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Friday, February 17, 2012
Every single Norwich City player and backroom staff member is a superhero to fans at the moment as our amazing transformation continues.
However, one player in particular is beginning to bear an uncanny resemblance to a well-known action character – our very own Captain Fantastic.
With his ripped, pumped-up torso and new-found ability to smash his way through the toughest of opposition, Grant Holt has undergone a similar transformation to the one which turns Bruce Banner into The Incredible Hulk.
And while I suspect The Incredible Holt’s shirt-removing celebration against Swansea was a riposte to the unfair weight-related chants thrown at him at almost every ground he plays at, his undoubted hard work to tone up has done more than just give him a body to be envious of.
There can’t be a single Norwich fan who hasn’t noticed that in the past couple of months our leader supreme has gained an extra yard of pace, a bit more guile and a lot more gusto than he had at the start of it.
Back in September many were wondering whether he was starting to drift out of Paul Lambert’s thoughts following a run of games in which he played only a relatively minor part.
Even in our 2-0 defeat to Manchester United, Chris Martin came on ahead of him, leaving many wondering whether Holt did in fact have it in him to step up a level or not.
But then came the moment which, arguably, changed both his and Norwich City’s season, the barnstorming equaliser against Liverpool.
Did this goal give the team the belief that they could match, and even beat, the country’s elite? Possibly only those inside the club know.
What it certainly did was herald a new era in Holt’s career, as from that moment on he has moved up a level, scoring 10 goals in 19 games – a staggering feat considering in many of these he began on the bench. Prior to this he’d scored just one in seven.
To be fair to him he has done just what he did after taking the jump from League One to the Championship. Like the best superhero characters, when the chips are down he finds the motivation to fight back.
And the history books suggest that it isn’t just The Incredible Holt who beefs up and grows stronger as the season goes on.
While the norm for many a new team in the Premier League (Hull and Blackpool are just two examples) is often to start well and fade away, this has never been a trait of Lambert’s Norwich side.
Traditionally this is a time when some teams can struggle for form as injuries take hold and the squad is stretched to the limit.
However, since the defeat at Manchester City on December 3, Norwich have played 13 games, won seven, drawn four and lost two. Take away the two cup games and that’s a brilliant 19 points from the last 11 league games.
We are deep into February and have lost once in 2012.
Last season victory over Ipswich on November 28 prompted the key run of the season – 12 wins, seven draws and three defeats in 22 games. Take away the cup defeat and that was 43 points in 21 league matches.
We tasted defeat just twice in 2011 in the Championship – at Burnley and Swansea.
Meanwhile, in League One the 3-1 cup defeat to Carlisle prompted a run of 12 games with 10 wins, one draw and one defeat (and that was on penalties in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, so technically a draw after 90 minutes). That was 31 points in just 11 league games.
The start of 2010 prompted a run of just two defeats in 15 league games.
Is there then a secret formula that Lambert has discovered? I think there probably is.
To be honest it’s very straightforward and goes back to the fact that Lambert has a squad, the majority of which he trusts and the majority of which does not let him down.
So when a player drops out, whether it be due to injury or temporary loss of form, someone else steps in, just as Elliott Ward did so admirably on Saturday.
One of the most successful English sporting teams of recent years is our national cricket side. The best trait of that team is that someone always steps up to the plate.
The players are so consistent that on the odd occasion someone fails, there’s always someone else able to make up for it.
If Strauss or Cook gets out early, Bell or Pietersen get the runs. If the wickets dry up for Anderson and Broad, in steps Swann.
It would appear that this is now a trait that can be said of the Norwich squad and long may it continue to be so.
• Some of the individual stats in the game against Swansea were nothing short of phenomenal. Against Swansea, only two City players appeared in the top nine for most successful passes – a stat you might expect considering the way our opponents play. The two were Andrew Surman and David Fox. But the difference was who made the passes count, with four of the top seven for successful passes in the attacking third of the pitch Norwich players – Andrew Surman (29 passes, 24 successful), Grant Holt (24, 17), David Fox (19, 14) and Elliott Bennett (16, 13).
• It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, the departure of Fabio Capello as England manager has on John Ruddy’s chances of squeezing into England’s squad for Euro 2012. The fact that he deserves to be in the squad ahead of the dubious talents of Scott Carson and the still relatively untried David Stockdale is surely no longer in doubt. A lot of it will depend on how much any new manager wants to shake things up – a radical overhaul may work in Ruddy’s favour.
• Those of us who played junior football or continue to ply their trade in the local Saturday or Sunday leagues will be used to hearing the same old cliched mantras from players and managers. My favourites include: if in doubt kick it out, we’ve gone quiet, we’re still in this lads, play like it’s still nil-nil, and last but not least, play to the whistle. Good to see after Elliott Ward’s sublime cross against Swansea when he didn’t stop while others did, that these messages transcend all standards of the game.
• A look at Leicester’s squad list shows they are one of those sides for whom the saying ‘football isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass’ rings true. On paper they should really be higher than 12th in the Championship. Kasper Schmeichel, Paul Konchesky, Lee Peltier, Sean St Ledger, Matt Mills, Jermaine Beckford, Nathan Delfouneso, Michael Johnson, Wes Morgan and Neil Danns to name but a few, are all players who have at some point or another shown the potential to play at the top of English football.