Game of the Week: Norwich v Middlesbrough

I really don’t want to start yet another post with a discussion about how tight things are at the top so at the risk of annoying Derby fans,  even though the rams beat Blackpool 4-0 during the week, results elsewhere meant last season’s defeated playoff finalists won’t be going up automatically.

This evening there’s a huge game at Carrow Road (Sky Sports 1, 7;45 kick off), notably because it’s the last game this season between the current top six. Norwich are undefeated against their immediate rivals at home, whilst Middlesbrough have been pretty ropey on their travels against the same teams; three defeats in four games with their only goal coming at Derby last month.

The Canaries also seem to have the advantage of playing two of the strugglers in their games following this one but don’t let that fool you. Four of Norwich’s nine defeats in the Championship have been against teams in the bottom half of the table, including a brace against Reading. City travel to Rotherham next weekend in a game that could also be significant for the Millers, but I’d be worried if I was a Canaries fan. A five game unbeaten streak and only one defeat in fifteen indicates another loss is coming soon.

Boro have been goalshy generally on the road this season, failing to score in nine outings this season and only picking up three points in those games. As I mentioned earlier, their away form against the other promotion candidates has been poor but their recent performances on the road also haven’t been much to write home about. Five defeats in the last six (including at Reading and Forest) doesn’t augur well for this evening, especially as Boro have only won once in the league at Carrow Road since November 1997, although they have drawn half of their last ten trips to Norfolk.

Verdict: I can’t see middlesbrough winning this one, but with both Bournemouth and Watford not playing until tomorrow afternoon, a draw would be a potential disaster for both teams if they want to win automatic promotion.

Tuesday night’s game at the New Den was eventful wasn’t it! More red cards than goals and a rare home win for the Milwall. That result means that the only significant game at the bottom is Wigan v Brighton. If the Latics lose, that’s it; they’ve only lost two of their five meetings with the Seagulls in Lancashire since the sides met for the first time in October 1987 but as mentioned earlier this week, Wigan have been terrible at home. It doesn’t help that the only aspect of Brighton’s performance that’s recognisable from last season is their stingy away defence – they’ve only conceded three fewer goals than Bournemouth on their travels.

As for the FA Cup, I simply can’t see Reading stopping Arsenal. Without wanting to dust off the old cliches one more time, although it’s about time a second tier team won the competition again, Reading simply don’t fit the profile. Southampton, Sunderland and West Ham were all amongst the better second tier sides during the seasons they won the FA Cup in the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s, which isn’t something that The Royals can claim this season; just one win in their last ten and on course for their worst league position since they were promoted from the third tier in 2002 isn’t exactly the stuff cup winners are made of. Their 1927 counterparts had won the old Third Division South during the previous season and – apart from knocking out Manchester United in the third round – didn’t have a particularly tough set of games. This season’s Royals have had a similar run; Arsenal are the first team they’ve met from a higher division and Reading have never beaten the gunners in any competition.

There may not be any updates on Saturday if there’s anything to report, as I’m attending a very significant game…

Author: Mike Roberts

A football fan since the 1970s, I take my inspiration from the standard of writing that made Shoot! magazine streets ahead of anything else back in the day. I'm also a complete and utter stathead, which I blame on being exposed to American sports at the end of my teens.