Breaking the bank is no guarantee of top quality
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Saturday’s goalless draw at Loftus Road was a better advert for the Championship than the Premier League. In black and white that looks terribly disrespectful to the players of Norwich City and QPR who battled their way towards a point and produced a 0-0 with just enough intrigue to stop those watching at home with a twitchy trigger finger from pressing the remote control to see what was being cooked up on Saturday Kitchen.
Hear me out though, it is meant as a full-on compliment to the best of both sides.
Loftus Road was the dizziest place to be on transfer deadline day as Harry Redknapp threatened to spend money at such a rate that I wouldn’t be surprised if the club got a call from the bank’s security department at lunchtime on Thursday asking whether the company credit card had been stolen by someone with a taste for the highest of West London high life.
It’s not often I can claim to get one up on a Premier League striker, but being allowed into QPR’s ground on Saturday was an achievement not matched by West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie whose hopes of joining the Redknapp revolution never got beyond the lady on reception. It wasn’t so much the closing of the transfer window that scuppered him as QPR’s front door.
Millions upon millions of pounds was spent by clubs in January, often with not much more thought apparent than a paranoid person panic buying Pot Noodles as soon as the first flakes of snow are forecast. Some clubs have bought footballers at a faster rate than the seven-year-old me when let loose in the Subbuteo department of Kerrison toy shop with my birthday money.
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Since gaining promotion to the Premier League at the same time as Norwich City, Queen’s Park Rangers have splashed an eye watering amount of cash. In the last three transfer windows alone, Mark Hughes and his replacement Harry Redknapp have collectively signed seven strikers, seven centre backs, four goalkeepers, eight midfielders, a winger, two left backs and two right backs. Yet on Saturday the spine of their team featured their Player of the Year from last season, Clint Hill, looking solid at centre back, 35-year-old Shaun Derry, putting himself about in midfield, and their two most threatening attacking players were Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie. Those four players have something in common; they were all part of the team that won promotion in 2011 before the apparent attempt to become football’s answer to the Harlem Globetrotters.
It’s worth remembering that Norwich City’s front two in the same game, Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt, first played together in League One where they teamed up with City’s right back from the weekend, Russell Martin.
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Don’t get me wrong, I am not so thrifty that I believe a team can move up through the divisions without some significant strengthening. The additions of Sebastien Bassong, Michael Turner and Robert Snodgrass, to name but three, have looked particularly shrewd pieces of business by Chris Hughton over the past week. Thankfully, football is still a bit more complicated a problem than one that can be solved simply by throwing as much money at it as possible.
There may have been a sense of anti-climax as Big Ben chimed the end of the blessed transfer window on Thursday night and that multi-million pound striker we had all put on our list had not materialised at Carrow Road.
But breaking the bank to get what you think you need does not always have the desired effect. No matter how much a shiny new toy costs it has to have the right type of batteries inside to make it work properly and in the thick of a crunch Premier League tussle there’s often no substitute for a bit of lower league grit from players who realise what it means to be playing in the top flight.
That’s why, after all the January shenanigans, the big moment at Loftus Road on Saturday was when Northampton Town’s former goalkeeper fouled an ex-Plymouth Argyle striker in the penalty area.
Mark Bunn’s brilliant penalty save was a huge moment for both clubs and the point it won, as well as the two it denied QPR, has inched Norwich towards clinching a third straight season of Premier League football. We may be an attractive proposition in the summer. Perhaps Chris Hughton ought to start working on his excuses in case the call comes from the receptionist at Carrow Road “There’s a Mr Odemwingie here to see you.”
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It’s difficult to over estimate the importance of Mark Bunn’s penalty heroics at Loftus Road.
If Adel Taarabt had scored and set QPR on their way to victory it would have heightened fears that Norwich City could get really dragged back into what is always referred to as ‘the relegation dogfight’ while giving Rangers more genuine hopes of hauling themselves clear of danger.
Bunn gave away the penalty, but it was still an impressive piece of goalkeeping at such a big point in the game and the season.
Since the turn of the year Bunn has been among the Canaries’ stand-out performers.
Without him in the past seven days alone, draws against Tottenham and QPR may well have turned into defeats.
He made a couple of outstanding saves at West Ham in the 2-1 defeat on New Year’s Day, followed that up with his first Premier League clean sheet of the season against Newcastle and even in the 5-0 humbling at Anfield was chosen by many, admittedly from a poor old bunch, as the Canaries’ man of the match.
The past five weeks should have helped to settle the nerves of some of the doubters who wondered whether Bunn would be up to replacing John Ruddy, whose injury in mid-November seemed like such a huge loss.
Norwich City have a fine tradition of goalkeepers and perhaps that is why fans tend to treat those who have to stand between the sticks with the sort of caution usually reserved for people who move to live in Norfolk without having grown up here.
It’s easy to forget now, but John Ruddy himself spent much of his first season with the club trying to live up to the majesty that had been created around Fraser Forster following his impressive loan spell at Carrow Road the year before.
Ruddy has since proved himself to be one of the best English goalkeepers around and, while he left Mark Bunn with some mighty big gloves to fill, Norwich’s number one would have been proud of some of the saves his stand-in has produced over the past month or so.