Happy days again for Hucks
CHRIS LAKEY Darren Huckerby brought his own particular brand of champagne football back to Carrow Road on Saturday as the Canaries reignited their slim play-off ambitions with a 2-0 win over Derby County.
Darren Huckerby brought his own particular brand of champagne football back to Carrow Road on Saturday as the Canaries reignited their slim play-off ambitions with a 2-0 win over Derby County.
Huckerby silenced the Rams with a one-man demolition job reminiscent of his early days at Carrow Road when, within months of his arrival, City were winning the First Division championship.
Getting City into the play-offs is the challenge this time and while that task may be beyond even Huckerby at his finest, at least a smile has been restored to a few faces - the players, the manager and, just as importantly, the fans.
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“That's what it is all about,” said Huckerby, whose early-season form was affected by illness. “The fans come here to enjoy the game and I think I am the type of player they enjoy watching - and long may it continue.
“I am happy, I am feeling stronger and stronger as the weeks go by.”
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It hasn't been great watching for most of the season for the fans, and Saturday's performance won't have won over every doubter in the camp. But if Huckerby can cajole those around him into making an unexpected charge into the play-off spots, he'll be given the freedom of the city. What it needs is a run to put even December's five-win haul into the shade - and with two wins inside a week, the platform has been built.
“It is still on, but it is going to be very difficult and we are relying on other teams as well,” admitted Huckerby. “All we can do is win as many games as possible before the end of the season and if we don't get there this year, we build on it for next season, that's the most important thing.”
Huckerby's joy came at the expense of his great friend and returning Canaries defender Marc Edworthy, who was given a rousing welcome by the Carrow Road fans.
“Me and Eddy are very close and I didn't really fancy playing against him today, not because I'm scared, but because he's my friend and I don't want to make him look silly,” said Huckerby. “But that's the game; he's there to stop me and I'm there to go past him. I was hoping he'd play left back, but he played right - but we got the three points.
“We've been friends a long time and I am sure we will be friends for a long time after today.”
City went ahead in the first half through Jonatan Johansson, set up by Robert Earnshaw, after great work down the left between Huckerby and Adam Drury. But they needed Huckerby's effort just to settle a few nerves, especially after Adam Bolder had missed a gilt-edged chance to equalise for Derby.
“I think we did because they broke away a couple of times - but we were always on control, even when the lad went through and hit it over,” said Huckerby. “I think it would have been an injustice if we hadn't got anything out of the game. We created a lot of chances - Earnie looked sharp, Macca (Paul McVeigh) looked sharp, Leon looked great when he came on. We have a lot of attacking options and we have to keep it going.”
It was McVeigh whose short pass on the edge of the area set up Huckerby, but there was no mistaking the grateful way the goal was celebrated. The ball clearly rolled over Huckerby's right foot, teeing it up perfectly for a left-foot strike which had Lee Camp in the Derby goal beaten all ends up.
The explanation, with tongue firmly in cheek, was fairly typical of Huckerby's post-match mood.
“I saw Zinedine Zidane last week flick it up and put it in with his left foot so I thought I'd do the same,” he said. “The lads know my ability.”
The more plausible explanation was: “I waited for it to come across and I think it just clipped my right first, but although I didn't mean to put it there, a goal is a goal, I don't care how they come. I got one in the top corner last game so I am not too bothered.”
There is just a touch of déjà vu about Huckerby's recent return to form: a little over two years ago Huckerby, Peter Crouch and Kevin Harper were all signed on short-term deals to push City up the old Division one table. The three gelled well and the plan worked: the rest is history.
This is a very different City side but they do have three new faces again - Zesh Rehman, Jonatan Johansson and permanent signing Robert Earnshaw. If they can gel quickly enough, perhaps there is hope that the season can end on a note of optimism.
“We played well,” said Huckerby. “We have had a few players who have come in and it's taken time to settle, but we have been trying to pass the ball and I thought today we were the better team. With Saff coming back - we missed him - we have learned not to smack it up on to Earnie's head so we are passing the ball and creating chances
“We are bedding people in and looking stronger and stronger - so hopefully we can carry this on next week.”
This weekend sees a difficult trip to south London to face Crystal Palace- and if City make it three wins in a row, the smiles will be broader than ever.