Norwich’s inconsistent form in the Championship continued over the festive period with the Canaries taking 10 points from a possible 18 available, although they remain outside the play-off places. City fans will be hoping that 2017 brings out some better performances particularly away from home. Norwich have improved at home, however, with their three victories over the festive period all coming at Carrow Road. Two of these wins came against fellow play-off contenders Derby County and Aston Villa, but defeats against Huddersfield and Reading indicate Norwich’s struggle against the top Championship sides, against whom they have not won a single game.
A 2-1 defeat away at bottom of the league Rotherham United leaves City in 11th place, eight points adrift of the play-off places and 17 points short of the automatic promotion spots. Norwich showed fight in that game, equalising at 1-1 despite having had Nelson Oliveira sent off in the first half. That was undone just four minutes later when Rotherham took the lead again.
Some hope lies for the Canaries in the Emirates FA Cup where they came from behind twice to hold Premier League side Southampton to a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road, thanks to an injury time header from Steven Naismith. Although second best throughout the contest with only 37% possession, Norwich’s defence stayed resolute to blunt a Southampton side who had beaten Inter Milan earlier this season. City must believe that on their day, they can compete among the elite, having been victors at Everton in the Capital One Cup earlier this season.
Alex Neil will be praying for a run in the FA Cup – a tournament in which Norwich have only managed to progress beyond the third round stage five times in the last twenty years – to rejuvenate his managerial career and instill new-found confidence into his players.
One positive for Neil is the recent resurgence of in-form Portugal international Nelson Oliveira, which can only be positive for the Championship side’s now feverish aspirations of regaining a play-off place. The leadership of captain Russell Martin is also integral if the Carrow Road side want to make an immediate return to the top flight of English football.
After the 2-1 defeat to high-flying Huddersfield Town, manager Alex Neil told BBC Radio Norfolk: “it looks as if the play-offs might be our best option.” He has a point. As Newcastle and Brighton continue to lead the charge towards the automatic promotion places, Norwich and the chasing pack have been left to fight it out for the four precious play-off places. Despite having led the division at the end of October, Neil must now consider a play-off berth the minimum requirement for his City side in what at this stage of the season, would still represent a huge achievement for the Carrow Road outfit. Reading and Huddersfield, who both beat the Canaries during the festive period, are nine points ahead of Norwich, while play-off candidates above and below City show signs of improvement and greater consistency.
Norwich need more consistency in the coming months after what was a disappointing 2016 overall. January and February will be laborious for the Canaries, but with a trip ahead to Wigan Athletic as well as a home fixture against the declining Birmingham City, it is the perfect opportunity to push for a place in the play-offs. The emphatic 3-0 victory over Derby County on Boxing Day could prove instrumental in galvanising the squad for an improved run in the second half of the season.