Mark Hodds with his first article for Vital Norwich, and he urges us all to stay positive as the final curtain starts to fall on a difficult season…
If results go our way this weekend, come 10pm Monday we could be mathematically safe and a Premier League team for a third successive season – something every Norwich fan would have taken come the start of the campaign. For me, that would be a fantastic achievement and shows that Chris Hughton has done a great job for us this season at this football club. I honestly believe that had Lambert stayed we would be in a worse position than we are now and when Hughton came in I immediately thought we`d be OK. Of course there was a little anxiety and anger when Lambert left but I also looked at it from another perspective – the fact we had a new element of surprise.
The point is Lambert and Hughton clearly have vastly different styles of play; Lambert with the attack mentality that brought us so much joy and success, Hughton with the cautious, more “build from the back and start with a point” approach. Hughton`s style of play has been severely criticised by some of the Canary faithful as being boring and negative but it is totally different to the way Lambert set us up and is something teams would not be ready for.
I personally could not care less how boring our style of play is, so long as we are a Premier League team and we are picking up points. I get annoyed with fans who complain saying “we don`t play attractive football” or “we`re boring”. If Norwich are a Premier League team, where we belong, then that is all I care about. If we get 38 draws then that would bring 38 points and pretty much safety every season. Just look at the Wigan game away – if we had got the draw there we would be 10 points clear of Wigan and even safer than we are now. What we have to remember also is there have been some appalling refereeing decisions have cost us vital points (I`m still fuming about the Arsenal game having seen us play brilliantly for 85 minutes only to be cheated by some shocking decisions) and the fact we have only had one penalty all season, which we missed! But this is the Premier League and admittedly the referees may struggle with the pace. FIFA really need to kick on with more than just goal-line technology in my opinion.
Next season will be a big test for Hughton however, as it is clear we will need to kick on and try and push for a top 10 place and perhaps try and make a cup final. The board are showing ambition by signing RVW but will he be able to produce the goals we need given our style of play? Every striker needs service and I would expect even RVP to struggle to score the goals he has this season in our set up. That is why although I agree with Hughton`s tactics this season, I fear that next season the same style of play may cause us to struggle. Although the defence seem more assured this term, it seems to be at the expense of the midfield being creative. Snoddy is the exception and has been excellent, probably my player of the season, improving vastly as the season has gone on. However, the likes of Hoolahan and Pilks have gone backwards, only showing glimpses of what they are capable of. We do need the rock of a Tettey or a Jono at the base of the midfield, but someone with a bit more of a creative flare is also needed in the engine room to provide the service. If Wigan go down, I`d quite like us to try and get Maloney in for example. However, given the ambition of the board to go and get RVW, I hope McNally and Hughton have potentially even better players up their sleeves.
Looking at the forwards, it`s pretty clear we won`t be seeing much more of Jackson or Chris Martin. I`m not upset at losing Chris Martin because, although he was a decent League 1 and Championship player, he just isn`t cut out for the Prem. It is a shame that Jackson will probably go as I think he is rather under-rated and could have been utilised more. I fear Holt could be a bench warmer next season and it will be interesting to see what happens to Kamara, who appears to be a better impact player than a starter. I was very disappointed to see Vaughan go at the start of the season, given his pre-season form and I think Hughton got that one wrong. I would like to see him given a chance at the start of next season, perhaps an RVW/Vaughan combination could work well.
Living just outside Leicester, I have also seen a fair bit of our ex-players this season. It turns out Richie de Laet is a pretty decent right back (albeit at Championship level) and has pace to burn that I feel we didn`t exploit last season. He`s no Norfolk Cafu though. Although I was also rather disappointed to see Whitbread leave, Bassong, Turner, and Ryan Bennett are better centre backs and good acquisitions. Harry Kane still has a lot of learning to do, even in the Championship, and perhaps he only came due to bad judgement in what we required and Hughton`s Spurs connections. But Leicester are a good example of why we need to back our boys and back the manager. They have more money than most in the Championship and were top at one stage, on a similar run to what we were on when we went 10 unbeaten. Just like us, they went on a slump in form and the fans were on the players` and manager`s back. I remember coming back from watching Northampton v Accrington Stanley (as part of trying to do the 92 club) and listening to the Leicester phone in after they had lost to Sheffield Wednesday and all the fans were asking for Pearson`s head, which was an utter joke given how many managers they have been through in the last decade. There doesn`t seem to be any stability at that club and are lucky really to still be in existence given their previous financial problems. Now, come tomorrow night, they may not even be in the play-offs, doomed to another season in the Championship with our good friends down the A140. At Norwich, we are lucky to have a board that truly cares for the club, who mainly come from the county and are genuine supporters, and the spirit and support we have is second to none-we need to utilise that in the last four games.
We have a lot to be positive about as Norwich fans and we need to remember that. The future is looking bright but it also relies on Hughton getting it right in the summer. Our third season in the Premier League is not going to be easy but staying up this season is more crucial given the massive payments available next season which could lead to Premier League stability under the right management. Again, that is why backing the boys and the manager is crucial this season to get them over that magic 40 point mark. Last week showed that unity, passion and support can bring great rewards with our fantastic FA Youth Cup victory and the vital 3 points against Reading. If Hughton plays one up-front against Stoke then so be it. Take a point and then send Lambert packing the week after at the fortress. I am looking forward to my “home” game at the Britannia. I hope we can show the passion and spirit and play some of the football we played last week against Reading to get the 3 points, hopefully mathematically securing our Premier League status for another season. OTBC.