The Canaries have surprised many with the strong start they have made with a vast majority of pundits tipping them for a season of struggle although they came unstuck against Arsenal last week. Despite taking an early lead through Steve Morison the Gunners eased to victory at Carrow Road courtesy of two Robin Van Persie goals in what will prove to be a huge learning curve for Paul Lambert’s side. The former Colchester manager has built a squad of players from the lower leagues and their top flight inexperience has become evident in recent weeks. Despite holding Liverpool to a draw at Anfield and pushing Manchester United to the wire at Old Trafford they have dropped points in very winnable games. West Brom came to Norfolk and stole a narrow victory whilst they had Grant Holt to thank for salvaging an unlikely point against beleaguered Blackburn. Keeping clean sheets is their biggest problem at the moment as they’ve failed to secure a complete shut out in 12 games so far this season. The likes of Russell Martin, Kyle Naughton and Marc Tierney have all performed well this season but ultimately lack the necessary Premier League experience. Martin, in particular, was superb against Arsenal last week but his over indulgence on the ball saw him lose possession on the halfway line which lead to the visitors second goal. Whiklst there are no issues in attack, with summer signings Steve Morison and Anthony Pilkington shining each week, Lambert needs to sort out his back four to ensure they come through the festive period unscathed.
Fellow promoted side QPR have also enjoyed an splendid start to their first top flight campaign since the 1995/96 season and now sit in 9th after beating Stoke at the Britannia Stadium this week. Neil Warnock’s side have performed brilliantly on the road this season winning three of their six games away from Loftus Road and that could be put down to the experienced heads now inhabiting the dressing room. Unlike Norwich the R’s have Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Daniel Gabbidon and Armand Traore who played in a combined total of over 500 Premier League games before moving to West London and that extra dash of knowledge has proved indispensable. Their opening day hammering at the hands of Bolton looked to have set the tone for a season of struggle but since then Warnock’s men have gone from strength to strength and now look like a side capable of remaining in the top flight. They gave an all round performance during lasts week’s win in the Potteries with a mix of attacking flair and defensive grit seeing them to an unlikely win. The addition of Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips to the midfield has been a masterstroke and the duo had a hand in two of the three goals scored against Stoke. Heidar Helguson has also come up trumps this season and won his place back in the side ahead of summer signing Jay Bothroyd. Five goals in as many games and a series of swashbuckling performances up front has seen the 34-year-old Icelandic striker become the R’s talisman and his old fashioned approach to attacking will come in handy against a weak Norwich defence.
Norwich City – 11th
Last Five: Lost 2-1 v Arsenal (H), Lost 3-2 v Aston Villa (A), Drew 3-3 v Blackburn (H), Drew 1-1 v Liverpool (A), Won 2-1 v Swansea (H)
Potential Starting X11: 1. J. Ruddy 23. M. Tierney 20. L. Barnett 2. R. Martin [C] 25. K. Naughton 17. E. Bennett 4. B. Johnson 11. A. Surman 12. A. Pilkington 14. W. Hoolahan 5. S. Morison*
Injury News: No new injury worries for Lambert with Zak Whitbread, James Vaughan and Elliott Ward all long-term absentees.
Key Player: Steve Morison
Since signing in the summer from Millwall the Welsh striker has gone from strength to strength in the first Premier League campaign of his career. Morison’s energy and strength has seen him become a real nuisance for defences in the top flight and it was his persistence that saw him grab the opener against Arsenal last week. That goal made it three in his last four and his tenacity up front will be needed to break down an experienced QPR back four.
Match Fact: The two sides have met only three times in the Premier League with Norwich winning their last encounter 2-0 in March 1995. The Canaries were relegated that season but still managed to emerge victorious from Loftus Road with goals from Les Ferdinand and Kevin Gallen sealing the win.
QPR – 9th
Last Five: Won 3-2 v Stoke (A), Lost 3-2 v Man City (H), Lost 3-1 v Tottenham (A), Won 1-0 v Chelsea (H), Drew 1-1 v Blackburn (H)
Potential Starting X11: 1. P. Kenny 18. L. Young 35. A. Ferdinand 6. D. Gabbidon 13. A. Traore 11. A. Faurlin 4. S. Derry[C] 10. J. Mackie 32. S. Wright-Phillips 10. J. Bothroyd 9. H. Helguson*
Injury News: Matt Connolly, DJ Campbell, Kieron Dyer and Rob Hulse are the only injury concerns for Warnock with the quartet all out for the long term.
Key Player: Heidar Helguson
The Icelandic striker started the season way down the Loftus Road pecking order but has burst back onto the scene in the last month and a half scoring five in as many games. Helguson has usurped summer signing Jay Bothroyd as Warnock’s preferred lone front man and his bruising displays have given Rangers an extra bit of spice in the final third. His physical nature will come in handy and it’s likely he will ruffle a few feathers in the Norwich defence.
Match Fact: Since being relegated in 1995/96 QPR have met Norwich on 10 occasions in the Championship but managed to win just one solitary game at Carrow Road. That victory came just a few years ago with a Martin Rowlands goal giving the R’s all three points in September 2008.
Last Time at Carrow Road
Championship 1 January 2011
Norwich 1-0 QPR
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Norwich are going through a tough spell at the moment having one only one of their last six but performances have warranted much more. The Canaries are an exciting side once they get into their rhythm but Lambert needs to start getting his defence tightened over the next month or so. QPR, on the other hand, are on the up and confidence will be booming after they came out on top in a tricky fixture against Stoke last week. Despite captain Joey Barton’s suspension the Premier League experience Warnock has in his squad is far superior to that of Saturday’s hosts and that could be the deciding factor in what is expected to be an entertaining game.