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[Archived] Rovers v. Norwich City; 21/4/2012


m1st

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INTRODUCTION.

Well, we really are at the sharp end of the season now as we prepare for what may well be our penultimate home Premier League game for some considerable time. Obviously, we all hope not; but the record of our “manager” speaks for itself and we are where we are because of our results. We have dropped a shedload of goals and points in the final 10 minutes of this season’s games, none more notably than the reverse fixture of this one when we went from 3-1 up with less than 10 minutes to go to drawing 3-3. What a difference all those points could have made.

So it’s time for one of m1st’s previews telling you more about Norwich City than anybody sensible would want to know. They have been one of this season’s surprise packages and seem to have a team with no particular “stars”, although Grant Holt, who’s been around the various Divisions of the Football League, seems to be the fans’ favourite. What they do have, though, is a manager who seems to know what he’s doing in terms of player recruitment and tactics, which is why they find themselves comfortably in mid-table.

HISTORY.

Norwich City are one of the younger teams in League football, not having being founded until 1902. Indeed, of teams in this season’s Premier League, there are only three teams which were founded more recently. Like many of the teams in the four top divisions of English football, they had their origins in a Church foundation, having been formed by three men who had previously played for a team representing the Norwich Church of England Young Mens’ Society.

Football League and Premier League.

That Norwich City club lasted only a matter of 15 years or so before being forced into liquidation during World War 1. The club was re-formed in 1919 and joined the newly-formed Division 3, which became known as Division 3 [south] the following season, to differentiate it from the even more newly-formed Division 3 [North]. They remained in this Division until 1933/34 season when they were promoted to Division 2 as Champions. [in those days, only the champions of each of the two Divisions 3 went up.] The ground on which they played at that time could not properly accommodate larger crowds so the club moved to Carrow Road, their present home, in 1935/36 season.

Our first League games against them took place the season after that, following our first-ever relegation from the top tier of English football. We played each other for three seasons but we returned to Division 1 in 1938/39, while Norwich were relegated to Division 3 [south] the same season. They didn’t get back to Division 2 until 1959/60 so we didn’t meet in the League again until after our relegation to Division 2 in 1966.

In the early 1970s, our paths diverged again with Rovers having their first taste of Division 3 football in the 1971/72 season which saw Norwich clinch the Division 2 title and make their Division 1 debut in the 1972/73 season. Although they won the Football League Cup that season, they only stayed in the top division one more season and were relegated to Division 2 in 1974. Under John Bond’s management, they returned to Division 1 and to another League Cup Final. Bond resigned during their 1980/81 season and was succeeded by his Assistant Manager, Ken Brown, who was unable to prevent them being relegated and joining us back in Division 2. As in the mid-1970s, they only spent one season in this Division and returned to Division 1 the following season where they remained for 3 seasons until 1984/85, when they set the dubious record of being the first team to win the League Cup and be relegated in the same season.

Again they only spent one season in Division 2 and returned to Division 1 in 1986. Despite finishing high enough to have qualified for the UEFA Cup in the 1987/88 season if English clubs hadn’t been banned from the UEFA Competitions, they made a poor start the following season and Brown was sacked and replaced by Dave Stringer, the reserve team manager. He steadied the ship and, the following season [1988/89], had City challenging for success in both the League and the F.A. Cup. They finished 4th in Division 1 and were semi-finalists in the F. A. Cup but the following seasons saw them in more modest positions in the League. They finished just above the relegation zone in 1992 which meant that both City and Rovers were founder-members of the Premier League.

City led the Premier League for much of that first season, particularly in the first half of the season, ending in third place. However, when they came to Ewood in October 1992, they lost 7-1! Despite that walloping, City were 1 point and 1 place above us when the season ended, which meant they qualified for the following season’s UEFA Cup, the post-Heysel ban having been rescinded by this time.

They declined quickly after that and as we celebrated winning the Premier League title in 1994/95 season, City were relegated to the Football League Division 1. They stayed there until 2004, which meant that we met in the two seasons around the millennium. In 2004, they were promoted as Champions back to the Premier League but only lasted the one season before spending the next 5 seasons in the Championship, as the Football League Division 1 had been re-branded. They were relegated to League 1 [the old Division 3] at the end of the 2008/09 season.

