Norwich's festive fixtures will test body and mind

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Ben Hoskins/Getty ImagesSteve Clarke's West Brom will pose the next test for Norwich

Norwich City's players relish proving the doubters wrong, but even the Canaries' collective ability to defy the odds will be tested over a brutal festive period in the Premier League.

Chris Hughton has engineered a top-flight club record 10-match unbeaten run which even less than half way through this campaign looks to have allayed fears of Norwich becoming embroiled in what could may prove an epic relegation scrap. Fuelled no doubt in the January transfer window spending by the absolute necessity to stay up ahead of a new multi-billion broadcast deal being unveiled from next season.

Few would surely bet against Harry Redknapp easing QPR away from a position of peril. Southampton have shown enough to suggest they will not go quietly come next May, and Wigan Athletic have become synonymous with footballing escapology.

No-one inside the Canaries camp will admit it publicly, but it would now take a major collapse on the scale of their equally impressive recent run to suck them back into danger. Which is just as well - that insurance policy may have to be cashed in over the next four fixtures.

West Brom, away, this weekend looks nothing like as daunting as a few weeks ago when Steve Clarke's Baggies were being talked about as genuine European contenders. Three defeats and a goalless home draw later, Albion appear to be gravitating towards a position more in keeping with their playing resources and realistic ambitions.

Nevertheless, the Hawthorns remains a tough place for City to try and maintain their unbeaten surge. Two consecutive home games thereafter would usually instil a degree of bullish confidence. Norwich have already despatched Arsenal and Manchester United in front of raucous sell outs at Carrow Road, but facing the European champions on Boxing Day, followed by the Premier League champions will examine Hughton's squad depth in forensic detail. The Gunners were memorably swept away following an international break where the majority of Norwich's squad were able to recharge their batteries in Norfolk and hone a counter-attacking gameplan that overwhelmed Arsene Wenger's technicians. But Chelsea will have to be tackled just a matter of days after West Brom and then Manchester City nullified within a similarly concise timeframe.

Hughton is a manager who prefers to place trust in the same starting personnel. There will be little recovery time for a core of players expected to shoulder a heavy workload. The same is true of the opposition, of course, but Norwich's success over these past two months has been built on collective discipline and high energy, high tempo pressing. Chelsea's glittering array of midfield talent proved far too strong earlier this season at Stamford Bridge - the last time Norwich were beaten in the league it is worth noting - whilst Manchester City hammered Norwich home and away last season.

The Canaries may have a new manager at the helm and a fresh injection of players, but Roberto Mancini's men showed recently at Newcastle they are rounding into some formidable Premier League form. Norwich will know full well what is coming. And if they cope with those three tests, West Ham await to ring in the New Year at Upton Park - a streetwise team cast in the image of their no-nonsense manager Sam Allardyce.

Norwich's players have stored up vast reserves of self-belief and inner confidence, along with the points, on this 10-match unbeaten run. It will require every last ounce to emerge unscathed from a festive minefield that is set to test every aspect of the Canaries' Premier League credentials.

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