If there was any team whose season so far was the hardest to define, it would be Norwich City.
Speaking as a fan, the mixture of emotions I’ve experienced from the opening disaster at Fulham to their ten game unbeaten run to their crushing defeat recently at Liverpool has been astonishing. From anticipation to dread, to pride and embarrassment – they have all been there.
There’s no doubt if you’re a Norwich fan, you are in for the season of your life.
Most skeptics didn’t see Norwich’s presence in the Premier League lasting long, with the departure of previous manager Paul Lambert, the man who led the Canaries to back-to-back promotions and was, to some, the only reason Norwich achieved and maintained their place in the Premier League. So in early June when he announced his resignation, many feared Norwich’s days in the top flight were numbered. Five days later, Chris Hughton was declared Norwich’s new gaffer.
I, for one, was skeptical. Other than a decent spell at Newcastle United, Hughton had limited experience in the top division. Hughton’s activity in the transfer market also caused concern for many. First, Daniel Ayala, one of the club’s finest defenders, was put out on loan; James Vaughan, a promising young striker who performed well in the warm ups, suffered a similar fate.
Fans were even more bemused by the signing of Mark Bunn. For Norwich already had England international John Ruddy and back up with England U21 Declan Rudd in goal. However, this signing turned out to be one of Hughton’s most inspired. In late November, John Ruddy suffered a horrific injury, which ruled him out until at least April. This made way for new signing Bunn, who has done little wrong and so far has been good cover for Ruddy. Critics of Hughton’s decision to sign Bunn were silenced. Had Bunn not been signed, I would have put Norwich’s relegation chances fairly high.
Other signings included Alexander Tetty, a defensive midfielder who brought solidity to the midfield to allow Wes Hollahan to take up a more attacking role. Robert Snodgrass filled the shoes of the much-needed consistent right-winger. Finally the addition of new defenders Sebastian Bassong, Michael Turner and Javier Garrdio improved Norwich’s otherwise weak defence. However, to fans these signings didn’t raise much hope for an exciting goal filled season. And to an extent they were right.
The one decision he made that fans applauded was persuading the heroic Grant Holt to sign a new contract. Ironically, this turned out to be one of his least successful decisions.
Given the fans’ concerns, the last thing they needed to see was a heavy defeat in the first game of the season. Norwich lost 5-0. Some hope was restored with an away point at White Hart Lane. Things then took a turn for the worse after this — 3 consecutive defeats including losing home to Liverpool 5-2 left many believing Norwich were dead and buried. At this stage, they still hadn’t won in 7. A dramatic win against Arsenal and then victories against Manchester United, Stoke, Wigan, Swansea and Sunderland left the Canaries unbeaten in 10 and fans feeling fairly confident sitting happily in 8th position. It was too good to be true and, as if it was fate, Norwich suddenly found themselves in a losing streak once again and with only 1 point in 6 games. Another heavy defeat against Liverpool rounded off their current varied season so far.
It is hard to sum up their season in good or bad terms due to this extreme mix in form, but all I can say is Hughton has changed Norwich and I would say for the better. Lambert’s style of football brought Norwich lots of goals although, subsequently conceding many as well, with only one clean sheet in the entire season. Whilst Hughton has, with one or two exceptions, generally brought a solid defence. Whether this change in style of football will pay off by the end of the season is another question.
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