Their first game in League 1 the following season saw them beaten 7-1 at home by Colchester United, leading to their then-Manager and former goalkeeper, Bryan Gunn, being sacked. He was replaced by Paul Lambert, the manager of the Colchester team which had inflicted City’s biggest ever home defeat. Since then, City’s trajectory has been relentlessly upwards. When they came back to the Premier League in August, they were the first team to achieve consecutive promotions from the 3rd to the 1st tier of English football since Manchester City in 2000.

Saturday’s game will be the 34th League game between the two clubs and the 10th to be played in the top tier, all in the Premier League. For what it’s worth, Rovers have won three out of the four Premier League games so far, while City won the League game at Ewood in 1993/94 season. Overall, the League record at Ewood shows that Rovers have won 12 and drawn 3 games with that solitary defeat; and that Rovers have once [in the old Division 2 in 1969/70] done the League double over City, while they have yet to achieve a League double over us. [Anyone who, having read that, thinks I ought to get out more will get no argument from me!]

F.A. Cup.

Norwich City are one of 6 current members of the Premier League who’ve never won the F.A. Cup.

We’ve only played each other in three games in the F.A. Cup; the first time was exactly 100 years this year when we beat them 4-1 in the 1st Round of the 1911/12 season.

In 1958/59 season, Norwich were the F.A. Cup surprise package when, although only a Division 3 team, they reached the semi-final, having seen off both Spurs and Manchester United, both of whom, then as now, were in the upper levels of Division 1. After a replay, they lost the semi-final to Luton Town, the eventual runners-up, who were also a Division 1 team at the time.

The only other time we’ve been drawn against City in the F.A. Cup was in 1965/66, the season which saw our relegation from Division 1, following the Polio epidemic. After a 2-2 draw in the 5th Round at Carrow Road, we won the replay at Ewood 3-2.

Football League Cup.

Apologies at the beginning of this section to the young ‘uns on here who must be fed up of my previews harking back to the 1950s and 60s; but it’s the era when quite a few of us Board members can first remember football in general and Rovers in particular [in my case, sometimes more clearly than earlier this season!].

The clubs have met twice in this competition, both times at Ewood: first in 1992/93, when we knocked them out in the 3rd Round; then last season when we won the 2nd Round game 3-1.

Additionally [see the apology above!], we do have another kind of link with City in this competition. They were the second team to win the League Cup and when they did, they were one of two “minnows” to contest that Final. As a Division 3 team in 1961/62 season, they beat Rochdale 4-0 of Division 4 in the 2-legged Finals that decided the competition in those days.

One controversial feature of the early years of the League Cup was that several of the so-called “big boys” of the League chose not to enter the competition, which opened up the chances of success for allegedly “smaller” Division 1 teams, like, say, Blackpool and ourselves. I’ve mentioned in one of my previous Previews and elsewhere on this Board that I was born in Blackpool and was the only lad in my school there of the blue-and-white persuasion. You can perhaps imagine what I went through that season because, apart from Norwich and Rochdale, the other 2 semi-finalists were Rovers and Blackpool. The draw for the semi-finals kept the two Division 1 clubs apart and as soon as it was made, the rivalry in my class began about which of our two clubs would win the Cup! One unusual feature was that both legs of our semi-final were completed before Norwich and Blackpool played the first leg of their semi-final, which meant that I suffered a load of grief until City came to my rescue by beating the Seasiders.

City were runners-up twice in this competition in the 1970s, and, as noted above, set an unwanted record in 1984/85 when they became the first club [birmingham City emulated the feat last season] to win the Football League Cup and be relegated from the top division of English football in the same season. In that Final, they beat Sunderland, who joined them in being relegated, the only time that both League Cup finalists have been relegated. Apparently, both sets of fans got on so well at that Final, though, that every time the two clubs meet in any competition, they also contest the Friendship Trophy which commemorates that good atmosphere. Sunderland regained the trophy with their 3-0 home win in February.

European competitions.

Norwich City were one of the teams worst affected by the UEFA ban on English teams following the Heysel stadium disaster in 1985. Not only were they were deprived of entry to the 1986/87 UEFA Cup, in which, as League Cup winners in 1985, they could have expected to compete; but their League placing in both 1986/87 and 1988/89 seasons would also normally have qualified them for that competition.

