Thursday, September 29, 2011
The defining moment of Monday’s fantastic win against Sunderland came, for me, during the second half with the Canaries already two goals to the good.
Following a Black Cats corner the ball found its way to centre-back Russell Martin who was on the edge of his own area, but with yards of clear turf in front of him.
Rather than try to consolidate with thoughts of just defending our lead, not extending it, he literally stormed forward and quickly turned defence into attack.
Ultimately it led to nothing, but it wasn’t necessarily the quality of the play which impressed me so much – but the intensity of it. The sheer effort and will to win behind Martin’s actions.
And there were many other examples of amazing desire from the City players during Monday’s game.
Sunderland, on the other hand, didn’t seemed to want it as much as us and my defining moment from them was when I caught Steve Bruce berating substitute Connor Wickham, just minutes after he came on, for failing to track back and defend.
You wouldn’t find Lambert having to dish that out to substitute Grant Holt.
That was the big difference between the two teams during Monday’s encounter – levels of desire.
And I wonder if that is also the reason why, six games in, the league table (well the bottom half at least) has a much different look to it than many would have expected.
The three teams recently promoted currently sit in ninth, 10th and 16th in the league respectively.
I think most critics (even those on Match of the Day) would have to agree they haven’t looked out of place in the league.
The bottom three, meanwhile, is made up of three ‘established’ Premier League teams, namely Bolton, West Brom and Blackburn.
I know we are only a few games in and such initial success is often the norm for promoted teams, but is it possible that some of the more established teams and their players have stagnated? Almost become bored of playing in this division.
The promoted clubs, however, have the hunger which comes from hitting rock bottom and not wanting to stay there. We won’t truly know until the end of the season of course.
What is without a doubt is that the relegation race is already wide open.
At the start of season I predicted we were battling Swansea, QPR, Blackburn, Wigan, Wolves and possibly even Aston Villa and Newcastle for the drop.
There was no reason, I argued, as to why 14th could not be the realistic target. Perhaps I was wrong about Villa and Newcastle, but you could possibly now add Monday night’s opponents, West Brom, Bolton and Fulham into the relegation mix.
I think Sunderland, West Brom, Wolves and Fulham have enough quality and should not be seriously worried, but I don’t think I’m getting too carried away to say they should be in our sights.
Suddenly it is the three North-West clubs which look to be in the most perilous positions, Wigan and Blackburn and, somewhat more surprisingly, Bolton.
The Trotter’s lack of strength in depth has been clear for all to see in the early weeks of the season.
Norwich fans on the other hand are riding high after a brilliant nine days, bringing two victories and six points.
And the catalyst for such success? Manchester City – yes you read that right.
Since the disappointing West Brom defeat Lambert has subtly changed the shape of the team.
Wes Hoolahan and David Fox have, quite rightly, been brought back into the fold, but more importantly two sitting midfielders have been introduced.
This is a system that has worked so well for Roberto Mancini. Where Manchester City have Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure, we have Fox and Bradley Johnson.
Up front they have Dzeko, we have Steve Morison. On the flanks they have Silva and Nasri, we have Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington.
And of course Hoolahan is our Aguero. Or should I say Aguero is Manchester City’s Hoolahan?
It is a system which relies heavily on those two wingers, in Norwich’s case Bennett and Pilkington. They must not be afraid to cut inside and support Morison and Hoolahan and roam across the park finding gaps.
They didn’t do that enough during the first half on Monday, but did in the second, Bennett becoming a particularly key figure in the game.
It will now be up to Lambert to decide whether such a system will work against Manchester’s other team on Saturday. And to decide whether we “park the bus” at Old Trafford and try and hold out for a draw or simply go at them all guns blazing.
There’s no easy answer to that one but I hope we try to give them a game, as we did for most of the match against Chelsea, once Lambert realised the defensive tactic wasn’t working.
The last time the Manchester teams faced each other in a competitive game was in last season’s FA Cup semi-final. The Blues came out winners deploying that aforementioned system. We can but dream.
• So who do we think will be the first Premier League manager of the season to be sacked or fall on his sword over the next few weeks? It will happen have no doubt about it. I’d say the current favourites have got to be Sunderland’s Steve Bruce, Blackburn’s Steve Kean and possibly even Owen Coyle if Bolton’s poor run continues. Of course there’s always Arsene Wenger as well. And, sadly, you can guarantee that when the time comes, many of these clubs will be circling over Carrow Road like vultures to prey.
• Our previous encounter against Sunderland, the 4-1 Carling Cup mauling in August 2009, is a match that lives long in my memory as being as indicative of our demise as the 7-1 defeat to Colchester. My three abiding memories of that game are Gary Doherty sprawled on the floor after being swatted aside by Kenwyne Jones, Wes Hoolahan misplacing pass after pass and new manger Paul Lambert’s exasperated look each time the pair made a mistake. It was, for me, the moment Lambert realised the task on his hands. Hoolahan was cast into exile for the next month and you had to fear for his long-term future at the club. Who’d have thought that two years later he’d be acting captain and the most pivotal player in the team, in the Premier League. I know it’s been regularly said but his astounding rise does warrant even more praise than others.