Hoolahan delivering the goods for Norwich City

Chris Lakey He's won praise from his team-mates, from his manager, from rival managers, from TV pundits. Wes Hoolahan is a man with a lot of fans, not least those who wear the yellow and green of Norwich City.

Chris Lakey

He's won praise from his team-mates, from his manager, from rival managers, from TV pundits.

Wes Hoolahan is a man with a lot of fans, not least those who wear the yellow and green of Norwich City.

They've been waiting a while for a hero, ever since the door was shut on Darren Huckerby and Glenn Roeder promised he'd go and find a new icon for them to worship.


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Hoolahan arrived from Blackpool, but in a season when City plummed the depths of the Championship, he was sometimes a peripheral figure.

He was accused of complacency by Roeder, who withdrew him halfway through a match against Cardiff in August and who wasn't averse to dropping him altogether.

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If Roeder hoped for a response in the form of scintillating performances week in, week out, he didn't get it.

But then again, did anyone last season?

Fast forward to August this year, and in the manager's chair is Paul Lambert, whose first task was to watch the defeat at Brentford from the stands.

He clearly didn't like what he saw; four days later, Hoolahan was dropped for the league game against Wycombe, which City won

5-2.

He wasn't alone - Lambert made six changes. Only now are we beginning to realise what he was doing.

Hoolahan was recalled for the Carling Cup defeat at home to Sunderland, when he scored City's only goal, but for the next four matches he wasn't even on the bench.

Rumours were rife that Hoolahan was on his way; City fans were nonplussed.

Why had Lambert dropped arguably the most stylish, and gifted player in the squad, consigning him to the stiffs, AKA the reserves?

Anyone who bothered to watch City's second string found the answer: this time Hoolahan did respond, producing a couple of stellar displays, against Southend and Peterborough.

At the same time, Lambert was steadying the Norwich ship and, by the time Hoolahan returned for the home game against Charlton, there was a place for his skills.

Lambert moved Hoolahan in from the left wing and gave him a role just behind the front line, either playing off Grant Holt, or in the hole behind him and Chris Martin.

It means if Hoolahan loses possession it's lost in a safe place, not 30 yards from his own goal.

“Wes has been a top player in the Championship not that long ago, but we had to try and get a bit of stability into the side and be hard to beat,” said Lambert.

With City hard to beat, Hoolahan was charged with making them win.

It was a responsibility he has taken with both twinkle-toed feet.

“Unplayable,” said Lambert on more than one occasion, while other managers have admitted pretty much the same.

So good is Wes Hoolahan in League One football there are probably few players who can match him on current form.

On at least three occasions at Carlisle nine days ago he was triple-teamed - and each time he somehow managed to squirm away. With the ball.

That he won possession in his own half to start the move that led to him scoring the only goal of the game proves that this Wes Hoolahan is a different animal to the 2008 version.

Team him up with Grant Holt and the effect is becoming increasingly dramatic: Hoolahan knows where to find Holt, and to a growing extent Chris Martin too.

Holt's movement off the front line bamboozles defenders who are left marking neat patches of turf instead of the number nine shirt.

Martin is growing in stature and together they are providing a forward thrust that at times is irresistible.

The proof of the pudding and all that perhaps comes tonight when they take their boots to second-placed Leeds, who are defending an unbeaten home league run stretching back to January and haven't been beaten anywhere in League One this season.

It's a daunting task, but now that Lambert has the team pointing in the right direction, who's to say they can't pull it off?

Two months ago today, when Lambert walked into the Colney training centre for the first time as manager, City were third from bottom after three games, the knife taken to a management team in whom the board had lost trust.

Now City sit in sixth place on the back of an impressive record: nine league games played, five won, three drawn and just one lost - and that on a fairly unlucky night at MK Dons when they lost three players to injury and were beaten by a controversial penalty.

Not only that, but that dreadful away record - just eight wins in the previous two seasons - is becoming a thing of the past. City cruised at Hartlepool, were plain unlucky at Gillingham and highly effective at Carlisle.

They have won three league games in a row - they haven't managed four since December 2005, when they actually enjoyed a run of five successive victories.

Make it four consecutive wins and people really will sit up and take notice.

Hoolahan and Holt are taking the majority of the plaudits, but it's a team game: they'd be nothing without a solid back line and a midfield that defends well and supports the attack equally effectively.

But they're the names, they're the ones who fans will be looking at tonight, they're the ones who carry the major responsibilities.

They're also the ones that Simon Grayson - who knows all about Hoolahan having signed him for Blackpool and sold him to Norwich - will be warning his Leeds team about.

Leeds didn't get to be the top of the pile by allowing players to run all over them: Hoolahan won't find it easy back-heeling his way out of a jam tonight, while Holt won't find Patrick Kisnorbo and Richard Naylor as accommodating as some other defenders he's been up against.

And while Gary Doherty and Jens Berthel Askou have by and large managed to handle most strikers, they face a very different animal tonight in Jermaine Beckford.

How's this for stats: 54 goals in 83 league starts for Leeds; 27 in 32 last season, seven in 10 so far this season.

Beckford is a goal-scoring freak, and the Leeds fans love him.

With speculation that he was on his way for big money, he answered a journalist's question by saying: “What shirt am I wearing, bruv? You bein' serious?”

The race to print the quote on T-shirts started immediately.

Beckford's 6ft 2in tall, but he's not all about muscle: he has the full repertoire, although he's best kept away from penalty kicks.

In Beckford, Leeds possess one of Hoolahan's rivals for the title of best player in League One.

With all due apologies and respect to a variety of players up and down the country, these two possess individual talents that are beyond the norm, perhaps beyond the standard of League One.

While Jordan Rhodes is banging in goals for Huddersfield, who's to say he would do the same in the Championship?

Ditto Simeon Jackson at Gillingham and freescoring Stockport County midfielder Carl Baker.

You suspect that Hoolahan and Beckford are a cut above.

Perhaps they will prove it tonight.

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