Premier League preview - Norwich
Premier League: 12th
FA Cup: Fifth round
League Cup: Second round
One of the surprise packages last season, Norwich City proved that they were capable of adapting to the Premier League and comfortably survived in 12th place. Guided by Paul Lambert and the goals of striker Grant Holt, who was tipped for the England squad during the season, the Canaries were adept in taking points from the big teams with a brand of attacking football.
The most surprising aspect of the season was that Lambert made up his side from Championship and League One players who had not yet experienced the difficulty of the Premier League. Norwich’s two main signings, Steve Morison and Anthony Pilkington, came from the Championship and League One respectively and showed that even if a player is plying his trade in the lower leagues, there is always a chance of progressing to the top-flight.
Lambert’s departure to Aston Villa will be a sore blow to the Norwich fans who were hoping he would mastermind a top half finish this season after narrowly missing out last time. The Villa job was too much for Lambert to turn down and former Birmingham City boss Chris Hughton has been brought in to continue the Scotsman’s work. Hughton has kept faith with the signing of lower level footballers with Robert Snodgrass from Leeds United and Jacob Butterfield from Barnsley, while Steven Whittaker has joined on a free transfer after leaving Rangers
The Canaries have lost Kyle Naughton at right-back after the end of his loan spell from Tottenham, but Whittaker will fit in easily in defence. Hughton may still look to improve a defence that was the joint fourth-worst in the league last season, despite having a talented young keeper in John Ruddy. Michael Turner has been signed from Sunderland to partner Russell Martin, but Hughton will be eager to bring in another talented defender to cement his backline.
Norwich’s start to the season could define the way they continue and they will be hoping to use their home form as a springboard for the rest of the campaign. The first two home games come against QPR, who narrowly avoided relegation last season, and newly promoted West Ham. However, following the West Ham game, Norwich face three of last season’s top six as well as Liverpool and Hughton will hope to come out of the tough run unscathed and out of the relegation zone.
With a talented midfield which is expected to comprise of Snodgrass, his former Leeds teammates Jonny Howson, Wes Hoolahan and Pilkington, Norwich will be able to provide attacking flair that will give Holt the chance to continue his scoring form and keep the Canaries in the top flight. Hughton knows the Premier League well and will be hungry to prove himself in his second chance after being unfairly replaced at Newcastle United by Alan Pardew. Norwich should survive again this season, but it will be interesting to see whether they are comfortable or fighting the drop until the final days.
Manager - Chris Hughton: The former Birmingham manager has been brought in to replace Lambert, who masterminded Norwich’s progression to the Premier League. Hughton is experienced in the top flight and deserves the chance at Carrow Road to finish in the top half this season.
Key signing - Robert Snodgrass: Brought in from Leeds, the Scottish international winger is more adept playing from the right hand side and cutting in on his venomous left foot. Snodgrass will add width to the Canaries and deliver quality for Grant Holt to feed on.
Key sale - Paul Lambert: Aston Villa moved quickly to replace Alex McLeish and signed a talented, adaptable, young manager in Lambert. Norwich fans will be happy with Hughton’s signature, but also disappointed that the Scotsman has moved on to the Midlands after a great few years in East Anglia.
Keep an eye out for…Grant Holt’s form: The topic of every Norwich fan’s summer was Holt’s future after his decision to hand in a transfer request, but the top goal scorer made a U-turn and signed a new deal. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up the form that saw him score 15 league goals last year.