Norwich City's current crop measure up well
PUBLISHED: 17:22 11 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:07 10 September 2010
Is Grant Holt the new Iwan Roberts? Is Wes Hoolahan the new Darren Huckerby? And Korey Smith - could he be the new Damien Francis? The comparisons between the team of 2010 and the class of 2004 - hand-crafted by Nigel Worthington, the only manager to have won something for Norwich City in the last quarter of a century - are inevitable.
Is Grant Holt the new Iwan Roberts? Is Wes Hoolahan the new Darren Huckerby? And Korey Smith - could he be the new Damien Francis?
The comparisons between the team of 2010 and the class of 2004 - hand-crafted by Nigel Worthington, the only manager to have won something for Norwich City in the last quarter of a century - are inevitable.
This time six years ago Worthington's men were sitting on top of the old First Division table, a
3-1 home win over Ipswich at the weekend proving not only who was the best team in East Anglia, but also putting them 10 points clear of the play-off zone.
Today, City - 3-0 home winners over Yeovil at the weekend - sit nine points clear of the third place team.
The 2004 team had been top of the heap since just before Christmas - coincidentally, another win over the Tractor Boys, at Portman Road, putting them there for keeps.
Paul Lambert's men took a little longer - they managed to get to the summit on January 23 after beating Brentford.
Comparing the two sides won't be easy - you're talking different divisions for starters; for Ipswich, Sheffield United and Wigan read Colchester, Swindon and Huddersfield.
But as Lambert has always stressed, City are in League One for a reason: because that's where they belong. The intention is to prove that last season was an aberration, that it should be wiped from the club's history. The day that happens appears to be drawing ever closer.
While it's easy enough to put down on paper the bulk of the Lambert and Worthington teams, it's a little more difficult to be precise.
For example, Worthington's goalkeeper and back four were just about set in stone each week, as were the middle pairing, but the right wing position was changed around, as was the strike partnership - and you could draw a line across the park at the peak of the team and the influential and talismanic Darren Huckerby played it.
Lambert has been firm in his policy of sticking to a winning team: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Michael Nelson might have been expected to lose his place to Zak Whitbread or Jens Berthel Askou, but injury and Nelson's own form have made the decision, if not easy, then not too difficult for Lambert.
Korey Smith might not have expected to have been a starter, but Lambert liked the look of him in training, put him in his side - and the youngster has been magnificent ever since. Darel Russell has missed the last three matches through suspension - and City have won them all. Russell is a candidate for Player of the Season, but he won't expect to go straight back in this weekend.
One difference between the two sides is that Grant Holt and Chris Martin are almost shoo-ins under Lambert - but with a scoring record like theirs, why not?
City have been blessed with quality goalkeepers over the years, with only the odd season - very odd - when Peter Grant used Jamie Ashdown, Lee Camp, Paul Gallacher, David Marshall and Tony Warner, and completely ignored Joe Lewis, bucking the trend.
Worthington had Robert Green; Lambert has Fraser Foster - big, tall, more than capable English goalkeepers.
Green, pictured below, has gone on to bigger and better things, his £2m move to West Ham at the start of the 2006-07 season putting him not only higher up the pecking order but right in the England manager's sights - the World Cup beckons. Forster turns 22 years old next week - eight years Green's junior - and has been touted as an Under-21 candidate. Green had 241 City appearances under his belt when he left - at the end of the promotion season he'd already played 155 after being a regular for three seasons. Forster is a rookie in comparison - he's played just 43 senior games, 32 of them for City - but has a big future in the game. His problems with kicking have largely been resolved and, like the great Pat Jennings of many years ago, he tends to make the most difficult saves look easy: he doesn't need to do spectacular.
Where Green has gone, you feel Forster will follow.
Worthington's back four rarely differed: Marc Edworthy at right-back, Adam Drury at left-back and Craig Fleming and Malky Mackay in the middle. Between them they missed just nine starts throughout the whole season - Fleming, like Green, an ever-present, Mackay just one behind.
Drury, of course, is still with City and while he is currently sidelined with a thigh problem, he appears to have shrugged off the injury problems of the last couple of years and is playing as well as ever - Michael Rose is deputising for the moment, but Drury could buck the "stick to a winning team" mentality. Drury v Drury? The current vintage is playing as well as he did as captain of Worthington's team.
