Norwich need Manchester United double to spark survival bid
Norwich City's 2-1 Premier League win at Manchester United in December was portrayed as a landmark victory at the time. Completing a notable double at Carrow Road on Saturday to boost their survival hopes would eclipse it.
The scale of the celebrations on the final whistle following that Old Trafford win, after Cameron Jerome and Alex Tettey had secured the Canaries' first success at the Theatre of Dreams since 1989, underlined just how rare it is for clubs of Norwich's stature to prevail against the elite.
Louis van Gaal may have been experiencing plenty of turbulence at the time before a more consistent second half to the campaign brought an FA Cup final appearance and faint hopes of making the top four, but it was still a major surprise to the wider football public.
Norwich followed up that victory with a productive festive period, which appeared to be the perfect platform to aim for more than mere survival. The damning record since that high watermark in Manchester proves it was something of a false dawn. Norwich have been sucked deeper into the relegation scrap before a desperate 3-0 home defeat to rivals Sunderland last month, allied to Newcastle's gathering revival, means Alex Neil's squad no longer control their own destiny.
City's chronic inconsistency leaves them facing the prospect of having to beat United and then Watford at home before a final day trip to Everton. You suspect the Scot would happily sign up now to be embroiled in such drama, because Norwich's current downward spiral suggests their fate could be sealed prior to that visit to Goodison Park.
Norwich actually emerged with credit in a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal last time out which predictably was painted nationally as the day pro and anti-Arsene Wenger factions clashed across the divide at the Emirates. The Gunners may well have been distracted by muted protests in the stands, but Norwich were defensively resolute for long spells and carried a counter-attacking threat.
Nathan Redmond twice tested Petr Cech after Nacho Monreal had misjudged the flight of crosses from Martin Olsson and Wes Hoolahan. Had Norwich managed a breakthrough you suspect those negative currents in the stands may have taken hold and City could well have prevailed in what could have developed into a poisonous atmosphere instead of polite disapproval. But as so often in a campaign of early promise now transformed into an unmitigated grind, Norwich's bluntness in front of goal was compounded by a lapse in concentration that allowed the unmarked Olivier Giroud to pick out Danny Welbeck to lash a close range strike beyond John Ruddy.
Norwich still had 30 minutes or so left in that game to rouse themselves but swiftly ran out of ideas and inspiration. There was no sign of any surrender from Neil or his players. No lack of fighting spirit and character. Such charges never hold true against this Norwich collective, but there is an undeniable quality gap in key areas of Neil's squad.
As so often when clubs find themselves in peril at the wrong end of the table, City's supporters must cling to any perceived advantage that could tip things in their favour. Norwich kick-off first this weekend knowing a win over United pulls them out of the relegation zone prior to Sunderland's home game against Chelsea and Newcastle's trip to Aston Villa later in the same day.
Neil's squad have squandered recent winnable opportunities for progress against the likes of Crystal Palace and Sunderland. United look a different proposition now to the side who succumbed at Old Trafford but Norwich need a repeat performance of disciplined intent without the ball and a genuine cutting edge with it to exert any pressure on their North East foes.
Paddy is the chief Norwich City correspondent for media group Archant. He has covered the Canaries for more than 10 years. Twitter: @paddyjdavitt.