Form is temporary, but City class is permanent
It’s cocky and perhaps a touch arrogant – but I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t think Norwich City have anything to be scared of in this league.
This may seem a bizarre statement coming as it does so soon after our 3-1 defeat at Doncaster Rovers, but in a strange way Tuesday’s result has reaffirmed my belief that City are in with a very good chance of being among the front-runners at the end of this season.
Six games in and we are a more than respectable eighth in the league with 10 points – a position I’m pretty sure most fans would have been pleased with before the season began.
I could end up with one massive dollop of egg on my face here, but what gives me hope for the season is that, in my opinion, this position has been obtained even though the team has so far failed to reach the heights they are capable of for long periods of time.
In my opinion, there is still much more to come from our players over the next few months.
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So far it’s been a season of playing in patches.
At times some of the football has been sublime and of a much higher standard than last year – but at other times it has been pretty uninspiring.
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This has been no more true than of our attack play, with the perfect example being Chris Martin on Saturday, who went from being pretty anonymous to suddenly sparking to life and scoring a trademark goal.
What the players have shown, in particular during their several comebacks over the past few weeks, is that when they do turn it on, they can do so with some spirit and style.
And once they turn it on more regularly and players like Grant Holt return to the form of last season, we could be true contenders.
One thing is for sure. When I compare this squad to those from our previous few seasons at this level, where uninspiring names like Mark Fotheringham, Antoine Sibierski, Julien Brellier, Mo Camara, Jason Jarrett and Zesh Rehman still bring me out in a cold sweat, I know which I would prefer to have.
In goal John Ruddy took a couple of games to settle in, but his penalty save against Swansea was a real turning point and I think he will become the quality permanent goalkeeper we have craved.
Despite the three goals conceded at Doncaster on Tuesday night, the defence has been the strength so far.
As long as he can stay fit and his legs allow, Adam Drury could yet mark his tenth year with the club by being among those shortlisted for player of the season – staggering when just a couple of seasons ago there were fears he may never be able to return to football at this level.
In the absence of injured Michael Nelson, Elliott Ward has already established himself as our key defender and some of his tackling, positioning and reading of the game have been worthy of football at an even higher standard than the Championship.
Leon Barnett works well alongside him and seems to have settled in quickly.
He has his detractors but in my eyes Russell Martin has done little wrong so far.
As well as Korey Smith and Andrew Crofts have played, I still get the feeling Paul Lambert is trying to work out how best to accommodate his new-look midfield. As attack-minded as a midfield of Smith, Crofts, Wes Hoolahan and Anthony MacNamee was on Tuesday, you had to worry about us falling short defensively when Doncaster came forward – and so it proved.
Saying that, particular praise must go to young midfielder Smith and it was really pleasing to see him use a new-found level of strength to shrug off so many players last Saturday.
In contrast to last season, it’s actually going forward where we have struggled a bit.
There is no denying Hoolahan has found it hard to repeat the feats of last season. He’s simply getting a bit less time and finding the standard of opposition that bit higher – but he’s a class act, has done it before at this level and he will raise his game again.
The problem is that, because of the type of player he is, with his attempts at clever tricks and passes, when they are not coming off it is all the more obvious to those watching.
Up front, again Chris Martin and Holt have played well in patches but, for whatever reason, are not yet working in tandem the same way they did last season.
But do I have doubts that these are anything more than just the ups and down all players go through? No I don’t.
As they say, form is temporary, class permanent.
• FIVE of the rest
1. Carrow Road continues to be the place to go if you want to see goals. There were 70 of them in 23 league games last season, about three per game, and so far this season we have had 15 goals in four league and cup matches. The fact so many people still insist on leaving early, even when the score was 2-1 on Saturday, beggars belief when you consider that seven of those 15 goals have been scored in the final 15 minutes and three in the 90th minute or beyond.
2. I have been quick to criticise the club for its dubious “round pricing” policy, so can I be the first to praise one area where value for money has been improved – the club programme. I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that in previous years it’s barely been fit for purpose and certainly worth nowhere near the �3 cover price. But someone has given it a revamp because this season it’s packed full of stuff I actually want to read. I’m particularly enjoying chuckling over the old photos and people’s dubious haircuts.
3. Southampton’s sacking of Alan Pardew simply reinforces the fact that patience is a virtue lost on those who run football clubs these days. It’s also a bit of a reminder of what could have been had Paul Lambert not got us back up at the first attempt. Who knows, if that had happened and Norwich had made a slow start in their second season in League One, we may have been looking for yet another new manager right now.
4. Question: Which former Norwich City goalkeeper has just broken a national record for the longest time without conceding a goal? Believe it or not it‘s the one and only Michael Theoklitos, who has been earning rave reviews after going 14 hours, 36 minutes without conceding a goal for his new team, Brisbane Roar. Sounds like a good signing to me, Paul!
5. Well, that’s me for a month. As of next week I’m away on my honeymoon. It just proves there is someone out there for everyone! I‘ll leave you in the more than capable hands of SportsDesk Pete and will be back on October 14. If anyone knows of a bar in Tanzania that shows the football . . .