Norwich: A Hope For More Consistency

On paper, Norwich's season looked like textbook mid-table fare, but there were so many ups & downs that was never the case. Enhanced firepower should steady them...

Last Updated: 08/08/13 at 13:28 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON

Premier League 11th FA Cup fourth round League Cup quarter-finals

Manager Chris Hughton (since June 2012) Odds on being first out of his job 16-1 (6th=)

Players in Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon, £8.5m), Gary Hooper (Celtic, £5m), Nathan Redmond (Birmingham, £3.2m), Martin Olsson (Blackburn, £2.5m), Leroy Fer (Twente, undisc), Javier Garrido (Lazio, undisc)

Players out Grant Holt (Wigan, £2m), Leon Barnett (Wigan, undisc), James Vaughan (Huddersfield, £1m), Simeon Jackson (Braunschweig, undisc), Andrew Surman (Bournemouth, loan), Lee Camp (released)

Club turnover in 2011-12 £75m (12th)

Handicap betting to win Premier League +40 points (17th)

Norwich's first season under Chris Hughton must keep the former Newcastle manager awake at night as he tries to work out what went right and what went wrong for the different passages of the campaign. Won 10, drawn 14, lost 14 sounds like mid-table but does not tell half the story.

The season began with seven winless games, including a 5-0 defeat on opening day and 5-2 and 4-1 setbacks soon after; this was followed by 10 games unbeaten that took Norwich into the European places and included wins against Arsenal and Manchester United; then came four straight defeats as the beginning of a sequence with a solitary victory in 16 matches that left genuine relegation fears as four points covered the teams from 14th to 18th; before three wins and two defeats in the last five games secured 11th spot as Hughton's men pooped Roberto Mancini's Manchester City wake on the last Sunday.

Perhaps the telling statistic in the final table is the goal difference, which was -17 and appreciably poorer than that of the three teams above and three teams below them. At their worst Norwich could cave in, while only Peterborough in the FA Cup and West Brom on the penultimate weekend were beaten by more than a single goal all season.

Broadly, Norwich held their nerve in enough tight games to secure nine of those 10 wins but had a couple of them gone the other way then the finale would have been a lot more tense, the home defeat to the returning Paul Lambert's Aston Villa leaving a final two games to be played on a knife edge. In the end, the tightness of the table, one good afternoon against West Brom and the crass management at Eastlands allowed them to secure a flattering finish.

So there are good reasons why the bookmakers rate them above only the promoted trio, and why there has been an un-Norwich like splurge this summer, starting with the £8.5m spent on Ricky van Wolfswinkel. As big-name signings go the Dutch striker offers quality as well as quantity, with a goal every other game for Sporting Lisbon, even if the 24-year-old has played only twice for his country.

Gary Hooper is yet to appear for England but the forward has ambitions in that direction, explaining his reasons for ending a successful couple of years at Celtic by saying: "You don't really get a look-in up there. Down here you've got more chance."

The 25-year-old, bought for £5m, added: "The main thing is playing, getting on the pitch first, and doing what I do. To play for your country is anyone's dream, but my first dream is to play in the Premiership." Beyond showing that he has spent so long in Scotland he has forgotten the name of English football's top flight, Hooper has his priorities right. Hughton's top league scorer last season was Grant Holt with eight; both his new forwards will expect to surpass that and get well into double figures.

Nathan Redmond (Birmingham) and Martin Olsson (Blackburn) have been rescued from the Championship while Leroy Fer (Twente) and Javier Garrido (Lazio) demonstrate how wide the net has been cast. Robert Snodgrass is wanted by West Ham but Hughton will feel that he has a significantly stronger squad with which to prove the bookies wrong.

Everton are the visitors on the first Saturday, followed by a trip to Hull and Southampton at home, three games that should allow Norwich's revamped line-up to get to know each other. But last season started with a 5-0 defeat in the apparently innocuous fixture of Fulham away, so Hughton will remain cautious. After a visit to Spurs, Lambert and Villa - who won 4-1 in a League Cup quarter-final as well as 2-1 in the league - return and it would be especially satisfying to beat the former manager at the fourth attempt.

Overall, Hughton will hope that the increased strike power will secure some more comfortable victories and that when a bad run comes - as it will, inevitably - he can snap his players out of it rather more quickly. He doesn't want to be relying on wins against Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City to reach 44 points this season.

Philip Cornwall

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