The level of debate between happy clappers and bed wetters might cause some to think Norwich's start to the 2016/17 hasn't been all that healthy. Jon Punt takes a look, although he does get a bit too caught up in high school nostalgia....
The old saying goes the league table takes around 10 games to take shape. It’s simple, unadulterated, implied football knowledge. Any pundit or football commentator worth their salt, in fact even the Jakes of this world, will tell you that.
It’s nonsense of course. The season is already 11 games old and there are a myriad of unknowns which completely skew the assumption that we now have a decent barometer of where each club will finish up.
But screw it, the international break is upon us and because we at Along Come Norwich point blank refuse to acknowledge that Under 23 mockery of a competition the club are participating in, there’s not much else to do but take stock, right?
The contenders have possibly emerged already. 4 sides have started to partially break away, but do they really have what it takes to last the course?
It looks like Huddersfield are there on merit, 25 points is a tremendous and remarkably unexpected return from a possible 33. The thing is, they’re reminiscent of that girl or boy you fancied in Year 8 of high school. Attractive, unassuming, down to earth. The whole package. Then the ravages of puberty took their cruel toll on the poor lass and her star started to fade. Once she’d kicked the amphetamines later on you thought about trying to rekindle the flame, but it was never going to happen.
Our “friends” from the Toon are an altogether different beast. Rich parents, the latest Nike Air Max, kitted out from head to toe in Topshop with all of Claire’s Accessories. They even have the audacity to turn up at the party 2 minutes before it ends and fuck it all up for everyone else. Gaudy, brash and loved by the older kids for buying them Marlboro Lights, she’s just bloody annoying. Think Andi Peters levels of annoying. Problem is, you know daddy is going to buy her out of trouble time and time again. That girl will never learn her lesson, yet she’ll get where she wants to in life. Forget about them, you’ll never be in her circle of mates and you shouldn’t want to be.
Brighton are the wildcards. Glancing across the canteen you thought you could be buddies, maybe even friends with benefits. You’ve always respected and thought of them as kindred spirits. Popular, articulate, progressive. But fuck Brighton. This is our time. Again. Hopefully.
There are many reasons to be boastful from where Norwich stand in the playground. We have a lot of big, vinegar-soaked, half-frozen, conkers in our pockets. Being second top scorers in the division is the most apparent one. This is the same club that were lambasted by most fans for our failure to land a coveted striker. “Where are the ghouls gonna cum from buh?” ABSOLUTELY BLOODY EVERYWHERE MY FRIENDS. Micky Turner will be getting in on the act next.
Obviously the Murphys have been a revelation. So much so you wonder if Sergi Canos is ever going to move his Paella empire down here. If Josh and Jacob continue on the same trajectory of progression the unfortunate Spaniard will be left warming the bench for months to come, or alternatively sneak off for a cheeky loan spell to Brentford come January. Had Alex Neil known the twins would finally unlock their potential it’s questionable we’d have signed the kid at all. First world problems, and good ones to have at this stage of the campaign.
Jerome’s tireless performances have reaffirmed the belief he’s an excellent Championship charge. 5 goals so far, but more importantly he’s led the line in the fashion most hoped he could. Keeping CamJam fit could be key to City’s promotion hopes, yet on the evidence of his fleeting appearances so far, Oliveira could well be a more than capable understudy.
And this is all without mentioning the creative and evergreen Wes Hoolahan. We all know what he can do by now. The thing is, we also have Wes 2.0 learning his trade for the Dons north of the border. James Maddison’s impact in the New Year could be important and exciting, especially given the knowledge little Wes doesn’t have the legs for 46 games anymore.
We’ve even learnt how to win in cup competitions, while rotating a ridiculously large squad for this league. Game time has been limited for the likes of Pritchard, the aforementioned Canos, Naismith and Ruddy. The longer our knock out success continues, the better it is for this group of individuals now deemed as fringe players.
Newcastle aside, if you offered any of these names to the other 22 sides in the division they’d fall over themselves to accommodate them. It shows competition for places is fierce and most, if not all, have game time under their belt. Whether he’s a beneficiary of circumstance or if this is of his own making, the fact remains Alex Neil has assembled and retained a group of fine players. For the first time in a while it seems Norwich have a healthy balance of battle hardened know-how and youthful exuberance. Add to the mix the fact we genuinely have two players for every position (at times possibly three) and the signs are surprisingly encouraging.
Whatever this side goes on to achieve this season, it won’t be for lack of endeavour, an animated and sometimes angry Alex Neil will make sure of that. The squad has character and even some evidence of bouncebackability (sorry) following the heartbreaking stoppage time shitstorm at St James’ Park.
While Norwich have been enigmatic in their performance levels, results largely continue to be positive and there appears be to have 3 or 4 gears more in reserve. Sure, long standing defensive frailties remain lurking in the corner. The manager is still learning and much might depend on keeping key players injury free. But the squad is just getting used to the seismic shift from just being there to make up the numbers, to a big fish in the proverbial smaller pond. Once the crisp passing and fluidity returns consistently it could, and possibly should, restore us to the top flight at the first time of asking.
There’s a long way to go, the hard yards are between now and April. However, the encouraging start that the class of 2016/17 have made should not be overlooked. It should be celebrated for what it is, altogether pleasing for players and fans alike.
You can follow Jon on Twitter @puntino