City played in the 1993/94 UEFA Cup, beating Vitesse Arnhem and, memorably, Bayern Munich, before losing to the eventual winners, Inter Milan.

LINKS BETWEEN THE TWO CLUBS.

One unusual link is that for their first five seasons, Norwich [then nicknamed the “Citizens”], played in blue and white halved shirts, although their blue was apparently lighter than in many of the shirts Rovers have worn over the years and the halves were sometimes reversed. In the 1907/08 season, however, they began to wear the yellow shirts by which they are recognised today and acquired their present-day nickname.

Head-to-head meetings.

Rovers’ first League meetings with the Canaries took place in the old Division 2 in the 1936/37 season. We’ve met in the League in 17 different seasons, 5 of which have been in the Premier League and they’re one of the teams we’ve beaten more often in the Leagues than they’ve beaten us. We’ve done a League Double over them once [in 1969/70 season in the old Division 2], while they’ve never achieved that feat against us.

We’ve been drawn against each other twice in each of the Cup competitions and we’ve gone through on each occasion.

Players in common.

I’m obliged to www.ex-canaries.co.uk for some of the information in this section.

While many of us will immediately remember the likes of Tim Sherwood [Kenny Dalglish’s first signing in 1991], Chris Sutton and Craig Bellamy as players who were both Canaries and Rovers, it’s easy to forget that there are quite a few other players who have worn both our blue and white shirt and their yellow one.

Did you know, for example, that Jackson Ramm had been a youngster on City’s books? No; me neither! It may be common knowledge that Anthony Pilkington’s apparently a Rovers fan; but I don’t follow things at Brockhall closely enough to have known that he was with us as a youngster before he joined Huddersfield Town, from whom City signed him.

Other names to have appeared on the backs of both shirts include: David Bentley who was on loan at Carrow Road the season before we bought him from Arsenal; Maceo Rigters - we apparently pipped City to his signing [lucky City!] and they were one of a number of clubs to whom we loaned him; and Martin “Tiny” Taylor, whom Birmingham loaned to Norwich in the 2007/08 season, some 10 years after he’d signed his first contract at Ewood.

In addition to Sutton, two centre-forwards who played for both clubs were Peter Thorne whose career began at Ewood, and Ashley Ward whose career didn’t! Although Thorne never played for our first team, he had a successful career in the lower Divisions once we’d let him go, although his time at Carrow Road was his least productive spell, apart from a loan spell at Wigan Athletic while he was still on our books. Ward was another peripatetic centre-forward whom City signed from Crewe Alexandra in 1994. He moved on to Derby County and Barnsley, from whom Bryan Kidd signed him [for £4.5 million!] in 1998. He moved back to Yorkshire in 2000 to join Bradford City, one of the clubs with whom we swapped places [and for whom he was even less prolific than he had been with us!] when we went down to Division 1 from the Premier League in 1999.

Player not in common!

I’m sure he wouldn’t thank us for bringing it up; but Ian Culverhouse [the present City Assistant Manager] was one of their full-backs on their first Premier League visit to Ewood, which ended in that 7-1 home win.

FORM TABLE.

When I began preparing this at the beginning of April, the Form table on the BBC’s website showed that over the previous 10 Premier League games, both teams had identical records with 11 points [3 wins and 2 draws] out of 30. Most other “Form tables”, however, focus only on the last 6 games and again when I began preparing this; in these tables, we were [surprise, surprise!] ahead of Norwich with 7 points [2 wins and a draw] to their 4 [1 win, 1 draw] out of 18! The only two teams below Norwich in the current “6 game Form table” at that time were Liverpool and Wolves. Not even the games against West Brom, and Everton early in April altered the positions, although the points-gap narrowed.

However, the results of Easter week saw a change in the form table and Norwich overtook us. So, while Norwich’s recent record isn’t brilliant, it doesn’t need to be to be better than ours.

OPPONENTS’ OPINION.

I visited “Wrath of the Barclay” and asked the following questions. I’ve taken the answers of the first five of their Board to respond; they are respectively:

ghostof barry butler

Dandy Highburyman

TransitVanBeethoven

Martin Peters &

Bravo win or die.

