Crook hails reserves' winning attitude
David Cuffley The team behind the team has played its part in Norwich City's promotion charge - despite seldom getting a kick. That's the view of coach Ian Crook, and in this instance he is referring not to the management team at Colney but to those members of the first team squad who have had very limited involvement in the Canaries' 13-match unbeaten run in League One.
The team behind the team has played its part in Norwich City's promotion charge - despite seldom getting a kick.
That's the view of coach Ian Crook, and in this instance he is referring not to the management team at Colney but to those members of the first team squad who have had very limited involvement in the Canaries' 13-match unbeaten run in League One.
Eight of the starting eleven for Saturday's crushing 5-0 win at Colchester have started the last eight league games, with the only changes in that sequence of matches coming in midfield or the centre of defence.
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It has meant a long and patient wait for those who are on the bench or have been unable even to make the 18 on manager Paul Lambert's teamsheet.
But first team coach Crook paid tribute to the mood of those who can only train and wait.
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He said: “There is a great atmosphere around the place. People talk a lot about team spirit and here we have good individuals who make it a bubbly place.
“It is obviously a team full of confidence, but not over-confidence or cockiness, which is just great because they are all keen to train and they can't wait for the next game.
“And it's the people who are around the team - like Paul McVeigh, Owain Tudur Jones, Matthew Gill and Cody McDonald - but aren't in there at the moment who are still bubbly characters. They want to play but they aren't letting it get them down.
“When the team is going well and you're out of the side, 99.9 per cent of the time you get your chance through injuries or someone's loss of form. You just have to be patient and grab your chance when it comes along.”
Crook said centre-back Michael Nelson had illustrated that patience was a virtue after being kept on the sidelines by the form of Gary Doherty and Jens Berthel Askou. Nelson has started the last five league games, all victories, since Askou broke a metatarsal in the 3-3 draw at Yeovil, and City have conceded just one goal in those five wins.
“He is the ideal example as one who was in the side at the beginning of the season but then found himself out of the team when Jens and Doc settled into a good partnership,” said Crook. “He had to bide his time but he was great around the place and now he has taken his chance.
“As the gaffer has said, if we are successful this year, through to the end of the season, it will be down to a squad of 20 and not just the 11 who play most of the time.
“I've enjoyed working with the younger lads, too, like Tom Adeyemi, George Francomb, Josh Dawkin and David Stephens.”
City's diamond midfield formation has been a constant feature in their successful run - a tactic sometimes used in Crook's time as a player under Dave Stringer and Mike Walker.
“Under Mike, we played a bit like a diamond formation, though it was not as tight, with me sitting and Jeremy Goss and Gary Megson able to get forward,” said Crook.
He believes City have hit on a system that plays to the strengths of regular quartet Darel Russell, Korey Smith, Simon Lappin and Wes Hoolahan.
He said: “I hadn't seen a lot of Rusty when I came in last season and he had been playing up front. He dropped back into midfield and then he was out of the side for a while, but he's playing his current position really well. Where he's playing, he gives us a little bit more cover defensively.
“Korey is a bundle of energy, he gets around the park so well and covers huge areas. He might be one of those where people come away from games thinking they didn't see much of him, but they don't see how much work he does. He's just a young boy but technically he's very good and he has a big future.
“Simon and Korey do very, very similar jobs in the team and it doesn't necessarily get a huge focus but they do a fabulous job.
“We have two full-backs who give us width because Adam Drury and Russell Martin are both fit boys who can get up and down and it suits Wes perfectly to be in the position he's in.”
Wearing his other hat as reserve team boss, Crook is keen to get some of the fringe first team players back into competitive action, but may have to wait a while longer with tomorrow's scheduled Combination home game against Northampton postponed.
He said: “We need game time, but we're not the only club in this position. I've looked at the league table and everyone seems to be on the same number of games they were a month ago, or longer.”