The FourFourTwo Preview: Norwich vs West Brom
Last chance saloon, apparently. For the hosts at least.
They say this is Norwich's last chance to pick up any points this season. Even though there are still five games remaining after Saturday's encounter, they say the Canaries will not pick up another point and will now have to hope and pray that 35 points will be enough to keep them safe for another summer. Their next game is away at Fulham, who are hopeless and doomed, but Norwich have lost their last six games on the road and appear to have given up hope of ever winning away again. In the 3-0 defeat at Swansea on Saturday, the players began bickering with one another. “It shows that they're not happy with the performance,” said spinmaster Chris Hughton, “but none of us are.”
- Swansea 3-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 2-0 S'land (Prem)
- So'ton 4-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich (Prem)
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Swansea 1-2 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 0-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Fulham (Prem)
(A generous preview might suggest Norwich have been very cleverly conserving their energy for games at Carrow Road, pointing out that they've accumulated 24 of their 32 points at home this season. A less generous preview would dismiss that as fanciful toss and point out they're just hopeless on the road.)
They say with some certainty that as Norwich's final four games of the season see them play Liverpool (h), Manchester United (a), Chelsea (a) and Arsenal (h), they won't win again this term. And they say that once this season is over, however it turns out, Hughton will be handed a large brown box and shown a big brown door. They speculate a lot, these people, and not everything they claim will turn out to be true. But some of it probably will be.
Their visitors, West Brom, snatched a slapstick draw from the jaws of an unlikely victory at home to Cardiff last weekend. Impressive in racing into a two-goal lead, they got confused after that, unsure if they should proceed to the jugular or sit back and soak it up. They opted for the latter and paid the price once again, just as they did in an identical position against Aston Villa both home and away.
Had they held on to win 3-2 – Saido Berahino just needed to take the ball into the corner and literally sit on it – then West Brom would have risen a place to 16th. More importantly, the win would have kept Cardiff on 25 points in 17th, the final relegation place.
The Baggies would have established a six-point gap, seven points if you consider their superior goal difference. But Berahino saw his name in lights, opted for the Hollywood ball and the rest is history. The youngster received a head injury in the changing rooms afterwards, inflicted by one of his raging team-mates. But that’s no biggie. It just confirms they are not happy with the performance, as Hughton would say.
What it means now is that Norwich-West Brom becomes the latest in a long line of relegation six-pointers that will run until the season's end. Either side could lose on Saturday and still avoid relegation, surviving simply by being slightly less hapless than the three teams below them. A win should put enough daylight between whoever prevails and the bottom three. A draw will mean the whole sorry charade rumbles on and we can write a similarly uncertain preview next weekend for both teams. Given that West Brom have enjoyed – or endured – more draws than anyone in the Premier League this season (14), stalemate becomes a very real possibility.
Joseph Yobo should return from the calf injury that kept him out against Swansea. Jonas Gutierrez could be pushing for a start, having featured off the bench against Swansea, while Michael Turner is also likely to return. Elliott Bennett could be included but Leroy Fer won’t re-emerge before Liverpool arrive on Easter Sunday.
For the visitors, Jonas Olsson is available again after suspension and should bring the leadership qualities West Brom clearly require. Victor Anichebe is also likely to return (from a dicky hamstring) and offer the Baggies a more physical threat going forward. But Scott Sinclair is unlikely to play after Pepe Mel suggested he's not been at all impressed by him in training.
Key battle: Snodgrass vs Dorrans
Despite the growing influence of Alex Tettey and his booming boots, most of Norwich's best moments come through the industry and creativity of Snodgrass down the right. Against Swansea, despite seeing little of the ball, the Scot topped the chances created, ball recoveries and most tackles stats. Damningly, his five goals make him the club’s top scorer; his two assists make him the club’s chief creator. Maybe Mel is aware of this, having spoken this week of the growing influence of Dorrans. “He is a magnificent footballer,” said el gaffer, in Spanish. “He could be a key player for us.”
Dorrans was one of the key players in the 3-3 draw with Cardiff, scoring his first goal in a year and producing a man-of-the-match performance. If West Brom are to nullify Norwich's chief threat on Saturday, he'll need to be a key player again at Carrow Road.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 0-2 Norwich (Prem, Dec 13)
- Norwich 4-0 WBA (Prem, May 13)
- WBA 2-1 Norwich (Prem, Dec 12)
- WBA 1-2 Norwich (FAC, Jan 12)
- WBA 1-2 Norwich (Prem, Jan 08)
Two men who appear to be on borrowed time. Growing discontent at Carrow Road – and particularly on the road – suggests Houghton's P45 will be in the post even if he keeps Norwich up. Of the Premier League's bottom seven, the Canaries are the only team not to have sacked their manager this season, which tells us something, though it’s not exactly clear what.
Mel has won just one of his 10 games in charge and yet he may still survive for another season if he keeps the Baggies afloat.
The part-time crime writer seems immune to the pressure of a relegation dogfight – as Cardiff's equaliser deprived his team of three vital points in the 94th minute on Saturday, he shrugged, smiled broadly and shared a joke with his opposite number Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, who presumably didn't understand a word of it but smiled back anyway. “We have really sinned,” he reflected, looking back on Cardiff and then conveniently ahead to Norwich. “There is a lot at stake. But we trust in the players.”
Facts and figures
- Norwich are unbeaten in 6 home games, in which time they’ve conceded just once
- Norwich’s last 7 home games have seen just 7 goals in total, with 5 matches producing fewer than 2 goals
- West Brom have conceded before half-time in 10 consecutive matches
8 of Norwich’s last 12 home matches have been level at half-time
Best Bet: Correct score 1-0 @ 7.00
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
One goal is usually enough at Carrow Road, but West Brom can't stop drawing: 1-1.