West Ham United v Norwich City

Preview Percy took time out from laughing at Arsenal to put together this look at Wednesday’s visit of Norwich City – though you may think he should have carried on laughing...

Next up we play host to Norwich City. Kick off on Wednesday is at 7:45 having been rearranged from a few weeks ago when Covid got involved. There’s no legitimate UK TV coverage but there may be an Eyes Up Mother Brown if there are enough of the crew not actually going to the game.

So Norwich then. The ultimate yo-yo club really. This is their first season back since their promotion which followed their relegation which followed….well you get the picture. They are on course to keep the sequence going the way things stand. Their first ten games saw them lose eight and draw two. They finally broke their duck with a 2-1 away win over Brentford, a victory that wasn’t enough to save Daniel Farke’s job. They beat Southampton 2-1 in the following match and picked up a couple of draws over the next week or two as a newly-redundant Dean Smith took over. However, their best results since then have been the two postponed matches against us and at Leicester.

Other than that since the start of December they have emerged pointless from matches against Spurs, Mau Utd, Villa, Arsenal and Palace which have left them at the bottom of the league with 10 points from 19 played. On the face of it being three points from safety isn’t that daunting a gap, the fact that Watford and Burnley both have games in hand, that Norwich have a -34 goal difference and the fact that Norwich have all the air of a club that have no idea where their next point is coming from all don’t bode well for the Canaries.

It's a generally accepted principle that a promoted side with any ambitions of long-term survival needs to spend a few bob. However it’s also been said that some teams adopt a slightly less ambitious approach, keeping a fairly tight rein on the purse strings then trousering the parachute money for a season or two before getting promoted again and starting the whole cycle again. It’s a business plan that has been levelled at Norwich in particular, and looking at their squad, you can see why.

On the face of it when Daisy walks into the room brandishing a list of 15 new signings (11 permanent, four loan) you’d think that might represent an acknowledgement that the squad that came up needed bolstering. However, a closer inspection of the list shows that the 11 permanent signings includes a number of kids destined for the age squads. Even allowing for that, the quality of signings, whether due to a gameplan or good old fashioned financial constraints is rather suggestive of a promotion campaign next season.

Take Josh Sargent. Now admittedly he is an international striker. However, his caps have come for the US national side which doesn’t appear to be at its strongest at the moment. He hasn’t scored at international level for two years – ok that includes 2020 which was a bit of a washout for international football but zero goals in seven appearances in 2021 does not make the word “prolific” leap to mind. The fee paid to Werder Bremen was something like £8m – which is another indicator of the waters in which they were fishing for a striker whose only goals in 18 League and Cup appearances this season have come in the League Cup, where he was part of the much-changed side that beat a similarly much-changed Bournemouth side 6-0 in the third round.

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They spent a similar amount on Burnley centre-back Ben Gibson. Gibson spent last season on loan at Carrow Road having fallen so well and truly out of favour with Sean Dyche that he was sent away to former club Middlesbrough to train and wasn’t considered for selection through the most dire of injury crises. Given the differences between club and player one might almost have been forgiven for thinking that Burnley might have paid someone to take him away, so the loan deal which saw an £8m fee payable should Norwich get promoted was probably a shrewd deal for the Clarets.

I understand that in some cultures the number eight is considered to be lucky. Norwich appear to have taken this on board by paying £8.8m for 19-year-old Greek winger Christos Tzolis. He’s another new signing who hasn’t “pulled up any trees” as the old saying has it. His fee includes another £2m or so in performance-based add-ons. This makes one wonder if they get a refund in the event of relegation.

Amongst the loan signings was Chelsea youngster Billy Gilmour. He had impressed for both the Pensioners and the Scottish national side but found first team opportunities limited at Stamford Bridge. There’s only so much a player can do when playing for a poor side but this little fact seems to have eluded a section of the Norwich support who in recent weeks have been inviting Gilmour to return to Chelsea of his own accord only with slightly less subtlety than that phrase suggests. Boss Dean Smith was supportive of his player whilst acknowledging that he had not been at his best. Either way wherever Norwich end up next season Gilmour is most unlikely to be hanging around to find out. He is also a doubt for Wednesday – an ankle problem being the issue.

