Holt strikes - and joy is unconfined

Chris Lakey Scunthorpe United 0, Norwich City 1: 'Of course we've got plans. How else do you think our battles are directed?' The words of General Melchett, one of the alter egos of new Canaries director Stephen Fry, not Paul Lambert, who might just be wondering if he has walked on to the set of some strange BBC TV programme featuring Britain's most intelligent man and the country's best-known cookery writer rather than managing a football club.

Chris Lakey

Scunthorpe United 0, Norwich City 1

“Of course we've got plans. How else do you think our battles are directed?”

The words of General Melchett, one of the alter egos of new Canaries director Stephen Fry, not Paul Lambert, who might just be wondering if he has walked on to the set of some strange BBC TV programme featuring Britain's most intelligent man and the country's best-known cookery writer rather than managing a football club.


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But Lambert is no clueless, moustached military man: his plans are worked out in advance and, as he proved on Saturday, to the minute.

Scunthorpe aren't called 'The Iron' for nothing. Despite small crowds, an unfashionable location and persistent relegation favouritism with the bookies, they are no pushovers on their own patch.

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That fortitude prompted Lambert to make changes in his middle. Out went David Fox, with Andrew Crofts pushed across to the base of the diamond, and Korey Smith taking his spot on the right.

It added steel to City's heart, while retaining the flair of Wes Hoolahan and the beauty that is Andrew Surman's left foot - a major set-piece weapon.

Crofts and Smith were supposedly too much alike to play in the same team; ditto Hoolahan and Surman, but Lambert has managed to fit them in.

It's Hoolahan who retains top billing.

As Lord Melchett once said of Blackadder: “You twist and turn like a twisty turny thing.”

Hoolahan is no show pony, he works for the cause, but the undoubted attraction is the way he leaves defenders in his wake. Scunthorpe put a man on him, but still they couldn't handle him.

He deserved a goal on Saturday, and but for the head of Rob Jones he might have had one - the Iron defender getting enough of his head onto a swerving shot to take the ball by a post. But that was in the second half when City upped their game and pinned Scunthorpe back into their own half.

The first 45 minutes had been fairly even-Stevens: City had started well enough, but all they had to show for their efforts was a Chris Martin header into the side-netting from Surman's corner and a couple of long-range efforts which caused Joe Murphy only a little consternation.

Chris Dagnall - once rumoured to be on City's shopping list - looked lively, with a couple of runs from deep, one of which almost ended in a goal, while their full-backs, Jim McNulty and Eddie Nolan, pumped in some decent crosses from the space they were afforded.

But the tale of the half for City fans might have been the resolve they showed. They looked more tight-knit, more able to cope with the dangers, less willing to be damaged.

Nelson and Ward soaked up the pressure, Ruddy behind them was comfortable, all of which bodes well.

But if the first 45 was shared, the second half was the opposite. City came out on the front foot and, playing towards their own fans, grew in confidence and in dominance.

Martin and Holt had been an annoyance rather than anything more damaging, but after the break they had the Iron defence clearly more concerned.

Martin jinked his way into the area, but slid the ball past the far post, with Holt just unable to find that extra yard to poke it over the line. But City were getting closer.

Scunthorpe were rattled, although Michael O'Connor did their nerves no good when he wandered along the line just a yard or two from his own post as he looked for a way to clear. Holt gave him a nudge, Martin took possession, but the angle was almost impossible and the City man couldn't find the gap.

Jones' forehead came to the rescue as Hoolahan began to run riot: with Smith and Crofts holding their lines and providing effective support it was only a matter of time before City broke through.

Adam Drury and Russell Martin were exploiting the space that was created by a pair of matching diamond formations down the flanks and City began to bombard the home area.

Holt had the ball in the net, but his effort was flagged offside, while Nelson met a Surman corner with his head but found Murphy pulling out his best work of the day.

Lambert injected pace with Simeon Jackson replacing Chris Martin with 10 minutes to go, but the new boy blasted one wide when he should have looked for a colleague, just as Russell Martin had done earlier.

They were anxious efforts, but when push came to shove, it was Nelson, Simon Lappin and Holt - in that order - who provided the real quality.

Nelson had spent much of last season, particularly when the going got a little tough, getting his body and feet into the way of shots. On Saturday he took one in the stomach. The flinch was almost imperceptible.

But it's not just brawn: the tackle to deny Jonathan Forte a shot on goal from inside the area was brilliantly timed, brilliantly executed. Had it not been, Forte had just Ruddy to beat, and a whole goal to aim for. The points would surely have gone to Scunthorpe.

But City broke and Lappin, who had been on the field for only a minute or so, had possession down the left. He looked up, saw Holt starting his run, and put in a swirling cross which the City skipper met with his head, getting in front of a defender to head it just inside Murphy's right-hand post. Let joy be unconfined, as a certain new director might say.

With only a minute or two of time added on to be played, the points were City's, and the question marks over this new-look team - not one player from the squad that played at Scunthorpe less than three years ago featured at the weekend - were removed.

The task now is for City to prove they have gone for good, by maintaining what they produced in the second half when Swansea come to Carrow Road next weekend.

They have the confidence of knowing they can win, of knowing they can win away, of knowing that their home ground has been impenetrable in the past and can be so again.

Lambert was suitably impressed that his team had taken on board his plans and delivered.

As 'you know who' might say in the boardroom: “Thank you, Darling”.

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