Norwich City’s quest took a hit as they fell to a surprise home defeat at the hands of Preston.
Alex Baptiste’s 75th minute header allowed the Canaries to be overtaken by Brighton and Huddersfield, with league leaders Newcastle extending their lead at the top to three points after a comfortable 3-0 win over Norwich’s local rivals Ipswich.
Alex Neill’s side now sit in 4th, four points away from the top.
They previously had been buoyed by a dominant 3-1 victory over bottom club Rotherham. Wes Hoolahan grabbed the opening goal early in the first half to give the hosts the advantage at half time. In the second half Norwich continued to dictate the game, and were rewarded when prolific striker Cameron Jerome then tucked away Hoolahan’s cross to double the Canaries’ lead. A goal from Dexter Blackstock gave the Yorkshire visitors a grain of hope, but it was in vain as Steven Naismith’s tap-in made it six wins from seven for City. Such form can only give increased expectation to the supporters, who will be hoping that the Canaries can gain promotion from the Championship for the second time in just three seasons.
Although Norwich didn’t play in mid-October, a large percentage of their players did feature on international duty. Robbie Brady, who scored the winner in the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 group game against Italy, suffered a nasty neck collision in their qualifier against Georgia and received lengthy medical treatment. He will be a big miss for the Canaries in the coming weeks. Goalkeeper Michael McGovern performed heroics for Northern Ireland, but could not prevent Michael O’Neill’s side from suffering a 2-0 loss away at World Champions, Germany. It was even worse for Russell Martin and Steven Naismith of Scotland, who, after an underwhelming draw at home to Lithuania, were easily beaten in a 3-0 defeat at Slovakia, further increasing the pressure on Scotland manager Gordon Strachan.
Norwich have started the season well but are yet to face a number of the sides also challenging for promotion in the toughest Championship season for many years. The morale at pre-season favourites Newcastle, spearheaded by Champions League winning manager Rafael Benitez, is starting to improve, and that will only lead to stronger performances on the pitch. Whilst there are also surprises to be had with teams such as Huddersfield and Bristol City showing good early season form, it will be difficult for their young managers and young players to remain consistent through until May. Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday will also expect to be in the mix after positive campaigns last time around, but it remains to be seen whether they have the quality or the luck to achieve another top six finish.
With the first quarter of the season now finished, Norwich sit 2nd in the table with manager Alex Neil having been named Championship Manager of the Month for September, his second such accolade. With November just around the corner, City recently played Preston North End at Carrow Road, while away trips come in the form of Brighton in the league and Leeds United in the fourth round of the EFL Cup. It offers an excellent chance for City to beat a rival in the league and reach the quarter-finals of the Cup for the second time in five years. A cup run would be ideal for Norwich to test themselves against the best in the country, while also offering ideal preparation should the club return to the Premier League next season.