Norwich must strive for safety before nightmare run in

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Clive Mason/Getty ImagesChris Hughton faces Liverpool, Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea in the run in

Norwich City's Premier League run in looks the stuff of nightmares but the Canaries will expect to have secured their top flight status before a sequence that sees home games against Liverpool and Arsenal - on the final day - sandwiched around back-to-back away trips to both Manchester United and Chelsea.

Chris Hughton will be under no illusions that high class quartet are more than likely to harbour either genuine title or Champions League aspirations. City beat both United and Arsenal on home soil last season but any repeat of a campaign that left them needing to win their final home game against West Brom to secure survival would ratchet up the tension levels among the club's loyal support.

The flip side of a testing finale is an appealing chance to avoid last season's sluggish start, when they claimed three points from the first seven Premier League fixtures. Everton, under new boss Roberto Martinez, will arrive at Carrow Road on August 17 still in the getting-to-know-you phase. City then face newly-promoted Hull and Saints at home - three eminently productive fixtures to inject vital momentum into Norwich's bid to build on two mid-table Premier League finishes.

The lingering Paul Lambert factor ensures Aston Villa's visit in late September will always remain a spicy contest. Lambert has returned twice with the club he left Norfolk for 12 months ago now and inflicted damaging league and cup defeats. The Gabby Agbonlahor-inspired 2-1 Premier League win felt a mortal blow in the final weeks of last season, before the Canaries roused themselves with victories over the Baggies and Manchester City to pull well clear of their former manager in the final standings.

City will strive for no repeat of the festive struggles that firmly wrecked a club-record unbeaten surge and proved a portent for turmoil in spring. Norwich lost all four of their Christmas and New Year clashes last time out. A trip to Sunderland should present more of a logistical problem for the travelling support than City's attempts on the field to try and replicate their spirited display on Wearside when they defied Martin O'Neill's under-performers, despite being reduced to 10 men for an hour at the Stadium of Light.

Fulham on Boxing Day will offer a resolute barrier before the champions sweep into town two days later, no doubt keen to exorcise any lingering resentment from a surprise 1-0 Carrow Road reverse in the corresponding fixture. The now customary New Year's Day trip to Crystal Palace offers both a short haul and an appetising opportunity to renew the club's push for a safer passage over the remaining months. Before the ominous spectre of a run in to cower even the bravest.

ESPN Conversations