For comparison purposes we'll go for Russell Martin, Gary Doherty and Nelson in Lambert's team. Martin has replaced Jon Otsemobor, thereby plastering over an obvious weakness. The former Posh man attacks well, and defends well - just as Edworthy did. Perhaps Martin has age on his side - Edworthy was coming to the twilight of his career; Martin is setting out on his.
Can Doherty and Nelson be better than Fleming and Mackay? Between them, the latter could wrap up an attack and hide it away for 90 minutes: Fleming rarely made mistakes and the pair of them had a drive that few could equal. Doherty has chipped in with goals, but there is always a fear that there is a ricket in the middle of the defence; fortunately, it's not been exposed that often.
Good as the current pair have been, the Fleming-Mackay partnership was a huge rock on which Worthington placed great store.
Likewise, Damien Francis and Gary Holt were his midfield mainstays: Holt was a great protector of his defence, a player whose value to the side was probably only truly recognised after he'd left. Francis had lovely skills, but his time at Norwich was all too short-lived: he didn't enjoy relegation and made it clear he wanted to continue walking the streets paved with gold - without waiting for Norwich to return.
Today's midfield is more diamond than gold, but equally valuable. Russell, suspensions apart, has come back like a Phoenix from the flames and been magnificent at times, the arch protector of his back four. The young Smith's emergence, generally on the right, was no better highlighted than by his performance against Yeovil a few days ago when he was outstanding.
On the left is Simon Lappin, who stubbornly overcame rejection to get back in the squad, then the team - and then stay there. Lambert trusts him implicitly: he's played the Scot in every league game since he walked through the door last August.
Worthington changed the right side regularly: Phil Mulryne, Ian Henderson, Kevin Harper for a while, even Kevin Cooper. If we have to pick one, it would be Mulryne, a quality player whose best times at Carrow Road were all too short.
Now for the big one: the luxury player, the enigma, the one who sets the crowd on their feet - and keeps it there.
Lambert has Wes Hoolahan, a player who drifted in and out of the first team picture, a player whose terrific talents some found difficult to accommodate. Lambert left him out but, having consolidated, then found a place for him. And he's been rewarded in bucketfuls.
Just as Worthington was after he pressed every button, called in every promisory note and produced a Churchillian welcoming speech to bring Daren Huckerby to Carrow Road.
Hoolahan v Huckerby. Where do you start? Two very different players, but the end result is very often the same.
Hoolahan operates on a sixpence, his left foot the magician's wand, revelling in watching opponents tie themselves up in knots.
If you want enigmatic, Huckerby's your man. His pace was electrifying, his attitude towards defenders derisory, almost insulting.
He recently made the top 10 of most frustrating players in Premier League history - no one in this neck of the woods cared.
As soon as he came to Carrow Road the legend began to be created. He was outspoken, probably one of the very few players who really was bigger than the club: Worthington had control of him, other managers less so.
Huckerby, like Hoolahan, has played different positions but one thing that Lambert has that Worthington didn't is a strike partnership that you wouldn't break up with a stick of dynamite. Chris Martin and Grant Holt have plundered 40 goals between them in all competitions - both scored at the weekend and both shows little sign of letting up. Hoolahan's 20-goal input has been a huge added bonus.
Martin came through the ranks at Colney, took a few verbal knocks on the way, but is clearly a more mature person nowadays - and it's showing on the pitch, where his finishing is top drawer. Holt has more miles on the clock and is the possessor of a variety of goalscoring techniques: a good header of the ball, good with both feet and from all ranges.
Worthington's team had just one player in double figures, and that was Huckerby, who scored from the wing, but wasn't unfamiliar with the striker's role.
Leon McKenzie, Matt Svensson, Iwan Roberts and Peter Crouch were all target men under Worthington, while Paul McVeigh, who returned to Carrow Road last summer, was also in the mix. McVeigh's best times were behind him, but he was a talented player with an eye for a pass, and with someone like Roberts could build up a telepathic understanding.
Perhaps Huckerby's arrival spelled the beginning of the end.
The presence of Holt and Martin is successful and stable: but Worthington's team didn't suffer because of the changes up front.
Two teams with heaps of quality.
Add in the rest of the fringe players and who would you choose in a 17-man squad if you were to pick a team for this weekend's trip to Huddersfield?