Former Norwich City star sounds Wigan warning
‘Once bitten, twice shy,’ is the stark warning from Norwich’s former Premier League striker Efan Ekoku ahead of the Canaries’ opening day trip to Wigan.
Robert Martinez’s side were humbled 4-0 at the DW Stadium by newly-promoted Blackpool in last season’s top flight curtain-raiser – a painful experience the ex-City striker insists Wigan will not wish to repeat.
He said: “I spoke to Roberto Martinez this time last year when the fixtures came out and he said he wouldn’t mind one of the newly-promoted sides and picked out Blackpool for some reason. Lo and behold, that is who they got and ended up losing 4-0 so I think if the Norwich fans were hoping for any sort of Wigan complacency that won’t be the case this time around.
“I honestly believe it is a great fixture for the Canaries – a winnable game against a team away from home who plays good football, who will also allow the opposition to play. From what I saw in the Championship last season, Norwich play some good stuff so it’s a game Paul Lambert and his side can go into with confidence.”
Ekoku was part of Mike Walker’s Norwich squad that mixed it against the big boys during the early Premier League years. The former Nigerian international – who memorably slammed four goals past Everton’s Neville Southall at Goodison Park in the 1993/94 campaign – insists the current crop must be mentally strong to survive.
He said: “Certainly the coaching staff will be realists. They will play well in the top flight and not win games and if you lose two or three on the bounce when you haven’t been used to losing games then that is a mental challenge.
“They’ll be up against superior players in every single department so the ability to put disappointments behind you very, very quickly is so important. That’s the difference.
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“Inexperienced players or players not quite up to that standard are unable to do that. They have to realise they are fighting for their lives and that is why it’s crucial to bring the right players in.
“The pressure players are under is the most intense of their careers. They just need to try and get a positive result in the first game and that can be a springboard for more positive results in the coming weeks.”
Ekoku believes Norwich and the other promoted clubs would be foolish to try and emulate Blackpool’s adventurous but doomed top flight bid.
He said: “I don’t think many teams, including the ones who are coming up, will play with quite so much freedom as Blackpool did. They had a fantastic start to the campaign and were right up there come November, December time.
“At that stage no-one would have put money on them being relegated.
“They probably needed only about three more wins from the last 15 games but it was their defensive frailties and the unwillingness of the coaching staff to change the way they wanted to play that ultimately cost them.
“I’d be amazed if anyone looked at them now and thought that was the way to go. Survival is the most important thing and if that means tightening up at the back that is what you should strive for. As nice as it was to watch it wasn’t very smart. I don’t expect Brendan Rodgers and certainly Neil Warnock to play that way and I would be amazed if Paul Lambert did.”
Ekoku is keen to get an early look at Lambert’s squad in his current media role.
He said: “I’m looking forward to coming up and commentating on some games. I’m going to try and come up in pre-season because I noticed they are playing Parma and it would be nice to see what to expect.”
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