Their answers were posted about 10 days ago and I thought the answers to question 6 were quite thought-provoking in the range of opinion about our situation.

1. So now that the season is nearly over, has it met your expectations, exceeded them or fallen short of them?

This season has fallen short. Thought we could make Europe.

I'm swiftly coming to the conclusion I'm not a big fan of the Prem. However, to be the best you can be you have to play with the best players and on that front we seem to be coping on the whole. However, I miss the excitement of the last two seasons of achieving back to back promotions and having something to aim for. Staying in the Prem doesn't seem much of a goal

Exceeded them, by far.

Exceeded them by far. Current run of "form" is disappointing but not worthy of the criticism it has created in some noisy factions.

Well as we'd finished 1st and then 2nd in the past two seasons, I quite fancied finishing 3rd this season. However the true pessimist in me kept remembering our last season back in the Prem when we had a miserable time hovering around the bottom three. So actually I'm delighted with where we are (and my pessimistic side is nicely satisfied that we haven't yet got the MAGICAL 40th POINT WE NEED TO STAY SAFE!) Could I also just add fans that moan that we're not 8th so we've had a bad season make me a bit cross.

2. Who have been your best players this season?

Holt.

Horse (Holt), Ruddy, early season Norfolk Cafu (Martin) and of course Wessi (Wesly H) who is the chosen one.

Holt, Naughton, Whitbread.

We're a team. Many more have performed than those who have not, hence our run of results and good league placing. Ruddy has been outstanding, likewise Naughton, Russell Martin, especially in central defence, Zak Whitbread and Holt. But good words and things could be said about many more.

I just love our team and I'm so proud of them. Everyone who gets picked does a job and some have had to wait a long time to get a chance. If you made me pick one I'd go for Holt though. He is such an iconic member of the team.

3. Lambert seems to me to be a bit of an alchemist, getting players who weren’t stars at Premier League level to function as an effective team. Is this how you’d see him or is he too much of a “tinkerman”?

Lambert is the best manager and will go on to much better things hopefully with us, he is a God who walks with us mortals.

He's brilliant but we need to find a way of stopping the silly goals. I'm sure he'll do that. Eventually.

Buys capable journeymen with strength of character and hunger. He rotated the squad and varies formations, not always successfully.

No, saying he is an "alchemist" suggests sleight of hand and trickery. He is more genuine than that. He is an intelligent and astute judge of a footballer who is able to develop those that need that final 'nudge' to play at the highest level. Not playing in the Premier League does not mean that a player isn't good enough for that level, I am sure there are players who have spent their entire careers in the lower leagues who could have had success in the Premier League, had they been given the opportunity and coaching. Lambert’s gift is identifying them.

No, he is amazing. It adds a bit of excitement pre match to see who's going to be in the team. The thing is, you get the feeling that everything he tries has a point to it and has been planned for (unlike with other managers we've had).

4. When I began preparing this preview at the beginning of April, I was surprised to see how low down the 6-game “form table” City were. Do you think that Lambert’s taken them as far as he can or is there more to come from him and his management team?

Just a dip in form.

Obviously there's more he can do. But we are a club that has to work within tight budgets with players of a certain calibre, son of god aside. His biggest test which is to win things, bigger things than L1 and 2nd in Champs, is yet to come.

We've had injuries, and other sides have had a good look at us by now. Lambo's varied the tactics but not always successfully.

Not at all. He is playing with half an eye on next season already. Survival is all but assured, development of the next step has already begun. He will want to hit next season running which means not preparing for it in the Summer but now.

I'm wondering if a bit of him thinks we're safe and so there is less pressure to win. He seems really keen on trying a few new formations out. Another thing is that the management team seem to have really targeted getting points from teams below us and on the whole we're still doing that - a win vs Wolves and a point against Wigan for example. This has been a major factor in why we are where we are. A lot of us were fed up to go out of the cup against Leicester though.

5. What team do you think he’ll put out against us and who should we watch out for?

Look out for Howson.

Lord only knows. Horse and Ruddy will start, probably Howson. Take your pick for the rest.

The strongest that's available to him - we need the points to get us across the line. Holt will be dangerous, as always.

