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Norwich preview: Flight of the Canaries
Norwich City were picked by few to emerge from last year's Championship, but a strong second half not only vaulted the Canaries back into the Premier League, it allowed Paul Lambert's side to avoid the playoff crap-shoot. Continuing with our profiles of all 20 Barclays Premier League clubs, Jamie Trecker looks at Norwich's chances of survival, starting with a glimpse back at the turning point of their promotion campaign.
On the first of February, the Canaries beat Milwall 2-1 thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Henri Lansbury, a victory that proved to be a pivotal result. With that win, Norwich cemented second place behind Queens Park Rangers. They would lose only a single game for the rest of the season — and that to fellow BPL new boys Swansea - to cruise home into the Premier League, and accomplishment punctuated by the Canaries' disemboweling of sorry Scunthorpe in early April. Then, a rare double hat-trick courtesy of Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson pushed Paul Lambert's side to 6-0 win.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
|15||Queens Park Rangers|
This may be the high-end to the Canaries chances, but in league with two weak teams and an enigmatic Wigan, Norwich City has a lifeline.
Now comes their long awaited return to the top flight, a place the Canaries have flown before. Norwich City were a founding member of the Premier League, a fact that is easy to forget because, um, Norwich crashed and burned into the third division not so long ago. Two promotion campaigns later, and Norwich City's goals can shift from climbing to surviving.
Paul Lambert has a tall order here, though. The Paisley-born manager has never helmed a team in the top-flight and doesn’t have a lot to work with. That allowed, Lambert has the experience from his playing days. He was one of the few Scots to labor in the Bundesliga, playing in the nascent Champions League with Borussia Dortmund. He was also a stalwart midfielder with Celtic, so he knows something about pressure. Given Norwich’s quick trigger finger with gaffers - they’ve run through seven in 11 years — he’s going to need a cool head.
NORWICH CITY SQUAD WATCH
|MOST EXCITING||Simeon Jackson|
|MOST VALUABLE||Grant Holt|
|BEST ACQUISITION||Steve Morison (Millwall)|
|OTHER INS||James Vaughan (Everton), Richie De Laet (Manchester United, loan), Bradley Johnson (Leeds)|
|LOSSES||Matthew Gill (Bristol), Luke Daley (Plymouth)|
|PROSPECT TO WATCH||Tom Adayemi|
That would be easier if Lambert could add a couple of thoroughbreds, but although Norwich city have picked up a few guys that can help, this is still a First Division squad trying to punch above their weight. They have some swagger and some movement thanks to Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson up top — but very little else. Now, Steve Morison is an interesting pickup as is James Vaughn: Lambert is clearly looking for some reinforcements up top. That still leaves some softness in the gut.
But don't expect much change on opening day. John Ruddy, a much-traveled keeper (and only 24!) has played almost every game for the Canaries, and unless he falls into a ditch, that will not change. Norwich plays with a sweeper in a 5-3-2 formation with David Fox handling the clean-up in front of Russell Martin, Elliot Ward, Leon Barnett and Adam Drury. Andy Crofts and the one-time Scots youth international compress the center of the field with Wesley Hoolihan up top.
Norwich's main rival is Ipswich, and unless they get a cup tie, the East Anglia Derby will remain fallow for at least a season. Wags with a literary bent will also point to Arsenal as a rival. A pivotal moment in Nick Hornsby’s “Fever Pitch” revolves around the protagonist’s beloved Gunners thumping the Canaries 5-0.
As for goals, Grant Holt has been the team’s MVP for the past two seasons. Now paired with Canadian international Simeon Jackson, the two have been lighting it up. Holt had 21 goals last season in league play; Jackson had 13. Jackson seems to have nailed down the starting role over Chris Martin but also is used as a late sub off the bench to provide speed and width.
|August 13||10:00 A.M. ET||at Wigan Athletic (live, FOXSoccer.tv)|
|August 20||10:00 A.M. ET||Stoke City (live, FOXSoccer.tv)|
|August 27||10:00 A.M. ET||at Chelsea (live, FOXSoccer.tv)|
By the way, American Zak Whitbread is on this team and when he’s been healthy, he’s been really solid. Unfortunately, he breaks down more often than a Yugo.
But no matter how you look at this squad, the Canaries enter as an immediate candidate to go down. They have some talent - Holt is a baller, no doubt - but these guys are really pretty thin in some key areas and a good Premiership team is going to expose them as slow and tactically naïve. If Norwich can get to December without just being blitzed, they have a chance to stay up. If not, well, it could be a long year.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.