Jack Pierce is back with his weekly previews and starts off with a trip to Norwich for Pardew's Palace.
Put those gardening gloves away, stop pretending you care about cricket or know anything about the Greek economy; the football season is here!
The fixture generating computer can be a cruel mistress but a two and a half hour jaunt up the M11 shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate for those making the trip from SE25 on Saturday. What will await them will be a club returning to the top flight after just the one season in The Championship; expectant fans wearing green and yellow wigs and waving club flags will be swarming around Carrow Road.
Palace fans heading to Norfolk, be warned!
Having earned the final promotion place on offer by beating Middlesbrough at Wembley in May, the Norwich side chosen by their enigmatic Scottish boss this Saturday, Alex Neil, will be selected from largely the same squad he had at his disposal once he took over in January of this year.
After impressing as the manager of Hamilton, Neil was bought in by The Canaries in the hope he could galvanise what had become a fairly lacklustre season under the stewardship of Neil Adams. At the time of his appointment Norwich sat in 7th and were only three points off the play offs but it was thought that under the leadership of Adams, the squad of players appeared disinterested and the push for promotion would eventually lose any momentum it had.
Adams, to his credit, resigned and the rest is history. Neil’s new approach enthused the squad and within four months, having only just missed out on an automatic place, Norwich had secured their return to the Premier League.
Key to their upward mobility was the threat posed by one time Palace runabout, Cameron Jerome. As he has proven in the past, he can score goals in the second tier and is a real threat at that level. However, as shown during his spell on loan at Selhurst Park the season before last and despite his laudable running of lines and occupying defenders, the former Birmingham and Stoke man doesn’t seem to possess a particularly prolific goal scoring knack at the highest level. It may well be the case that it all fits into place this season and he will score the goals that will aid Norwich’s chances of staying up but if he is to be goal shy as he has been in the past, midfielders like Jonny Howson, Wes Hoolahan and Nathan Redmond will have to contribute.
Transfer activity in Norfolk has been fairly limited with the arrivals of Robbie Brady and Youssouf Mulumbu being the most notable newbies. Upon Hull’s relegation in May, quite a few clubs would’ve looked at Brady and liked to add him to their squad but with an asking price of £7 million, not many actually made a bid and Norwich won the race for the Eire international. Mulumbu, meanwhile, appears to be one of the better free transfers of the summer. Over 130 top flight appearances for West Brom will add a bit of knowhow to the Norwich ranks and if he can return to the form of a few seasons ago, Alex Neil will have a very handy base to his midfield with Mulumbu slotting alongside the reliable Alex Tettey.
Unfortunately for those in yellow, the ex-Baggie broke one of those annoying metatarsals in a pre season run out against Brentford last weekend and is likely to miss the first month of the season as a result.
Two years ago, Norwich started the season fresh from two mid-table finishes in the Premier League and I dare say their fans were looking up rather than below them. In any case, they ended up relegated and provide a vivid warning to Palace fans thinking that we have a god given right to be in the top flight having stayed up for two seasons in a row. We don’t and this season’s first aim should be consolidating our top flight status before we start dreaming of nights in the continent or Mile Jedinak lifting a trophy at Wembley.
Norwich’s sole aim for the season should be to finish 17th by hook or by crook. As proven by the likes of Swansea, Southampton and ourselves, if a club can avoid dropping straight back into the second tier, there is the opportunity to build the club, both in terms of on and off the pitch. Given their relative lack of transfer activity up to the point of writing, Norwich’s survival efforts will need to be inspired by the squad that earned promotion last season and the ingenuity of Neil, a man who had such a positive impact between January and May.
Should Neil replicate the impression that his fellow Scot, Paul Lambert, had on the top flight after he led The Canaries into the top flight, he will have performed very well and Norwich may well be in the similar position of trying to hold on to their manager as they found with Lambert.
An opening fixture that it’s probably fair to assume both teams wouldn’t have minded the look of should be an interesting clash between a side returning to this level and a side wanting to progress to the next step in their evolution.
Saturday’s result may well give those interested an idea of how ready both sides are in view of their respective hopes and targets for the forthcoming 282 days.