Will second season syndrome strike Norwich?Jordan Florit | August 12, 2012
2011/12 Campaign (12th in Premier League)
Last season, along with fellow promoted side Swansea, Norwich were held up as a beacon. Supposedly they enlightened the footballing community that you didn’t have to make countless signings when making the giant leap from the Championship to the Premier League in order to cope. Yet, Norwich made 8 – seven of which were permanent. Then, in January, they added another two: Jonny Howson and Ryan Bennett.
Contrary to popular punditry belief Norwich did sign players – 10, in fact – to stay up. But, they signed a particular type: Football League players, with the exception of their loan, Kyle Naughton, and three of their permanent signings. Yet, still, these four players (Daniel Ayala, Kyle Naughton, James Vaughan and Ritchie De Laet) were hardly flush with Premier League experience. Between them, they’d garnered 52 Premier League appearances. Vaughan, formerly of Everton, contributed with 46 of them; Ayala’s 5 appearances in a Liverpool shirt was only bettered by two during last season at Norwich; Naughton’s “appearance” was all of 60 seconds long and Ritchie De Laet’s 3 Manchester United league appearances was only bettered by 3 during his spell at Norwich.
The view that Norwich didn’t have to sign players in bulk to survive isn’t perhaps a footballing untruth, but more of a credit to how smooth integration was.
Paul Lambert continued his successes with Norwich in their first season back in the top flight and with his largely Football League assembled squad he achieved a 12th place finish with the Canaries. It was a position well-earned and only bettered by Swansea, 11th, in regards to the teams competing in their first season since promotion from the Championship. Perhaps surprisingly, it was Norwich’s away games that served them well. On away games alone, Norwich finished 11th, Swansea 16th and QPR rock-bottom.
However, their success, like Swansea’s, looked as if it would come at a large cost as the season drew to a close. Grant Holt had scored 17 goals over the course of the season, following on from his 23 in the Championship last year, 30 in League One the season before and 28 in League Two the campaign before that. It marked an incredible rise from the lowest rung of the Football League t othe highest, im consecutive seasons. Although the apparent gulf in quality between League Two and the Premier League is vast, Holt’s return in front of goal has only dropped 39%. Perhaps more telling was his strike rate. In League Two it was 0.55 goals per game. In the Premier League it was 0.46 gpg. A drop of less than 0.1 in his prolific nature. Rightfully, he was aggrieved to miss out on a Euro 2012 call-up for England. Wrongly, he requested a transfer away from Carrow Road, just as it was looking likely that they’d lose the man that had secured them 12th place.
Almost predictably Norwich lost Paul Lambert. Some fans were disillusioned. They felt an affinity to the Scot, who had taken them from the third tier of English football to within 7 goals of the top ten in the Premier League. Lambert, quite clearly, felt differently and chose to take the newly-vacant spot at Aston Villa, following the sacking of Alex McLeish. Of the Norwich fans I know, most feel it is a side step for their former boss: however, that just goes to show how high they’ve climbed since 2009 – their last competitive game without Lambert as boss ended in a 7-1 hammering from Colchester, dished out by yours truly, Paul Lambert.
However, they kept their leading man. In a U-turn far quicker than Carlos Tevez’ but far more intrinsically vital to the respective side’s success next season, Grant Holt signed a new three-year contract, just two months after handing in a transfer request.Holt told the official Norwich website, “I’m really pleased we’ve agreed things and I’ve got the deal which gives me and my family a bit of security.” To translate, he appreciates his pay rise.
Over the summer Norwich hired Chris Hughton as Paul Lambert’s successor: a man with vast experience in the top-flight as a player and as a coach, but only briefly as first-team manager. His first actions were to continue in a similar manner to his predecessor: acquiring the majority of new signings from outside the Premier League. Three of Norwich’s four new signings have come from outside England’s top-flight.
Joining Hughton on the jump from the Championship to the Premier League is Jacob Butterfield, who joins on a free transfer from Barnsley and Robert Snodgrass from Leeds United. Both of Norwich’s Championship acquisitions are midfielders (Snograss preferring the wing or the role behind the striker), whilst their other two ply their trade in defence: Steven Whittaker joined the Canaries on a free transfer from Rangers and Michael Turner left Sunderland for little under £1.5m for the Norfolk side.
Perhaps indicative from their transfer activity over the summer, Norwich City need no bolstering up-front. However, their only worry over preseason has been just that: an apparent lack of firepower in the the forward ranks, despite a large arsenal. The Canaries carry Steve Morison, James Vaughan, Simeon Jackson and Chris Martin as well as main man Grant Holt, yet over their preseason friendlies a lack of cutting edge has worried Hughton. “An area we’d like to improve on over this pre-season period is our goals tally,” he explained to local radio station, BBC Radio Norfolk, ”We looked very solid as a unit, got into some good areas but it would have been nice to see a couple of goals.” Yet, it doesn’t seem to worry Hughton enough into a rash purchase, “We’ve got a lot of forwards, a lot of strikers…it’s an ongoing process and if we’re able to strengthen, great, but if not, we’ve got a group of lads here that have fared very well at this club.”
Chris Hughton’s last season in the Premier League, following promotion from the Championship with Newcastle United, was short-lived but well-managed. In fact eight of Hughton’s most-played players in their promotion campaign from the Championship were integral to the Toon’s fifth place finish in the Premier League last season. His dismissal was unpoluar and perhaps unjust, but in hindsight one cannot argue with the progress Newcastle have made.
Now, having enjoyed a season back in the Championship, leading Birmingham to a fourth-place finish, Hughton gets his second crack at Premier League management.
Last season, Swansea finished 11th, Norwich 12th and QPR 17th. This time round, a prediction of outperforming Swansea, who have, like Norwich, lost their manager, but unlike Norwich, also down a few key players from last season, should bode well with Canaries. However, QPR, financially backed and soundly managed by Mark Hughes, are likely to challenge Norwich for a higher placed finish.
Therefore, this season coming, a prediction of 14th place, in and around newly-promoted pair Southampton and West Ham, seems a fair judgement of things. For Norwich to continue to consolidate as a Premier League side should take priority. Andrew Surman has hinted at further signings, as has Hughton and, personally, if Norwich are to outperform their prediction, these signings are perhaps essential.