Now that the shenanigans of the transfer window and the Chief Executive`s “Jexit” are behind us, although the ripples of Jexit will no doubt continue for some time, we can get back to the business that we are all actually in – watching and hopefully winning football games.
Norwich return to Championship action today with a tricky looking trip to Cardiff City and a reunion with everyone`s favourite opposition manager, Neil Warnock.
Warnock has steadied the ship since his appointment and steadily moved the Bluebirds up the table and away from the relegation danger zone. By contrast, Norwich are looking to move up the table themselves and challenge for the play-offs which is a scrap that`s looking ever tighter, especially after Sheffield Wednesday`s 0-1 win over Wigan last night.
Before kick off today, City sit in tenth place and probably sit in the last chance saloon as far as the play-offs go, on 43 points. Wednesday are sixth on 49 points, having played one game more than Norwich (29).
Yes, there are plenty of games to play yet and points to be won and we have to play most of the teams around us BUT, if City falter in the next four or five games and the likes of Wednesday and Derby keep winning, then it could be too much to make up. It is imperative that Norwich kick into a run of form and that means away wins.
Huddersfield are in fifth on 52 points, Leeds are 4th on 54 points and Reading are third on 55 points. Newcastle`s recent faltering form has them on just 59 points, so the chasing Reading will now be eyeing an automatic spot, having previously perhaps thought the top two would be already gone.
The Canaries have failed to win on the road since October, when they beat Wolves 1-2, a statistic that has helped the wheels come off the promotion band wagon. By contrast, the home form has been decent since the defeat by Huddersfield in December. Are the shoots of a bit of a run starting to push through, or is this a false dawn?
The next month will tell us.
Lee Peltier (ankle) and Rickie Lambert (back) are doubts, although Peltier is likely to be available. Bruno Manga has come back from the African Cup of Nations with knee ligament trouble and is definitely out but our old friend, Anthony Pilkington could play after missing the last three games – unusual for “the glass man” to be injured.
New signings Yanic Wildschut and Mitchell Dijks are in the squad and highly likely to both start here. Wildschut is of course already Championship aware and ready, Dijks meanwhile is not. He`s a big lad at 6`4″ but will have to quickly adapt to the hurley burley of the English second tier.
Nelson Oliveira is available again after suspension and Youssouf Mulumbu is back from ACON duty as well, strengthening Alex Neil`s options.
Matt Jarvis (hamstring), Graham Dorrans (knee) and Louis Thompson (Achilles) are all out for the foreseeable.
WHAT TO EXPECT
This will be a physical game, no doubt and that, let`s be honest, hasn`t always been the Canaries` strength in recent months. Neil Warnock will be urging his men to get into the faces of the Norwich players and see if they fancy it or not. Alex Neil will be well aware of the physicality and directness that Warnock will demand from the Bluebirds and must ensure that his side match that.
It will be a test for Mitchell Dijks and a real “welcome to the Championship” moment. Warnock will probably target him and Jacob Murphy as weak links and urge his men to take them on and give an early whack, just so they know they`re in a game. You can imagine him saying that, can`t you?
If City can win their own individual battles then their technical superiority should take over. That`s not me being cocky, it`s a fact. However, I still doubt my team`s mettle and steel for this type of test and saying it and doing it are two entirely different things.
If you`re going, safe journey.