Alex Neil’s enviable squad will be tested at Bolton
11 April ~ It is the default position of Norwich City fans to think of our away form as poor, or at best patchy. A meagre two wins on the road in each of our previous two seasons is testament to that. However it is with some pride and not a little surprise that on researching the Canaries’ statistics I discovered we have the best away form in the league, and not just of late – over the entire season.
So as we prepare to meet a mid-table, probably safe, hopefully just playing for a bit of pride Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium, the 2,000 or so Norwich supporters making the long journey north will for once be full of expectation, not just hope.
Our team are playing scintillating football coupled with – at last – some defensive nous. We've won 11, drawn four and lost only five of our 20 away games, in the manner of a team who are showing that we did actually deserve our three consecutive years in the Premier League. We have a new, young (very young – 33), scarily competent manager in Alex Neil who has already won the division's Manager of the Month award even though he's been with us barely three months. Twelve wins and only three defeats in his 17 games say it all.
Bolton came to Carrow Road not long after their new manager Neil Lennon took over and surprised us all with their organised, attacking football. They were hard to beat and will not make it easy for us in their own ground. But this Norwich side have developed a patience in games hitherto unseen, something that betrays a lot of relegated Premier League teams who panic when they haven't wrapped up games by half time. Neil has taught his players to earn their goals and now they are coming from all over the park.
We will miss one of the main beneficiaries of his new regime, midfielder Bradley Johnson, who has been transformed from clogger to the "Norfolk Pirlo", scoring 13 goals in what has turned out to be a remarkable season for him. He is suspended but we have a talented bench to choose from – take your pick from wisened pros, England Under-21 starlets, Belgian internationals or £5 million strikers.
Yes we have an enviable squad, as other managers are quick to mention, but Norwich are not paying QPR-type money and are a debt-free club. Winning each of our five remaining games will secure a promotion that would justify our pragmatic approach to finance but the league is so tight that one slip could blow it. The Bolton game is the first of three tricky away games yet for once we can travel knowing we are the very best in the league away from home. We just need to keep it that way. Paul Buller