Prediction results: Nothing short of victory will be good enough for Norwich City at Sheffield Wednesday
- Credit: Sean Dempsey/Focus Images Ltd
As the Championship season turns into the finishing straight, David Freezer assesses if Norwich City's hopes of promotion have already gone up in smoke.
Hillsborough will bear a remarkable similarity to the Last Chance Saloon for Norwich City when they travel to Yorkshire this weekend.
Alex Neil insists he has not given up hope of a play-off place – he can say nothing else publicly – but that is already looking like a fine example of clutching at straws.
Six points adrift of Saturday's opponents, Sheffield Wednesday, with 12 games remaining looks far from an unassailable position at first look.
Victory could certainly spark hopes of the situation being salvageable, but given that only six teams in the division have worse away records than Norwich, it's hard to believe City can manage that.
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The Owls have conceded only 14 goals on their way to winning 11 of their 16 home games. City have conceded a very poor 32 in their 17 away games.
Another away trip follows on Tuesday, an admittedly far less daunting encounter at Bristol City.
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The Robins have a much worse home record but are battling for their lives and they did draw with title favourites Newcastle on Saturday.
Home games against Blackburn and Barnsley follow that, both of which are games which Neil's team are more than capable of winning, but that still might not be enough.
After having a long, hard stare at City's remaining fixtures to make my predictions for the final 12, I initially felt I may have been a tad generous, with those promotion hopes still hanging by a thread in the back of my mind.
However, I still only came up with 16 points looking likely from the decisive dozen.
That would only be enough for a season-ending total of 68 points, only 10 more than Wednesday currently have and looking well short of what will be necessary for a play-off place.
Here are my predictions...
• Sheffield Wednesday (a) – LOSE
• Bristol City (a) – DRAW
• Blackburn (h) – WIN
• Barnsley (h) – WIN
• Aston Villa (a) – DRAW
• Huddersfield (a) – LOSE
• Reading (h) – WIN
• Fulham (h) – DRAW
• Preston (a) – DRAW
• Brighton (h) – LOSE
• Leeds (a) – LOSE
• QPR (h) – WIN
Total – 16 points (to finish on 68 overall)
We've been asking you for your predictions throughout today and out of more than 400 responses, it seems there is still hope that City will go close to a play-off place.
The aggregated responses as of 7pm this evening add up to Norwich taking 20 points from their remaining fixtures, to reach a total of 72, will that be enough though?
Here are those reader responses...
• Sheffield Wednesday (a) – LOSE (51 per cent)
• Bristol City (a) – WIN (46pc)
• Blackburn (h) – WIN (91pc)
• Barnsley (h) – WIN (75pc)
• Aston Villa (a) – DRAW (46pc)
• Huddersfield (a) – LOSE (78pc)
• Reading (h) – WIN (50pc)
• Fulham (h) – WIN (48pc)
• Preston (a) – DRAW (43pc)
• Brighton (h) – LOSE (38pc)
• Leeds (a) – LOSE (59pc)
• QPR (h) – WIN (89pc)
Total – 20 points (to finish on 72 overall)
In the past 10 seasons an average of 73 points has been needed for a play-off place. Two years ago Ipswich finished sixth on 78 and only once in that time has 68 proved enough, for Leicester in 2013.
The chances of Wednesday picking up only 10 points from their remaining 12 games seems very unlikely and likewise for fifth-placed Reading, who are already two points better off.
Throw into the mix that Fulham – the team Neil has said play the best football in the division when on form – have snuck a point ahead of City, and have a game in hand, and the situation starts to look more bleak.
All of which means Norwich are probably going to need at least two more wins than I'm predicting but, on current form, six wins from 12 looks a big ask.
Personally and professionally I would love to be proved wrong but faith in a promotion push has become thin on the ground in these parts.
Even if a place in the top six is achieved, that would only be the start of the challenge.
If it were Wednesday to be usurped then City would be likely to face one of Huddersfield, Leeds or Reading – all three of which they have lost to already this season.
In fact, they haven't beaten any of the current top 10 yet this campaign.
It doesn't make for great reading but it emphasises why supporters have every right to feel glum about what has happened since returning to the second tier.
With a budget that few clubs in the division can match, players with a lot of top-level experience and a manager who had already managed two promotions, despite his young age, there was good reason for pre-season optimism.
We are reaching the final throes of that thought process though and the only way for City to start proving people wrong is to win at Hillsborough on Saturday. Nothing less will do.
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