David Freezer: Jamal Lewis keeps getting better - now he just needs to join the Norwich City goal-fest
If there's one name I'd really like to see on the scoresheet against QPR today, it's the remarkably consistent Jamal Lewis, the last remaining regular outfield player without a goal for Norwich City during this superb season.
The left-back’s steady quality is almost being taken for granted now, yet he’s still just 18 months into his career as a Canaries first teamer. He’s almost threatening Adam Drury levels of reliability.
The 21-year-old’s athletic ability has been tested to the maximum already this season, as he prepares for his 44th match.
He’s missed just four games due to minor injury issues, all of which City failed to win. The opening two games, the 2-2 draw at Birmingham and 4-3 home loss to West Brom, saw a combination of James Husband, Ivo Pinto and Marco Stiepermann used to cover for the youngster’s absence.
Husband and Pinto have since disappeared from contention and Stiepermann’s left-back days, thankfully, have been put to bed by his excellent emergence as an attacking midfield threat.
The other two matches were around the turn of the year, missing the dramatic floodlight-affected 4-3 home defeat to Derby and the 1-1 draw at Brentford on New Year’s Day, with Ben Godfrey ably covering on those occasions.
Otherwise it’s been Lewis at left-back, with almost universal approval, starting 35 league games and finishing all but six, when sometimes replaced late on as Daniel Farke winds down the clock. Added to that is seven full matches at international level for Northern Ireland, quickly racking up eight caps after choosing to represent his mother’s country, having not been recognised by England at youth levels.
Despite all that game time however, the former Luton Town trainee remains without a goal this season.
He of course scored a famous goal last season, appearing from nowhere to head in an equaliser at Chelsea in the FA Cup, to burst onto the scene in just his sixth senior appearance, but hasn’t scored since.
He does have three assists to his name this season though, as well as numerous lung-busting runs, plenty of vital link play with the attackers ahead of him and plenty of good defensive work, but no goal. Perhaps Lewis should be the next man to try and end the penalty hoodoo for the leaders?
The outstanding emergence of Max Aarons on the other side of the pitch, two years his junior and with three goals and five assists to his name, may have taken a lot of the focus off him.
However, I get the sense Canaries fans appreciate their exciting left-back just as much as they do their exciting right-back. The fantastic pace both possess was as evident during the win over a stubborn Boro as it has been throughout this campaign.
They’ve both been named in the Championship Team of the Season ahead of tomorrow’s EFL Awards and I’d imagine pretty much every other manager in the division would add the duo to their squad if they could.
Lewis and Aarons are worth big money now though and both have been linked with several Premier League clubs already. Fortunate, then, that City rewarded both talents with new long-term contracts during the course of this season – protecting the club’s transfer prospects whatever happened come May.
As it’s shaping up, Farke’s team have an excellent chance to be a top-flight team themselves, boosting the likelihood of being able to keep the outstanding youngsters who have played such big roles, even if big bids should emerge, with Godfrey and Emi Buendia in the same situation.
Lewis signed until 2023 back in October following reports of interest from Bournemouth and Watford. You could comfortably see him slotting into either club but you would hope promotion will mean the youngster is happy to keep building his career with Norwich, with City certain to want to keep him.
So a goal between now and the end of the season would be great but perhaps his lack of opportunities – other than a few wild right-footed swipes – is a reflection of his selfless style, concentrating on feeding Onel Hernandez or Todd Cantwell.
An impressive 17 players have scored a league goal for the Canaries this season. Of the others to feature in the Championship it’s only Pinto, Louis Thompson, Felix Passlack and on-loan Ben Marshall and James Husband without goals, even keeper Tim Krul went close at Rotherham!
While my player-of-the-season vote will be for Teemu Pukki, Lewis has been another part of a real team effort this season, another of the unsung heroes.
So if that goal does arrive, I’m sure it’s one that will be heartily celebrated by his team-mates.
• EXPECT A RESPONSE
The timing of Steve McClaren’s sacking by QPR wasn’t great from a Norwich City point of view, creating the potential of a response from the Rs players amid a fresh start.
The man tasked with trying to turn things around for Rangers is former Watford and Coventry midfielder John Eustace, who had been McClaren assistant, but does have managerial experience.
He took over Kidderminster Harriers just as relegation to National League North was about to be confirmed at the end of 2015-16 and very nearly earned an immediate return to the top tier of non-league, finishing second only to be beaten by Chorley in the play-off semi-finals.
And it was a similar story in 2017-18, finishing fourth and losing to Bradford Park Avenue in the play-off semi-finals, before deciding to become assistant to his former Derby manager McClaren.
While he’ll do well to halt the rampant league leaders on the back of just one win in 15 league games, Eustace isn’t a total novice as a manager.
• ONE CITY STRONG
As a former River End season ticket holder, I’m pleased to see the launch of our One City Strong campaign.
In conjunction with City and Regency Security, the sponsors of the stand, an effort is being made to ensure Carrow Road is as loud and proud as possible for the huge promotion opportunity before Daniel Farke’s team.
I hope the ‘sing up the River End’ rallying cry isn’t seen as a slight by those who sit in the stand, but more of an effort to help match the colour and noise of the Barclay and the Snake Pit, which must have created a degree of envy.
I graduated from the River End to the Barclay as soon as I was old enough to buy my own season ticket, as someone who always enjoyed singing, rather than sitting and moaning as too many football fans do.
If fans can’t join in with the atmosphere at such a brilliant point in the club’s history, then I guess they never will, but now is the time to make sure those moans and nervy groans are drowned out – the City players deserve a real vocal show of support.