Saturday, 15 March 2014

Can Norwich City survive?

Yes.  Obviously.

But will we?  Well, these are worrying times for Canaries fans.  As I write this, we are currently losing 1-0 to Southampton.  For a variety of (non-footballing) reasons, this is the match this season which I have most wanted us to win - there's still time to take something from the game, of course, but at the moment it all seems very disappointing.

However, the most irritating thing is the way other people talk about relegation and survival chances around this time of year.  And when I say 'people', I mean so-called 'expert' pundits and commentators, and also the general public 'have-your-say' types who text or Tweet into the BBC Sport live text...

This whole season, Norwich have been haunted by the spectre of the run-in.  The 'run-in' has hung over Carrow Road like the sword of damocles; I think there is something in Alan Hansen's and Alan Shearer's contracts which says they can't make a comment about Norwich without mentioning it.

For those who are not familiar with the concept of the run-in, it is all to do the fact that the final four games of our season are against four 'big' teams, and that it will be difficult to pick up the points required in these games, if survival has not been ensured before that point.  I appreciate that this is a pretty tough run of games with which to end the season - but if you put things into perspective, and realise that all the teams in the Premier League have to play all the other teams twice over a season, and that the number of points available from these matches is the same irrespective of when in the season they occur, the significance of the run-in does diminish somewhat.

When you consider that, last year, everyone had discounted Norwich's trip to play Man. City at the Etihad on the final day of the season in their survival calculations (thinking there was no way we could win that match, and that we would need to have secured Premier League status ahead of that day) - and, in the end, we went there and beat Man. City 3-2, the significance of the run-in decreases yet further.

However, even more baffling is the way people talk about the games before these final four!  It is universally acknowledged that at least three of these four teams are playing some of the best football in the country, and have formidably impressive records this season.  The same cannot be said of Sunderland, Swansea, West Brom and Fulham.  But people are just as keen to discount Norwich's chances in those games as they are against the 'big' teams.

The logic here seems to be that games against top teams are very tricky because they are good teams with some of the most highly talented footballers in the world playing for them - whilst games against teams in the bottom half of the table are very tricky because they are desperately scrapping for their survival in a highly competitive environment.

This is, of course, true - and leads us to inescapable conclusion that every game in the Premier League is a hard game.  So why obsess over it?

Why do we continually point at the next game, or the next three games, or the last however-many games, and solemnly intone that 'these are hard fixtures' - when we know that the same could be said of any given run of games in any season.  There are no easy matches in the Premier League - everyone knows that - and those fixtures against the really world-class teams who completely destroy you all over the field are inevitable, whenever they occur in the season.

So, let's stop barking up this entirely unsatisfying tree.

I think we're all aware that there have been issues with Norwich's performances this season.  All too often, we have played well, but not got the result we deserved; or we have played poorly and got the result we deserve; or we have started well, gone ahead by one goal, and then let the lead slip and ended up losing.  We are not creative enough on the pitch, and our strikers have not been scoring at the rate we need.  The extent to which these issues are down to bad management is still open for debate, and not something I'm going to discuss here.

But I still believe that we are not one of the three worst teams in the division.  We are in a precarious position, and it would be wrong to kid ourselves otherwise - but I think we have a decent chance of staying up.  To do that, we need to pick up points; how we get them, or against whom, is entirely irrelevant - but poring over our fixture list with tears in our eyes, writing 'tough game' against each date in thick red marker pen won't help at all.

We know these games are going to be difficult - we've accepted that fact - now let's not fixate on that fact, let's focus on the football.

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