Iwan Roberts: Giving lads a break could prove a masterstroke for Norwich City's promotion run-in
Just over six weeks of the season remaining and there will be no more free weekends for international breaks.
Norwich are in the driving seat for automatic promotion, sitting top of the tree in the Championship with now just eight mammoth games to go.
I heard that Daniel Farke gave the players some days off to spend with their families last week to get themselves ready for the final push, and he was spot on in doing so.
At this stage of the season players aren’t going to lose their fitness, so a few days away from Colney will do them far more good than it will harm them.
I’m sure they would have come bouncing through the main gates at the training ground on Monday chomping at the bit to get back to work and prepare for Middlesbrough away tomorrow tea time.
That’s what Nigel Worthington did so well with us back in 2003-04 in those final few weeks of the season when we could see the finishing line wasn’t too far away with the huge prize of Premier League football at the end of it.
In those final few weeks, when the pressure was on, Nigel was brilliant.
He was the most relaxed man up at Colney which wasn’t like Worthy in all honesty as he was a very intense man everyday and demanded very high standards when we trained.
If he didn’t get those high standards from us he would let us know.
It was simple, we had to be “at it” in every session we went into or there would be consequences.
The quality in our training never dropped in those last few weeks. The only change was that we didn’t train for anywhere near as long as we had done during the rest of the season.
Nigel and Dave Carolan, his fitness coach, knew exactly what our bodies needed to see us through till the end of the season.
It was a masterstroke from him because as players seeing our manager so chilled out coming in every morning, it made us relax, but we still maintained a very high level of performance both in training and in the games in those last few weeks.
When the pressure was at its highest it simply didn’t faze us.
We went out with a tremendous amount of togetherness and spirit, and we simply performed and picked up the points.
In those last six weeks after playing on a Saturday the last thing Nigel would say to us before he left the changing room would be “see you Wednesday, enjoy your time off, but don’t be silly and look after yourselves. We’ve still got games to play”.
To be fair to the lads we listened to him.
We only went out on a Tuesday night for a few drinks which is something we’d done all season if we didn’t have a game on a Wednesday.
He knew about our Tuesday club and he didn’t mind as he was a player and was a big believer in players socialising together and going out as a squad, a bit of team bonding I think they call it.
After all, why change a winning habit, it had got us to the top of the league so we weren’t about to change with just a handful of games remaining.
While Norwich will be making the journey up to Teesside tomorrow, Sheffield Utd welcome Bristol City who’ve now not won in their last five league games, losing three of those five but still sitting just two points off the play-offs.
Leeds, on the other hand, play Millwall at Elland Road in a game they know they simply have to win.
With Neil Harris’s men losing four of their last five games and now just one point above the relegation zone, I can’t see Leeds dropping points tomorrow.
Both Sheffield Utd and Leeds kick off at 3pm whilst Norwich have a 5.30pm kick-off against Middlesbrough, who are in desperate need of a win having lost their last three league games.
Whatever happens at Bramall Lane and Elland Road the lads just need to do what they have been since September; go out and play with the freedom that’s seen them sitting proud at the top of the Championship league table with just eight games to go.