Finally appreciating Norwich City’s ‘Only’ Scotland’s finest

Defensive duo Steven Whittaker and Russell Martin both found the net at Sunderland. Picture by Paul

Defensive duo Steven Whittaker and Russell Martin both found the net at Sunderland. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Not that long ago, I stated that Norwich City would always struggle if they persisted with playing two average right-backs in their first choice back four.

At the time there was a nervousness and inherent fallibility surrounding Martin and Whittaker that spread like Japanese Knotweed around the crowd and magnified every mistake that they made. In fact, such was the feeling that they were a weak link that quite often fans would convince themselves of their ultimate culpability for things that weren’t really their fault.

As I’ve said, I was firmly positioned in the camp that considered Martin the better option at right-back and that would have preferred A.N. Other at centre half. The thing is, it’s increasingly looking like I – not for the first time – had it wrong.

Alex Neil inevitably takes plenty of credit, there’s no coincidence that they’ve looked a different proposition since his appointment. The restoration of Seb Bassong has helped too. His lethargic demeanour might not always convince but we’ve been infinitely better for having him back in the fold. Perhaps most of the credit should be placed at the feet of the maligned duo though?

This piece is far easier to write this week than last and some will no doubt be convinced that the motivation is the fact that they both got on the scoresheet on Saturday. I’m sure that some will say that they could have played in our defence such was the lack of threat from Sunderland and that ultimately we still conceded a “soft” goal. Others will point towards the defensive shortcomings that saw us go 0-2 against Palace last week and retain the view that we would be better with different options.

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Perhaps. It’d be foolish to suggest that there aren’t “better” players than both plying their trade in the Premier League and we’ll need to continually evolve and improve if we want to remain on an upward trajectory. It’s also fair to say that they aren’t the glaring weakness that some, like me, had them down as either.

They’re first-choice for their country but such is the lack of faith from their club supporters, that country is known as “Only Scotland” around these parts. How disrespectful is that?!? Graeme Dorrans has been in sublime form since he joined us and he can’t get a game for Only Scotland. If players that DO play for them aren’t good enough for NCFC then Dorrans must be really bad!!!

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Russ and Whitts are playing with a verve and confidence that deserves appreciation. Some of the link-up play between Whittaker and Redmond is a delight to behold and Martin has helped deal with England strikers of the future and past (Bamford and Defoe) with aplomb in recent outings. They’ll make mistakes, those mistakes will be exploited too. Not many goals are scored without some form of defensive error and all defenders make them. At times Whittaker will look pedestrian but there’ll be plenty of fullbacks left trailing in the wake of Raheem Sterling, Theo Walcott or, dare I say it, Nathan Redmond over the course of the season. Whittaker certainly didn’t lack pace, strength or desire as he linked with Wes and drove into the Sunderland box yesterday, more of that please!!

Of course we’d like to see further depth added to the squad. However, I imagine that the clamour for incoming players will subside to a dull roar this week after our victory.

Cameron Jerome led the line in a performance that has typified his City career thus far. Full of industry and endeavour, Sunderland never got a minute’s peace. Ably supported by the master puppeteer Hoolahan and the classy midfield triumvirate of Dorrans, Howson and Tettey, we pressed them at a relentless pace. Redmond became increasingly involved and was far keener to commit defenders in the second half, while Whittaker and Brady provided excellent outlets on either flank.

With Mulumbu and Olsson to return, all of a sudden you wonder where we’ll fit players in. Last year’s Player Of The Season Bradley Johnson found himself omitted yesterday and with Brady impressing from an unfavourable left-back berth and Olsson nearing fitness, he’ll have a job to win back his spot. The depth looks good and the competition healthy, but if Cam got injured I do wonder whether we have sufficient options to cover us there.

It could also be argued that we’re a bit short of cover at the back. I think signing another striker is a necessity, it’s evident that RVW is the proverbial mile from the first-team and offloading him will free up a valuable chunk of the wage budget. Another defender coming in would also be welcome, it’s just that signing an upgrade on Martin or Whittaker might not be quite as easy as it once may have seemed.

• Blog post written by Duncan Edwards

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