History must repeat itself for Norwich vs. West Brom
When Jonny Howson's sublime 20-yard shot hit the back of West Brom's net, Norwich City's Premier League prospects felt limitless.
Nearly 12 months to the day when the Canaries secured their top flight status for another season with a 4-0 romp against a disinterested Baggies, they need an encore this weekend. Only this time they face a West Brom side in dire need of league points to ease own their relegation concerns.
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City were excellent and robust when the pressure was at its most intense in that Carrow Road league finale and Howson's hammer strike was the crowning glory. Norwich embarked on a club record transfer outlay that summer when all the hope and optimism felt real and the thrust from the very top was a drive to avert such a fraught passage to safety.
Clubs like the Canaries with limited resources compared to the elite will never take their top flight status for granted, but there was a genuine belief when Dutch internationals Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer were unveiled, along with an English prospect Nathan Redmond, that the loyalists could hope and expect better.
A crushing reality since has brought more subsistence than substance under Chris Hughton's guidance. The manager's own future has been a recurring sub-plot, but that has now been superseded by tangible concerns over the Canaries' immediate league status.
Norwich remain six points clear of the current bottom three and received a major fillip in their survival quest when Sunderland failed to overcome West Ham in midweek, but an inability to mine sufficient points on the road -- just the one on the first day of 2014 followed by six straight league defeats -- coupled with a difficult finale against many of the title contenders means it really is now or never.
City host West Brom this weekend followed by a trip to Fulham and it is on those games you suspect their season will hinge. What Hughton and his players would give for a repeat of the way they tore into a West Brom who had very little except pride to play for 12 months ago. The Baggies' latest implosion in gifting Cardiff a stoppage time point at the Hawthorns merely fuels their own sense of desperation.
The visitors have sold out a 2,500 travelling allocation. There will be no empty seats in home areas. Hughton's men have struggled for any modicum of consistency on the pitch all season but voluminous backing from the fans has never been in doubt. Carrow Road with be a seething mass of tension and expectancy. When City have had to deliver in the crisis moments they manage to dredge a result. Crystal Palace, West Ham, Hull and Sunderland have all been overcome on home soil in recent months. The Black Cats rolled over with embarrassing ease last time out in Norfolk but few can expect Albion to be so compliant. It is likely to take something special again to prevail.