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Fan Focus: Carrow Road Chatter Ahead Of Crunch Clash

For this week's Fan Focus we speak to expert Norwich blogger Gary Gowers to get his opinion on his club's season, and the game this weekend.

Jan Kruger

How has Norwich's season been so far for you, and how has it stacked up against your preseason expectations for the club?

Gary Gowers: Traumatic would be one way to describe it. Exasperating would be another. If you hadn't already gathered things are a little fraught in these parts with a relegation battle akin to last season's not having gone down well with the locals.

A £25million summer spending spree was designed to, at the very least, enable us to stand still but has done nothing of the sort. Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper were purchased for a combined total of £13million'ish and have, so far, contributed six goals between them - hardly the return you expect for said combined fee. Add into the mix a style of play, particularly away from home, that has been for the most part turgid and you can imagine the reaction.

Hughton still has his supporters, particularly in the national media (borne partly of the fact he's a thoroughly decent bloke) and every so often they chirp up and remind us that we should stop whining and just be glad to be in the Premier League. One that really irked was a comment from a dear lady from The Times who wrote: ‘What do they expect? Top half?'

So, there you have it. Teams like ‘little Norwich' are not permitted to aspire to the top half of the table, even when we've finished 12th and 11th over the last two seasons.

Clearly this went down as well Shearer at the Stadium of Light and for many, for all his ‘niceness', Hughton's tenure as Norwich City manager is well past its sell-by date.

I've done my best to be supportive of Hughton (I'm a sucker for an underdog) but of late have been getting a little short of ammunition. While the home form has stood up quite well (we drew with Man City and beat Tottenham since the turn of the year) it's the away form that's has been the problem with both performances levels and results heading, and staying, southwards.

Sunderland fans often hammer Jozy Altidore for just the one Premier League goal this season but Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is also in the same boat after a big-money arrival. Has he felt the force of fans anger or are you still giving him time?

GG: They've been quite patient, but it is starting to wear a little thin. His single goal, which came on the first game of the season, is clearly an awful return for £8.5million and in truth he hasn't really looked like adding to that total. He bought himself some time with an injury early on in the season but - despite us hoping he would emerge a different player - the same non-goalscorer rejoined the squad when he regained fitness.

He's not a terrible player - like some who have darkened our doors - and is technically proficient as you'd expect of a Dutch international. He certainly ‘puts in a shift' too but when you're hired to score goals, some nice touches and a good work ethic are the bare minimum requirements. A few goals would be nice too. The jury is still out, but I'm not sure for how much longer.

Looking at our respective league positions, how big is this game being built up by Norwich fans, and does it look as key as it does for us?

GG: I hate the term ‘six-pointer' but it's hard to avoid. ‘Must-win' is another cliché' that'll be doing the rounds ahead of Saturday but, again, it's unfortunately true - for both teams.

Whether the panic button has been hit in Norfolk or not will be determined by the pre-match build-up. Historically - last season actually - a ‘bum-squeaking' run-in is accompanied by the local newspaper providing those ‘clapper' things for every home supporter and the club trotting out a series of club ‘legends' just prior to kick-off.

So, if Darren Huckerby and Dion Dublin stroll out on to the pitch at 2:55 accompanied by the hideous sound the clappers you know it's a biggie. And I suspect they will.

It's massive for both of us - season defining possibly - and there's no getting away from it.

Do you consider Norwich to be in the relegation battle, or are you confident you'll be okay?

GG: We're very much in a relegation battle - no doubt about that - and I fear it's going to the wire. Failure to win on Saturday could well tip the balance the wrong way and with the mother of all run ins - Liverpool (a), Man Utd (a), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h) - we'll definitely be staring down the proverbial barrel. The reaction to defeat from the Carrow Road crowd is not something I'll dwell on for now - but it won't be pretty.

But I remain confident we'll be OK.... just.

Looking ahead to this weekend, how do you see Norwich lining up?

GG: Now there's a question.

Given that Hughton made five changes last Saturday for the trip to St Mary's (having previously drawn at home to Stoke) I couldn't possibly predict a starting XI. Only John Ruddy in goal and Martin Olsson at left-back look ‘certs' to play; the other nine positions are technically ‘up for grabs', although I expect Alex Tettey to be one of the holding men at the base of the midfield. Up front it could be either Ricky van Wolfswinkel or Gary Hooper - or Johan Elmander for that matter); none of whom have exactly been bursting with goals (six between them all season).

However, I do expect them to line up in a 4-2-3-1 which, at the slightest whiff of danger, will morph into a straight 4-5-1.

From our side, is there anyone you think will give you problems? Perhaps a notable weakness in the Norwich side Sunderland can exploit?

GG: You seriously expect me to tell you? Plenty of weaknesses in truth, although things do tend to tighten up a little when playing at home. Ball retention has been an issue all season and has shown little sign of improving of late. If Sunderland are patient enough you can be sure we'll give the ball back to them, and that remains a problem - along with the obvious lack of a cutting edge.

Borini is one of those who has caused us problem aplenty over the years - dating back to his Swansea days. If he plays down the middle I can see him making life difficult for Messrs Yobo and Bennett (or Bassong or Martin) and if I were a betting man...

Perversely I wouldn't rule out a goal for Jozy Altidore (if he features...). We have developed, over the years, an unhealthy habit of kick-starting the careers of those who are floundering and who are in desperate need for a goal, so again, if I were a gambler...

Who do you think WILL go down?

GG: Hhmm... was asked this question a few weeks ago and had no hesitation in answering: "West Brom**, Cardiff and Fulham". Typically the world has changed since (and even back then the West Brom one was more like wishful thinking...) but, assuming you're able to make capital from your games in hand I'm going to stick with my original gut feeling.

** I still have this image in my head of Baggies' fans celebrating wildly on the Hawthorns pitch back in 2005 when their final day victory, coupled with our 6-0 humiliation at Fulham, sent us down. It still hurts to this day, hence the ‘wishful thinking'.

Finally, what's your prediction for this weekend's game?

GG: Well, for obvious reasons I'm not anticipating a goal-fest but am hopeful an early goal followed by 80-odd minutes of resolute defending *may* just be enough to see us through to a 1-0.

Or is that just wishful thinking too...?

No, I'll stick with it. 1-0 to City.

Many thanks to Gary for answering our questions. Check out his daily musings on Norwich over at My Football Writer HERE, and follow on Twitter @LGRGary

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