Injuries could turn season into lottery
DAVID CUFFLEY Do you have a pen and paper handy? Then make a note of the following numbers . . . 1, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 19. No, they're not my predictions for next week's score draws on the coupon.
Do you have a pen and paper handy? Then make a note of the following numbers . . . 1, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 19.
No, they're not my predictions for next week's score draws on the coupon. Nor are they a short cut to untold millions in the National Lottery.
These are the shirt numbers currently unclaimed in the Norwich City first team squad.
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In spite of the Canaries' impressive start to the Coca-Cola Championship season - and the style of their football has been as pleasing as the results - there has to be a nagging concern over just how thin that squad is beginning to look.
The August departures of England goalkeeper Robert Green and unhappy striker Leon McKenzie have left further gaps in the list in a year when City have been shedding players at an average of roughly one per month.
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Jason Jarrett, Dean Ashton, Jim Brennan, Darren Ward and Simon Charlton have all headed for the exit since the turn of the year and, while it could be argued that only Ashton would be likely to figure in manager Nigel Worthington's current first-team plans had he stayed, there is an alarming shortage of experienced cover in most departments.
More than once this summer, Worthington has reminded us that it is a squad game these days and that no side has ever gone through a season with the same 11 players, but at the moment he must be praying that he can, by some miracle, do just that.
The consequences of a serious injury to any of his senior players - but especially Paul Gallacher, Adam Drury or Robert Earnshaw - are too grim to contemplate.
There is no reason to suppose that Joe Lewis would not make an able deputy for Gallacher should the need arise. He will be 19 next month, the same age at which Green made his debut against Ipswich, but who sits on the bench if he has to make the step up to first-team football?
Drury, too, would be a difficult man to replace and every time he goes into one of those thudding tackles, Worthington must have his fingers crossed in his pockets. The City skipper is as brave as they come, but he took a couple of fearful blows against Luton. Charlton and Brennan provided cover for that role last season, but forcing Jürgen Colin to play at left-back, as he did in the pre-season game against Newcastle, would not really be the answer, especially as he is currently doing a sound job on the opposite flank.
Earnshaw's presence is equally essential if City are to maintain the momentum they have built up in the first month of the campaign and one wonders what attacking option Worthington would favour if the Wales international was sidelined for any reason, with his logical deputy until now, McKenzie, having departed on deadline day.
I've always been a fan of McKenzie the player for his unstinting workrate and his tendency to rise to the big occasion with a vital goal.
A memorable double on debut at Ipswich and a late flurry of goals in City's ultimately vain bid to stave off relegation from the Premiership, notably against Chelsea and Manchester United, will no doubt provide special memories for the 28-year-old striker. And, like most of his colleagues, he will not forget the scenes in Norwich city centre that greeted their Nationwide League title triumph two years ago.
But the near three-week saga that preceded his exit on Thursday was an unedifying spectacle.
To lodge a transfer request with only three Championship matches gone suggests that it wasn't just first-team football McKenzie was desperately seeking.
With that August 31 deadline looming, there must have been pressing financial or personal reasons for what chief executive Neil Doncaster described as “the intensity of Leon's desire to get away from Norwich”.
Whether a regular first-team place is any more likely for him at the Ricoh Arena remains to be seen, but at least City have seen to it that they won't be on the receiving end if and when he rediscovers his scoring touch.
Unless, of course, the two sides are drawn together in the third round of the FA Cup.
t Canaries are hit for six
Norwich City 0, Sunderland 6
Don't worry, it's not a spot of crystal ball gazing ahead of the two sides' Championship meeting at Carrow Road in November, just the number of signings made by the respective clubs on transfer deadline day.
While Nigel Worthington was thwarted in his efforts to part with the proceeds of the Green and McKenzie deals by the late collapse of his £2m deal for Bristol City's David Cotterill, Roy Keane was happily snapping up half a dozen new faces in a single day, just 48 hours after taking over as manager at Sunderland - even plundering one of them, Dwight Yorke, from the other side of the world at Sydney FC.
While Yorke, Graham Kavanagh, Ross Wallace, Stanislav Varga, Liam Miller and former City target David Connolly are all heading for the Stadium of Light, Worthington is left to ponder his loan options until January.
Sunderland now have 32 senior professionals on the payroll, but if there is as much transfer paperwork to complete as Neil Doncaster described in his diary of this week's Cotterill and McKenzie saga, one wonders how they found enough staff to fill in all the forms.
t Much to admire in Germany
My son and I swapped the Championship for the Bundesliga during our family holiday in Germany, taking in last Saturday's VfB Stuttgart v Borussia Dortmund match.
Dortmund won 3-1 and it was hardly a classic, but as World Cup fans discovered, there is much to admire in the German football experience.
Ticket prices compare favourably with England - certainly with some of the ludicrous Premiership admission charges - with the best seats in the house about £30 and other sections a good deal cheaper. The ticket also covers the cost of travel to the game within a certain radius, mostly by S-Bahn (tube), where fans of both clubs sat happily side by side in a manner that reminded me of City and Sunderland supporters mingling on the Underground before and after the Milk Cup final.
Glossy A4 match programmes are also free, stacked inside the turnstiles for fans to help themselves to as many as they can carry.
But pre-match music is, perhaps, more eccentric than that which thunders out at Carrow Road.
Clips of Brazilian striker Cacau on the big screen were accompanied by the 1971 Sweet hit “Co-co”, while Stuttgart's only goal was greeted by a rousing rendition of something to the tune of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.
Do not mock. This is a nation where Roger Whittaker and Nana Mouskuri still appear on prime time TV on a Saturday night.