I’m not normally one for talking in football cliches, mainly because they are used by the sort of people who don’t really know much about football and are usually nonsense anyway. It’s a game of two halves. He’s got a good touch for a big man. There are no easy games at this level. He’s worked his socks off there. Every game is a cup final now.
But the one that annoys me the most is the one the gets trotted out when teams fail to win a match that is perceived to be a game they should win. ‘Oh, that is the type of game they need to be winning if they want to win the league/get in the top four/avoid relegation,’ they’ll say, which is, obviously, complete tripe.
If you’re going for the title, apparently you have to beat the teams around you, the clubs in mid-table and the sides at the bottom, which means you’d end up with about 120 points at the end of the season.
Similarly, you only have to look at Wigan last season, who stayed up by beating Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool rather than Bolton, Aston Villa and Wolves to see that it doesn’t matter in the slightest where you get your points from as long as you get enough of them to achieve your goals.
But I am going to fall into Jamie Redknapp Banal Observation Territory here, as I do make one exception. No, I’m not going to start saying ‘literally’ before every utterance and squeeze into the tightest pair of skinny trousers so my manhood is exposed to the innocent millions who just want to watch a football match on a Sunday. Instead, I am going to say that if Norwich City want to stay in the Premier League, then Stoke City at home really is the type of match they can’t afford to be losing.
In fact, anybody who wants to stay in the Premier League, or do anything for that matter, can’t afford to be losing to Stoke at home. I have a hard and fast rule when it comes to Stoke when they aren’t playing at the Britannia Stadium and that is oppose at all costs – and that is precisely what I will be doing when the Potters go to Carrow Road to face Norwich in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Canaries are 6/4 with bwin to pick up a third consecutive home win, with the draw at 9/4 and Tony Pulis’ men at 7/4, and as I am always interested in any side that is odds against when at home to Stoke, I have to be taking that price on a Norwich win.
The poor away form of Pulis’ side has been going on far too long to be inconsequential and it is not a trend that is set in stone. Since promotion from the Championship in 2008, Stoke have played 81 games on the road and have emerged victorious from just 13 of them, only three of which came against sides who finished that season in the top half of the table.
Over that period, the Potters have lost 47 games, scoring just 57 goals and drawing 39 nine blanks – so in nearly half of their away games, Stoke don’t even score.
Only in 13 of those games have Stoke scored more than once and I wouldn’t read too much into them getting two at Old Trafford in their last away fixture (everybody does that these days). With that sort of record, I look to be against them at every conceivable opportunity.
And I happen to think that Norwich provide a good chance to be against Stoke once more. I have been as sceptical about Norwich’s chances this year as anyone – in fact, I tipped them to be relegated – but Chris Hughton seems to have turned a mini-corner after a horrible start, winning their last two games at Carrow Road against the might of north London, beating Arsenal 1-0 in the league and Tottenham 2-1 in the Capital One Cup.
Those victories sandwich a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, which really should have yielded three points given that City were the better side on the day, even when playing 11 v 11, and I think they can get the better of a shot-shy Stoke outfit.
Apart from a 5-2 thumping at the hands of Liverpool, Norwich have been pretty reliable at Carrow Road: as well as those wins over Arsenal and Spurs, there have been draws with Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United (Hughton’s team were unfortunate not to win both) and victories over Scunthorpe and Doncaster in the League Cup.
That form is good enough to suggest to me they can make the most of home advantage as they did regularly last season – Norwich won six and drew three of their nine games against the other sides who finished in the bottom half – and I’ll be on that 6/4 for the Canaries to take all three points.