Ugh. Bloody Canaries…
I seem to recall earlier in the season that I once said there’d be hell to pay if Norwich City got promoted back to the Premier League before Ipswich Town. By virtue of the Canaries’ 1-0 win at Portsmouth, coupled with Cardiff City’s failure to put up any kind of a fight against Middlesbrough on Monday evening, that nightmare is now a reality.
Without wishing to heap any more begrudging praise than is absolutely necessary on our beloved neighbours, you have to admit that their run of back-to-back promotions is an impressive achievement. Back in 2009, when Bryan Gunn was letting Norwich slip into the darkness of League One like a backpass into an empty net, you’d have sworn that it was the end of them. A 7-1 defeat at the hands of none other than Colchester United in City’s first game in the third tier brought further merriment for Ipswich fans, solid in the knowledge that it would probably be years before Norwich could scrape their way back into the Championship – by which time we’d probably be long gone enjoying the millionaire’s party in the Premier League.
Instead, Paul Lambert quickly switched allegiances from that first day and quickly proved himself to be surely one of the best managers in the history of Norwich City. They soared to the League One title ahead of the likes of Leeds United before romping back into the Championship with a point to prove. Despite another first day defeat to Watford, the Canaries hit back with a stunning brand of attacking football led from the front by top scorer Grant Holt, whilst their inexplicable knack for squeezing a crucial goal out of the dying seconds of a match has seen Lambert’s side earn enough points to bulldoze right through the second tier into the Premier League, leaving Ipswich flattened in their wake.
All of which begs the question: what the hell have WE been doing for the past two years?!
Considering that Norwich have had to take a step back before leapfrogging Ipswich into the top flight, it seems all the more outrageous that the comparative stability enjoyed by the Blues has not provided them with a launchpad for success. Instead, that stability seems to have bred mediocrity, with no sense of forward momentum or urgency to achieve anything beyond Championship security. Of course, the aims were always loftier; at the time Norwich were plummeting, Roy Keane’s arrival at Portman Road was expected to herald a new era of progress. Perhaps it did, but of the backward variety.
That is where Ipswich and Norwich have differed over the past two years. Norwich realised their nightmares when they tumbled through the relegation trapdoor, but it made them buck up their ideas. Once back in the second tier, they had been given a newfound sense of appreciation for Championship status, enough to prompt them never again to take for granted the opportunity of a ticket to the top flight. With the momentum of success embellished by a renewed winning mentality instilled under Lambert, the Canaries played out this campaign as if they’d had a firework shoved up their proverbial and wasted no time in making sure that they forged a path toward their next goal. The moral of their story was evident: when everyone else is moving forward, you can’t afford to stand still.
One can speculate at length over what went wrong at Portman Road in these past two years. Fingers will be pointed at Keane, or maybe Simon Clegg, or perhaps at the players. At the end of the day though, there are no excuses. If a season is a marathon as is so often said, Ipswich should never have found themselves beaten in the race to the Premier League by a team that has had to run twice the distance.
Perhaps the lessons that Norwich have learned in these last two seasons can be a further education for Town. The early signs have been positive under Paul Jewell as the Blues look to regenerate this summer in hope of making up for lost time. The cost of standing still must be paid though; Ipswich might have escaped having to take the Canaries’ convoluted route to the top flight by avoiding relegation, but they have merely given their rivals time to stake their own claims for glory. The loss of heavyweights Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion to the top flight last season combined with the relegation of three fairly lightweight Premier League clubs in Hull City, Burnley and Portsmouth somewhat opened up the Championship for what has been a tight race this year, with Norwich only having needed 83 points to win their coveted prize.
Promotion was arguably easier to achieve this time around. What odds next season that the division will be made tougher by the likes of Wolves, experienced campaigners at this level, or West Ham United, Town’s recent bogey playoff team, or even from the opposite doorway, a fallen giant like Southampton rejuvenated by promotion. Not to mention whichever of Cardiff, Swansea City, Reading and (presumably) Nottingham Forest fail to make it in the playoffs, as well as the prospect of Leicester City rolling in money under Sven-Goran Eriksson. A window of opportunity might just have passed us by this year…
Whether or not Norwich can make it work in the Premier League will be of little concern for Ipswich next season. They may be well advised to follow the Canaries’ example though, for self-belief is a powerful thing. Looking up to your enemy is painful, but if we can swallow our pride and recognise what Norwich have done right, we too could find ourselves in the top flight by 2012/13.
After all, who would say no to a Premier League East Anglian Derby?
By Darren Campbell
What have you made of Norwich City’s turnaround in the past two years? Where has it gone wrong for Ipswich in that time, and do you believe we can follow them into the Premier League next season?
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