me in 20 years time talking about that.'
Much has been made regarding the baggage and psychological scar tissue for those who went down before during the Canaries' winless run since Christmas. But there might also be a positive legacy if it can spark a concerted survival push between now and May.