Too Close To Home


Brighter times were with us before Leicester - can we pick up again before it’s too late? Nathan Hill makes the case for tempering our playoff aspirations.

Don’t kid yourselves – because I almost did – that Norwich can give anyone a game in the playoffs, should they get there. 

Well, the issue: they’d have to give their opponent two games – one at home, one away. Since the turn of the year, they’ve got the hang of the former and kept the simmering toxicity at bay. It’s the other half where undeniable proof lies of a desperately needed squad makeover, and a change of head coach.

Teams often reflect the character of their manager or head coach

One powerful, assertive display at Stoke aside, Norwich City 2023/24 have never looked like a team that can consistently win games away from home. Mainly because they don’t often try to win there. Granted, Leicester City isn’t your typical assignment on the road at this level. The pace the top four have set this season surely won’t be matched for years to come. However, the relentless nature of that automatic promotion race and the Foxes’ recent fumbles meant there was still a nervousness around the King Power to try and exploit. As there would’ve been at Ewood Park, Loftus Road and several other grounds where the hosts were desperately scrapping for points. Norwich led all these games and had their chances to take full control of them but didn’t show the ruthlessness required. 

Teams often reflect the character of their manager or head coach. David Wagner is one who smiles in defeat (as captured by the Sky cameras after Leicester) and praises below-par outings yet also criticises his own players (often the few young’uns in which he puts any sort of faith) and talks up opposition players and teams – even when questions aren’t inviting him to. Is it any wonder the identity crisis and self-doubt in this team still lingers, even after a marked improvement in league position? I say ‘league position’ there and not ‘form’ because the only commanding performances have been at Carrow Road. While three of the seven sides defeated in the current streak of home wins have briefly held a lead, only once have Norwich been pegged back – and that, funnily enough, was when the paying punters made it abundantly clear to the head coach what was about to happen. Every time Norwich needed to respond in those games, they did.

There’s certainly no shortage of big game nous in any given starting XI. In fact, there are probably more Championship miles in the tank than at any other club. But, as discussed at regular intervals this season, sometimes you can have too much in that regard. In an increasingly technical modern game, intangible qualities are becoming less and less of an advantage. Teams move the ball faster, players are aging quicker, and dropping down divisions quicker. Having all the know-how isn’t going to translate into many wins unless you have enough doers. 

Trying to not lose is not trying to win

We all know who our doers are – Josh Sargent, Borja Sainz, Gabby Sara and (when back fit and available) Jonny Rowe. All technically gifted; all under the age of 25; all playing their first or second season of Championship football. At home, with a lead, we see these players dictate and get on the ball more, not less. Yet away from home, they tend to disappear – as if by design. And our aging and error-prone defence are relied on to not lose the game. Trying to not lose is not trying to win. Tellingly, where Norwich have recovered 10 points from being behind at home this calendar year, so far in 2024 they’ve dropped 10 from winning positions away from home.

If the playoffs are to become a reality, it will be having finished in sixth or, at absolute best, fifth. This means that, unlike in 2015, the second and decisive leg won’t be played at Carrow Road. That’s not just a matter of us travelling and playing in less comfortable surroundings; it also means any extra time and penalties take place in front of a hostile crowd. It’s not an environment for glass cannons or jobs half-done. 

Currently, it’d be difficult backing us to emerge from two legs against any Championship side, let alone the juggernaut we just faced. Take the Good Friday win over Plymouth, which I’m sure most of us found thoroughly satisfactory. If that’s the first half of a playoff tie, we’re taking a slender 2-1 lead down to Devon. I’d argue that a sizeable portion of the fanbase wouldn’t be entirely confident in getting the required draw (or win, of course) from that game. The elephant in the room with that example is that Home Park was the scene of this team’s biggest capitulation back in September. Obviously, that would have no bearing here but all it’d take to lose this theoretical tie is a much smaller two-goal defeat, or even a one-goal defeat and penalties. 

The last few months have at least offered some green shoots for next season

Now take this scenario and swap Argyle, who I thought battled bravely on Friday and were perhaps unlucky to go home with nothing, for any of the top five and its impossible to make a case for it not being a complete waste of time. Has any team approached a potential playoff campaign with their supporters having such low levels of trust and belief? 

With this being said, the last few months have at least offered some green shoots for next season. After all, even if we are just a flat-track bully, that certainly represents progress from whatever we were or weren’t before Christmas. The aforementioned creative quartet are exciting to watch and are definitely good enough, if we can keep hold of at least a couple of them, to build a very decent promotion challenger around. In fact, I believe we have seven of a very strong starting 11 in place – with Angus, Kenny and Jack Stacey. It needs a transfer window and another year outside the top flight, and all the short sightedness it enforces, to marinate. While I don’t like making such blasé assertions, it will be a weaker second tier next time around, too.

It also needs a progressive head coach, who’s here for the long term, to best utilise those burgeoning talents; to promote and empower youth prospects, and implement a fluid system that works just as effectively away from home as it does at home – on a Saturday, on a Tuesday night, on an Easter Monday lunchtime, wherever and whenever. These should all be among the main KPIs for any manager or head coach working here, but all have become alarmingly deprioritised since 2021. We still don’t know, and won’t ever know, what the hallmarks of Wagnerball are. This season’s success has always seemed heavily dependent on a couple of players and our approach hasn’t been adaptable to changing circumstances and differing tests. 

Taking all these limitations into the Premier League doesn’t bear thinking about at the moment. We got a sneak preview in the FA Cup. It wasn’t fun. And if we don’t really want that 38 times, why bother?


  1. Lise if is all part of football much better than you team win

The ACN Match Review - A F C Wimbledon (a)


Another draw for the women’s team but again, another formidable opponent… Ffion Thomas reports back from Carshalton.

A Sneaky Peek At The Tractor Girls


As we ready ourselves for the men’s derby, how would our rising women’s side fare against their equivalent? Lucy Chen went undercover to see how we’d stand up against the Tractor Girls.

Along Come Norwich © 2024