I'm always a bit sad when Aston Villa play a club who don't have representation on the SB Nation network, because it means less chance of a Q&A with an informed fan of that club. This week, we got lucky. SB Nation doesn't have a Norwich City blog, but we do have a die-hard Canaries fan in the network. David Wyatt is the founder and manager of our England blog, Three Lions Roar, whose England roster post we had on the site the other day. He very kindly offered to answer some questions in the lead-up to Sunday's match at Villa Park.
7500 to Holte: From a fan perspective, has it been difficult to shift from the unimaginable high of two straight promotions to middle-of-the-table or fighting relegation in the Premier League? One of the things we've talked about on our podcast is whether it would be more fun to stay in the Premiership forever or to drop down a level and actually have a chance at playing for something, so I guess that's where I'm coming from.
David Wyatt: You know that's a great question. We hit as close to rock bottom as you could imagine, down to the third tier in English football getting hammered at home to Colchester and then having the manager sacked (rightfully so, he shouldn't have been hired in the first place). The League one promotion was fun, but we expected to bounce back straight away. The Championship promotion season was fantastic, full of excitement, positive attractive football and you could feel it in the stands.
It is difficult losing more games than you win and only ever fighting for survival. However the relegation battle adds a little more excitement, I think I'd rather have something to play for rather than just floating mid table with no danger of relegation but no hope of Europe. It's that threat of relegation that makes games like the one this weekend and the win against Tottenham so special.
For me the Championship is a great league, a fantastic standard for a second tier division. The games are more open, there are more goals and the prospect of winning a title is excitement in its purest form. However the Premier League is where you want to be, so survival is the most important thing.
7500: Norwich and Villa have developed a pretty interesting rivalry since Paul Lambert joined us. We've seen in play out at the front-office level, but do you feel like it has trickled down to the fans at all?
DW: I definitely think it has trickled down to the fans, especially with a section of the fans who just can't let Paul Lambert go. I don't think the situation was handled very well, and then we had the compensation hearing over Jed Steer and all of a sudden a new rivalry is born.
Personally I'm not the kind of person who will hold a grudge, Lambert was here, he did a great job and now he's moved on. We need to focus on who we have and where we are going. Unfortunately a lot of fans still hold a grudge. All you need to do is check the message boards and you'll see posts about Lambert every other day.
Obviously I don't think the rivalry is as intense as some of our more traditional ones, but there was definitely an extra buzz in the air at the stadium earlier this season with the visit of Villa. I hope that we can let it go and more importantly let Lambert go. I appreciate what he did for the club but that's in the past.
7500: Norwich were very keen on keeping Wes Hoolahan away from Villa during the January window. Was that simply a manifestation of the front-office spat, or does Hoolahan have some role to play in Chris Hughton's squad?
DW: I think there were a lot of factors that went into our reluctance to sell Wes Hoolahan, but personally I think it made a lot of sense for footballing and financial reasons. I'm sure a part of it came down to the front-office and not wanting to do business with a team who we have a poor working relationship with.
However, although he is in the twilight of his career and hasn't played a great deal for us this year, 700K (which was rumored to be the first offer) is just not even close to market value for a player of his caliber. Our front-office probably saw that as a slap in the face and an insult and refused to do business.
Another factor relates to Villa being a relegation rival. We get nothing from selling a creative player to a rival who could improve them. Also just as I'm writing this, I've just been told that Leroy Fer has been ruled out for 6-10 weeks which is a massive blow for us, and that makes West Hoolahan a very important player. Although Jonny Howson will likely play in Fer's role, Wes becomes more important as a back-up.
7500: At this point in time, who would you call Norwich's best player?
DW: There are a few contenders for this one right now. Over the past month we have played some very nice football, how we lost to Cardiff and West Ham is beyond me. However Joseph Yobo has come in on loan in January and slotted straight into the line-up. He's brought the best out of Bassong and we've kept clean sheets against Spurs, Man City and Newcastle in our last three home games.
So there are plenty of names like Alex Tettey and Bradley Johnson, but I have to say that Yobo is probably our best player at the moment, and the most consistent.
7500: And who is the player that we all should know, but probably don't?
DW: It has to be Alex Tettey who plays as our holding midfielder. When he was out injured over Christmas, we really missed him. He breaks up play and then passes it off easy. However recently he is even getting into the box in good goal-scoring positions. However if there is one player we would miss more than any other, it would be Tettey. He has been fantastic and he ensures our back four don't come under too much pressure.
7500: And finally, this match should be... uh... well, it should be a simulacrum of football, that's for sure. Norwich have 8 goals on the road, Villa have 12 at home. Any predictions for the meeting of the immovable object and the unstoppable force?
DW: Has this game got 0-0 written all over it? on the stats sheet yes....which means it will be a 4-3 thriller. Actually we've only scored more than one goal twice in the Premier League this year, so I wouldn't count on it. I think it will be a feisty game with plenty of challenges, lots of possession in midfield and the winner will be decided by who takes their chances. We have been carving out good chances but not putting them away, it should be a great game!
Thanks so much to David for taking the time to answer our questions! Be sure to read his work at Three Lions Roar (which you should be doing anyways if you're an England fan). You can also follow him on twitter @D_wyatt13.