Following their sublime 6-0 defeat of Scunthorpe at the weekend, Norwich City moved a step closer to achieving what could be a phenomenal two seasons at the club under the guidance of Paul Lambert. And what a turnaround it has been for the man who inflicted the club’s lowest ebb when at the helm of Colchester at the beginning of last season.
The club currently stand four points clear of third-placed Cardiff in the second automatic promotion berth near the summit of the Npower Championship table. Queens Park Rangers sit above them with a six-point cushion and Canary fans have already started to speculate as to whether the dream of a Premiership return could become a reality for the first time since 2004/05.
Bearing in mind the team were in the third tier of English football last season, many have already begun to speculate as to whether the challenge of the Premiership may have come around too soon for the East Anglian club. Their last foray into the Premier League highlighted again the vast gap between the top two tiers of English Football and lasted only one season. The Canaries were relegated despite having won the old First Division by eight points the previous year and the club lost their way. Having lost players, form and income, a series of mediocre seasons followed, culminating in eventual relegation at the end of the 2009 season.
However, Norwich now have a much grittier and more determined manager than they did during their last top flight outing under Nigel Worthington. And whereas Worthington spent over the odds on the likes of Mattias Jonson, Gary Doherty and Thomas Helveg, Lambert is much more shrewd in his dealings to the delight of Chief Executive David McNally.
But with a good stadium, strong squad, loyal fan base and excellent manager at the helm, what are likely to be the biggest challenges for Norwich City should they succeed in their campaign for the £90 million windfall of promotion to the Premier League?
The club are financially very modest, even in comparison to many other Championship clubs, and would certainly struggle to spend big on transfer fees and wages alike. The current squad itself is strong but would definitely need an overhaul to be ready for Premier League football. What’s more, the team itself has become extremely consistent and organised under Lambert. At the moment the team relies on a hard-working midfield trio of Andrew Surman, David Fox and Andrew Crofts freeing the creativity of Wes Hoolahan to feed powerful talisman Grant Holt. However, against high-calibre Premier League opponents the team would struggle to stick to their organised approach and build momentum week after week as they have done so well this season.
However, one of the biggest challenges could be much closer to home. In transforming an underachieving League One team into Premiership promotion contenders, Lambert’s stock has risen considerably and both Burnley and former club Celtic have moved for him before. Few current Premiership managers have experienced Champions League success as a player and Norwich would not be able to compete with potential transfer kitties he would be offered elsewhere. But, having already led the club through two divisions, you feel the current squad’s journey is far from complete and Lambert would be loathed to jump ship at this stage. And, perhaps it would be more beneficial for his own CV to experience building a Premier League squad from scratch rather than taking up the reins of somebody else’s.
Firstly, though, Lambert must face a more apparent task as Norwich are far from promoted and face potential promotion deciders in the coming weeks against Swansea, Nottingham Forest and local rivals Ipswich. But with their current nine-game unbeaten run and boasting the second-best offensive record in the League, you feel this colourful journey could have plenty left to run.
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