Their top scorer this season is Finnish striker Teemu Pukki. Pukki has scored 5 in the league this season. Another indicator of the difference in class between the top two divisions is the fact that he netted 26 times in the Championship last term. You’d get decent odds on him matching that total this season. You’d also lose your money. That said those five goals represent 62.5% of Norwich’s rather meagre total of 8 in the league this season – another stat that tells its own story.

Let’s move on shall we to an FA Cup Special Wild And Wacky World Of Association Football. Lots of upsets at the weekend where Morecambe will be suffering the embarrassment of having gone out to minnows Tottenham, thus causing irreparable harm to bringing Super League football to West Lancs. Meanwhile Arsenal went out to Nottingham Forest wearing a kit that had all the usual badges, numbers and logos in white – on a white background. Officially the kit was a one-off to be sold with the laudable aim of raising funds for anti-knife crime charities. From Arsenal’s perspective the white on white numbers also helped to preserve the anonymity of those responsible for a dire performance that stank the place out.

Newcastle’s defeat to Ironside’s goal for Cambridge prompted lots of jokes about letting in goals to ex-police chiefs in wheelchairs, which in itself prompted lots of explanations to those under the age of about 50 from those of us over that age. Talking of Newcastle, a rumour persists that Mike Ashley, erstwhile of that parish, may be interested in taking over Derby County. If that’s the case we could see a first – the only time that a club itself has raised the “fit and proper” test for club ownership in advance of a possible takeover.

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Let’s move on to us. Well it wasn’t pretty but on balance we ought to have put that game to bed well before Bowen’s fine breakaway goal wrapped things up. It was, ultimately, comfortable, but not quite as comfy as it ought to have been. There was a question mark over the first – with Atwell involved that’s hardly surprising. I haven’t seen the replay so I’ll reserve judgement. What I did see was Antonio being fouled on pretty much every occasion that the ball was played to him with his back to goal. One particular occasion saw the striker hauled down by the neck – the sort of tackle that results in a red card in rugby, or a look of baffled bewilderment if you are a referee with a long history of not having the slightest clue as to what you are doing. Like Atwell.

Coufal was added to the injury list for the weekend having seen the dreaded second red line appear on his Covid test. His availability hinges on when the first positive test was taken and whether or not the tests on days five and six have been clear.

There are suggestions that Cresswell may be fit for a return having paid off the bill to Man City for demolishing their goalpost. Not heard anything official as yet but, in a match where other teams have already taken the opportunity to rotate the squad, this would be a reasonably ideal first match back.

Zouma’s another couple of weeks away whilst Benrhama is out in Africa for a week or three. Ogbonna? See you next season.

So on to the prediction then. Well one way or another I can only see us winning. Whilst Dawson and Diop have their, er, interesting, moments as a partnership, they will be up against a strike force that has, between them, scored exactly the same in the league as Antonio has on his own. At the back 42 goals conceded has left them with a goal difference of -34 which ought to have Antonio and Bowen champing at the bit. So, for that reason I am going to spend the £2.50 that would have gone on the commemorative DVD that Spurs are no doubt getting ready to put out to celebrate their win over Morecambe on a home win – shall we say 3-0 please Mr Winstone?

Enjoy the game!

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When last we met at the Olympic Won 2-0 (Premier League August 2019)
Haller and Yarmolenko were on target but it ought to have been a cricket score – and not an English one – really. An inspired performance from Krul in goal, a poor refereeing performance that ignored two blatant penalty shouts and some wayward finishing all conspired to keep the score down..

Referee/VAR: Simon Hooper/John Brooks
Hooper has been in the so-calle select group for 3 years but is still getting as many games in the Championship as he is in the top flight. Brooks is primarily an assistant referee who has only taken charge of one Premier League match in the middle in his career. What could possibly go wrong?

Danger Man: Teemo Pukki
Really if he doesn’t score they don’t. Usually.

Percy’s Poser
This weekend’s:

Leeds woman who was sectioned completes XX XXXX-XXXXXXXXX in 24 days.

Well done to Mrs Prunella Mineral-Water of Chalkwell for spotting the missing words as “24 half-marathons”, the obvious question being whether or not the sectioning came before or after the event.

This week we visit the Norwich Evening News which has the following bit of important news to impart:

XXXXX spotted taking a stroll along road in Trowse

Best of luck!

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