If Lewis gets a chance he will not disappoint
David Cuffley If there was an award for the unluckiest goalkeeper in England, Norwich City's Joe Lewis might just be in with a good chance of picking up the prize. Given that he was nine days short of his 16th birthday when former boss Nigel Worthington first gave him a place on the substitutes' bench for a first team match - against Crystal Palace at Carrow Road in September 2003 - it is somewhat extraordinary that the highly-rated Lewis has still to make a senior appearance for the Canaries in a competitive fixture.
If there was an award for the unluckiest goalkeeper in England, Norwich City's Joe Lewis might just be in with a good chance of picking up the prize.
Given that he was nine days short of his 16th birthday when former boss Nigel Worthington first gave him a place on the substitutes' bench for a first team match - against Crystal Palace at Carrow Road in September 2003 - it is somewhat extraordinary that the highly-rated Lewis has still to make a senior appearance for the Canaries in a competitive fixture.
More than four years later, even after being included in Stuart Pearce's England Under-21 squad this season, the 6ft 6in 'keeper is still waiting for his Norwich debut.
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Since that day on the bench as a 15-year-old, Lewis has watched no fewer than seven men don the gloves in City's first team.
When Robert Green, undisputed first choice for five seasons, missed the occasional game, Wales international Darren Ward then Scotland international Paul Gallacher deputised.
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Gallacher appeared to be Worthington's first choice at the start of last season, but Peter Grant's arrival as manager led to a goalkeeping version of the hokey-cokey as his fellow Scot - dropped three times and injured once - made way for loan quartet Jamie Ashdown, Lee Camp, David Marshall and Tony Warner.
There was still no opportunity for Lewis, despite his involvement at different age groups with England, and he was farmed out to Stockport on loan for the final month of last season, when missed out on a place in the League Two play-offs on goal difference.
The 22-year-old Marshall's return from Celtic on a full-time basis in the summer made him the automatic first choice, and on current form no one would dispute that, but the fact that 25-year-old Matthew Gilks had also been signed on a free transfer from Rochdale before Marshall completed his move left Lewis at number three in the pecking order yet again.
For that reason, Grant allowed Lewis to join Morecambe on loan until New Year's Eve. It was just his luck that when Gilks was ruled out of action last month by an ankle ligament injury that required surgery, any hope Lewis may have had of returning to Norwich as number two was dashed because the terms of his loan did not allow it. It was an agreement that dismayed new manager Glenn Roeder, who has named 18-year-old 'keeper Steve Arnold on the bench as cover for Marshall in the last two games.
On the very day that Lewis might have been back on the bench for City's Championship home match against Coventry, Murphy's Law dictated that he was instead picking up his second nasty injury in a matter of weeks, suffering a broken nose in a brilliant man of the match display for Morecambe.
He was said to be “looking more like boxer Joe Louis” than Joe Lewis after his bravery helped the Shrimps to a 2-1 home win over Bury in League Two last Saturday.
Already wearing Petr Cech-style protective headgear after having 20 stitches in the horrific facial injury he suffered in a collision with Rotherham's Chris O'Grady in October, he was struck accidentally by Bury's Andy Mangan, but refused to leave the pitch and went on to make a string of fine late saves.
It was his latest impressive performance in a run of first team games that included Morecambe's shock Carling Cup win at Wolves.
Morecambe boss Sammy McIlroy, the former Northern Ireland international, has said he is eager to extend Lewis' loan until the end of the season and has contacted the Canaries with such a request.
“We would love to keep the big lad. He has been absolutely fantastic for us. I think he is going to go to the top, I really do. He has got the right attitude, he is still learning - but he wants to learn,” said McIlroy.
“We missed him when he was out because he has been superb for us,” said McIlroy, who said Lewis was currently his clear number one choice. The boy from Broome admitted this week: “I've loved my time here, apart from the bruises, but I'm a Norwich player and I want to play for Norwich. But if the opportunity isn't there at Norwich, I'd love to stay at Morecambe, certainly until the end of the season.”
McIlroy's wish looks set to be denied, however, with Roeder revealing in his Norwich Evening News column yesterday that he wants to bring Lewis back to the club when the loan runs out.
Lewis was at Blackpool, just down the road from Morecambe, to watch City's 3-1 Championship win on Tuesday night and meet up with the squad and his new manager.
Roeder said: “He does see himself as a Norwich City player first and foremost and he wanted to be with the team. I like that sort of attitude because that's what he is - a Norwich City player.
“In my own mind I want to bring him back in the New Year because I have not had a chance to see him in action yet and I want to see what he is like.”
With Marshall the man in possession and the man in form, and Gilks likely to recover sooner than originally expected, patience will again be the watchword for Lewis. But with men of the stature of Pearce and McIlroy singing his praises, the evidence suggests that Roeder will not be disappointed in what he sees. And when his opportunity finally comes, Lewis will not be found wanting.