Pundits take punt on Norwich City
Pundits are queuing up to endorse Norwich City's Premier League credentials ahead of Saturday's top flight opener at Wigan.
Skysports' respected analyst Chris Kamara became the latest to back Paul Lambert's squad to survive amongst English football's established order.
Talksport's ex-England, Aston Villa and Liverpool striker Stan Collymore has gone one step further by labelling Norwich his 'surprise package' to comfortably avoid an instant Championship return.
Norwich remain odds on with every major bookmaker to emulate Nigel Worthington's 2005 vintage which exited the Premier League after one season – but Kamara insists there is cause for optimism.
'The gap between the top of the Championship and the bottom of the Premier League is not as big as it used to be,' he said.
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'Six or seven years ago it was more or less guaranteed that the teams that went up would go straight back down, but it's not like that any more. Fans of QPR, Norwich and Swansea can be full of hope for the season ahead.
'Last year we saw two of the promoted teams – Newcastle and West Brom – survive without making wholesale changes and the other, Blackpool, were very unfortunate to go straight back down.
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'You'd have to say they threw it away because they were in strong positions in several games, but their gung-ho formation cost them big style. The managers of the promoted teams will have looked at that and learned the lessons.
'I'm sure they'll all have a go, play with no fear and see what happens. It might work out that one of them has a disaster, but we won't really know until they kick off. They've all got a chance.'
Kamara believes Lambert has successfully recruited this summer without jeopardising Norwich's fabled team spirit.
'The thing that has taken Norwich to where they are today is spirit and togetherness,' he said, in his latest Skysports blog. 'Paul Lambert is very mindful of that and does not want to risk losing it. He didn't make too many changes when they went up from League One to the Championship – he added two or three new faces to what they had – and it paid dividends with another promotion.
'He has adopted a similar approach in the Premier League. He's brought in the likes of Steve Morison from Millwall and Anthony Pilkington from Huddersfield and time will tell if they will be a success. There's a lot of managers who probably wouldn't have looked at those players after a promotion, but Paul has always known what's best for his team. That's been a key factor in both of their promotions.'
Kamara is also convinced the men who helped resurrect City's playing fortunes after slipping into League One can shine on the big stage.
'Players like Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt have been very important to them and I don't see why they can't step up to the Premier League,' he said. 'Some of Blackpool's players were playing in League One a couple of seasons ago, but they played out of their skins in the top flight last year. I'm sure Norwich's rising stars can do the same. Like last season's promoted sides, they will probably lose more than they win but it's important that they get some decent home form. If they can do that then they will have a very good chance.'
Kamara contrasts Lambert's productive summer spending with the financial constraints QPR boss Neil Warnock has had to work under. DJ Campbell is the only player to join the Championship champions for a fee alongside free transfer arrivals Kieron Dyer, Jay Bothroyd and Danny Gabbidon.
'As an outsider, I just hope that if they are in a good position in January then the board will give them some money to spend,' said Kamara. 'Their loyal fans have been given too many false promises over the years. Everybody expected QPR to spend loads of money once they were promoted, but Neil Warnock has been asked to scrimp and save - just like he had to at all his other clubs. If he'd been presented with a warchest then he would have spent it accordingly, but instead he's accumulated a number of free transfers and will now try to get the best out of those players.'
Kamara believes play-off winners Swansea are better equipped than Rangers to operate on a tight budget.
'Swansea are in a different situation to QPR. The board doesn't have much money, so Brendan (Rodgers) just has to do his best within his budget,' he said. 'People are looking at the rich men at QPR and wondering why they're not spending, but it's a different atmosphere at the Liberty Stadium. I can tell you for certain that they will play open and expansive football, just like they did last year.
'Yes, there will be times when they are going to have to take a more cautious approach – it goes without saying that they need to be sensible when they go away to Manchester United or Chelsea – but if they are to survive then they need to win football matches. The way to do that, as we saw from the teams that came up last year, is to play attractive football and attack.'
• WHAT THE PUNDITS SAY
• ESPN analyst Chris Waddle: 'Out of the three teams that have come up Norwich are in the best position to stay up I think. People always look at the promoted teams to go straight back down but that rarely happens. I think Newcastle will struggle to score goals and Bolton will have to improve a lot on how they finished last season if they don't want to be drawn in. If Norwich can finish fourth from bottom then that will equal anything they've done over the last two seasons.'
• Talksport pundit Stan Collymore: 'Norwich is my surprise for the season. A manager who'll get a big gig in years to come with signings from lower with plenty to prove. Norwich fans, am I deluded in thinking you can finish as high as 15th?'
• Former Canary Iwan Roberts: 'I like the signings Paul Lambert has made. Steve Morison scored 18 goals in the Championship last year. He is big and strong and if you put the right sort of service in to big Steve he will score goals. Elliott Bennett had a tremendous season with Brighton and the likes of Morison and Grant Holt will love playing with him. They can stay up. Most definitely.'
• Patrick Barclay, Chief Football Writer, The Times: 'Norwich under Paul Lambert have won many admirers with their organisation and consistency and their aggressive style, rounded off by the predatory zeal of Grant Holt, should ensure a few wins. Enough to keep Delia's boys up? It was a very tough Premier League to stay in last time and, of those who remain, only Blackburn look geared for decline. Lambert and his players face quite a challenge.'
• Jonathan Norcroft, Sunday Times: 'Can they stay up? History is against none of them failing. It's 10 years since all three newly promoted clubs survived – though even longer since all three went straight back down. Norwich, QPR and Swansea know they can still be Premier League clubs in 2012-13 and then start building for long-term survival.'