Consistency is key to success
Michael Bailey Norwich City had a startling 45 professionals available for selection during this season - and one former City hero believes the key for next term will be a settled squad.
Norwich City had a startling 45 professionals available for selection during this season - and one former City hero believes the key for next term will be a settled squad.
Following a second management change in two seasons, only three Championship sides - including relegation threatened Leicester City and Southampton - have used more players than the 37 players selected by Peter Grant, Jim Duffy and Glenn Roeder this season.
Contrast that with promotion hopefuls West Bromwich Albion (29), Hull (30) and Bristol City, who have only used 26 players all season.
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With one remaining fixture to complete - City's trip to Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday - goalkeeper David Marshall is the only player to appear in every game to date, while Darel Russell, Lee Croft, Jamie Cureton and Jon Otsemobor make up the group of five City players to have made at least 40 appearances this term.
Jason Shackell could join the group on Sunday, but it will remain short of the nine players who topped the 40 appearance mark in the Canaries' Championship-winning season back in 2003/4, when City used only 27 players. This season, 34 different players have made it onto the pitch.
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The 40+ group during that trophy-winning campaign four seasons ago included an entire back line, midfield trio, goalkeeper and striker, with former Scotland international Gary Holt an ever-present.
The midfielder made 51 appearances in all competitions, including three Scotland outings and two goals, and as he currently looks forward to a League Two play-off semi-final with Wycombe Wanderers next month, the Scot believes a settled side under Glenn Roeder would bring with it a more enjoyable season for City fans than the chops of changes of 2007/8.
“It certainly helps to have a settled squad,” said the 35-year-old midfielder. “The managerial changes mean the club has had to grind it out for a while, but now the season is coming to an end Roeder can get rid of the players he doesn't want and bring in those he does, and put his stamp on the team.
“Once Roeder gets to pre-season and the start of the season, then he can try to get that settled side. He is a good manager and has good background staff there, and hopefully for everyone, he can get them back up at the right end of the table.”
Holt knows how a settled side can bring success, both through his time at Norwich and this campaign at Wycombe, which could end with an appearance at Wembley.
“I'm hoping it'll be third time lucky for me,” said Holt, who has already lost out in the play-off lottery with Norwich and Nottingham Forest. “We've been fortunate to have been fairly settled this season and it has helped us to get to where we are now. The majority of the players have played most of the games and you come to have a good understanding. You know who to give a cuddle and who needs to be shouted at.”
And during his season as a title winner at Carrow Road?
“It was almost the same team every week, even with the substitutes. It was almost the same people on the bench every week, the same 16,” added Holt. “It was like wearing a pair of slippers, it was that comfortable. Things were going well and it was just so easy to play.”
The Canaries have had their injury problems this season. Adam Drury is still recovering from the knee injury he suffered in October, while Luke Chadwick will hope to have finally put his shoulder problems to rest and Mark Fotheringham's three-month absence from ankle ligament damage earlier in the season hampered City's progress
However, although the Canaries have still faired better with injuries than a number of their Championship rivals over the course of the season, it has not prevented a vast turnover in players.
As Glenn Roeder settles down to draw up the next stage of his 'project' at Carrow Road, he will be hoping to have a settled - and successful - squad to chose from, in the mould of City's previous promotion success.
And from his watching brief in Buckinghamshire, Holt keeps close tabs on events at Carrow Road.
“I was really pleased to see they'd got the win on Saturday. They needed something as nobody wanted to be going to Sheffield Wednesday needing a result, so I was really pleased for them to get the win at home and make sure they're safe for next year. Norwich would've been such a big club to drop into the league below.”