I suspect 4-5-1. Ruddy Martin-Bennett-Whitbread-Naughton; Bennett-Fox-Howson-Hoolahan; Pilkington/Surman-Holt. Howson is one to watch. Due a goal after some good performances already and developing an excellent understanding with Fox already. Looks an absolute steal.

I'm wondering if a bit of him thinks we're safe and so there is less pressure to win. He seems really keen on trying a few new formations out. Another thing is that the management team seem to have really targeted getting points from teams below us and on the whole we're still doing that - a win vs Wolves and a point against Wigan for example. This has been a major factor in why we are where we are. A lot of us were fed up to go out of the cup against Leicester though.

6. You’ll have read in the media how popular our owners and manager are with many of the fans [NOT] ; what do you think about the way our saga has developed?

Feel sorry for the fans.

Felt sorry for Keane, dunno anything about your owners. You'd be the better judge on that.

Not paid much attention, but it makes me glad that we've got Delia.

I wonder if Steve Kean is one of those people who is a great coach-but who lacks that certain something that makes you a Manager as well. I think the two roles are, for the most part, mutually exclusive. We had it with John Deehan, a superb coach but didn't cut it as a Manager. I think Kean as a strong number 2 to a "traditional" manager (maanger first, coach second) would work very well for you-you look at someone like Mick McCarthy, always the Manager but not so much the coach, likewise Terry Connor-great coach, but is he a Manager? As for your owners-well, put it this way, better there than here. As with so many owners they see a business not a football club. When that side of things suffers, so does the football. You need a strong CE who will hold the Venkey's at bay and emphasise that without a strong football side of the business, there isn't one.

I tried to imagine how you were feeling when you got the wins you got. Did it make it hard for you to cheer them on? I think fans of most teams have experience wanting to support the team but hating what's going on with the management. (We certainly have). I think you've been given quite a harsh deal over it. I don't like the pundits that say 'Of course fans have a right to complain' when you know from their body language and tone of voice (and what they go on to say!) they don't mean it.

One thing that illustrates the differences in the management between our teams I think is the videos we brought out pre-season. Our players took part in a witty send up of themselves in their new Italian kit and yours did that chicken ad. I thought then we were the cooler team!

7. Are there any of our players you fear will cause you problems [lol]?

No one.

Yakuuuuuuuuuuubooooooo (special Norfolk pronunciation).

Hoilett.

Yakubu and Hoilett, definitely. Yakubu is all you need in a modern striker-strong, fast, confident. Would love him here.

I remember you being good and feeling lucky to get the draw last minute. Was it Hoilet bombing at our defenders all match?

8. What do you think the final score will be, remembering the last 10 mintues of our game at Carrow Road earlier this season?

2-1 City

A draw or a squeaky bum win to us or a win to you. Couldn’t tell you. Depends on whether we turn up and Sir Paul gets his formation right.

2-1 to us

Looking at a draw, 2-2 for me.

I’m hoping for a draw. The teams we’ve played recently who are fighting for survival are really tough.

SATURDAY’S GAME.

This is usually the hardest bit of a Preview, preparing it, as we do, over a week before the match. However, an hour after the final whistle has gone after our abject display at Swansea, I’m revising what I’d originally put in this part of the preview and it’s impossible for me to be my usual “glass-half-full” fan. Even though both teams have been walloped this afternoon, Norwich are safe in mid-table and while Lambert may use this game to experiment for next season [see their fans’ responses to question 4], I suspect that he will have his team motivated to eradicate the memory of their defeat in their next game.

Reading some of the Norwich fans’ comments above, it seems to me that their manager selects his team to cope with what he expects their opponents to come up with. Given the way “lowly Blackburn” [i quote Gary Lineker on MotD when we] lost to WBA, the way we couldn’t hold onto the point against 10-man Liverpool which would have taken us up to 16th in the table and that display at Swansea, it would take even more of an “opti-m1st” than your correspondent to expect a home win from this game.

I can’t see us getting anything from this game and am not sure whether even this team, which we all know Coco won’t put out, could do anything:

Robinson;

Orr, Givet, Hanley, Martin O;

Vukcevic, Nzonzi, Lowe, Pedersen;

Hoilett;

Yakubu.

Subs: Kean; Dann, Marcus O; Dunn, Formica, Goodwillie, Rochina.

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