Lambert brings us tidings of comfort, joy and points
Remember those days when Norwich City were absolutely rubbish at Christmas?
Every year we’d look forward to a busy period of festive treats, only for it to turn out to be as disappointing as those nine pairs of socks from your mum, cunningly wrapped in weird and wonderful ways in an attempt to look exciting on Christmas Day.
It was normally the festive period and beyond in which hopes and dreams of Canary success quickly faded away.
Even in our most successful season ever, 1992/93, our three festive games ended in a loss to Ipswich and two 0-0 draws, seriously denting any remaining hopes we could last the course at the top of what was then the Premiership.
But if there’s one man you can count on to turn this around and shatter that long lasting tradition, it’s Paul Lambert.
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While five points from the four games before and after Christmas may not initially seem like an outstanding return, delve a little deeper and I think it is.
As far as objective number one goes, avoiding relegation, we’re now closer to achieving this than we were going into Wolves away.
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We started that day in ninth place with 20 points, and seven points clear of the bottom three. And as of the time of writing we’re now in ninth place, with 25 points and nine clear of relegation.
It may be the same gap, but there are fewer games for our rivals to catch us up. Compare this season’s haul to our last three relegation seasons – 1995/1996, 2004/05 and 2008/09 – and it’s an improvement on each one.
In fact, the last time we were relegated from the Premier League, Nigel Worthington’s men could manage only a paltry point from the four games in the weeks before and after December 25. Even Glenn Roeder managed three more than that.
However, since joining the club, Lambert has more than exorcised those festive frighteners and has a combined record of played 11, won seven, drawn three, and lost only one. That works out as 24 points.
But is it just luck or has he found the magic key to getting through what is traditionally such a tough time?
As with everything our ever improving manger does, it’s more by design than by luck – much more. Partly it goes back to that adage of his that it is a squad game and about more than just the first XI.
Lambert and his team have never been afraid to change things around and only rarely does it seem to come back and bite them.
A staggering 20 members of our 25-man squad were used in these four Christmas period games. That doesn’t half show how deep this squad goes.
And, what’s more, there are two other traits that served Lambert so well in the lower leagues that continue to do so in this one.
The first is an ability to pick up points when we are not necessarily playing at our peak. There’s no way Fulham or QPR were vintage shows, but four points from them was a fantastic return.
Exactly the same was said of so many key victories during the tough winter months of last season.
The second factor contributes to this and it is the fact that even when he changes a side before the game, he is not afraid to shake things up again mid-match if things aren’t going to plan.
Against Wolves, Simeon Jackson scored with one of his first few touches.
In the Fulham match it was plain to see how important the introduction of Jackson, Grant Holt and Elliott Bennett was.
Yet for me the three substitutions on Monday were even more vital because it was a time when, despite QPR having been reduced to 10 men, we looked the least likely to score.
Wes Hoolahan, Steve Morison and David Fox came on and pretty soon that started to change.
In spite of all this there’s one festive tradition we continue to struggle to avoid: this was the third time in a row we have played Tottenham in the top fight directly after Christmas and lost 2-0.
That’s fine, though, because it leaves Lambert with something left to achieve next season.
• What a difference Twitter has made to football. It used to be that, if it was a Saturday at least, once you’d bought the Pink Un that was your football fix until Match of the Day came on. On Monday, though, the after-match drama was almost as exciting as the game itself. On the pitch? Soft sending off, but Bradley Johnson did little wrong in his reaction, where others would have flung themselves to the ground. Off it, neither Joey Barton, Johnson or Neil Warnock covered themselves in glory. Barton whinged for England, Warnock labelled Johnson a cheat and Johnson, attending the darts finals, was shown with a placard berating Barton’s breath, ill thinking rather than a heinous crime.
• My relationship with the FA Cup resembles one of those people who keeps going back to a loved one despite their repeated infidelity. You think this time it’s going to be different, better than the last, yet so often it is not. But once again the third round tingle is back again and Saturday’s ticket has long been purchased. Please can we have a run this year? Even if it’s just to the fourth round.
• Those fans berating Steve Morison for his performances against Spurs and Fulham may be interested to know that, judging by the stats, his contribution was little different to that against Newcastle, Arsenal and Blackburn, in all of which he scored. Similar number of shots, chances created, headers won and tackles made, only the goals massively different. As far as I’m concerned, his talent and potential isn’t in doubt – but being constructively-critical it would be good to see him more heavily involved in games – something which I’m sure the many analysts at Carrow Road have already picked up on.
• Managed to catch a fantastic lower league game over Christmas between Northampton Town and Burton Albion, which the Brewers won 3-2. It didn’t half bring home the difference in standard compared to what we are witnessing at the moment; there were mistakes everywhere in a league just one below where we recently were. Also hard to imagine players like Holt, Morison, Johnson, Crofts et al at that level now.