Lappin in wilderness despite much praise

David Cuffley When Simon Lappin headed south of the border to join Norwich City from St Mirren nearly two years ago, he may well have harboured an ambition to take the field one day for his new club against teams such as Chelsea and Arsenal.

David Cuffley

When Simon Lappin headed south of the border to join Norwich City from St Mirren nearly two years ago, he may well have harboured an ambition to take the field one day for his new club against teams such as Chelsea and Arsenal.

Chelsea was easily arranged. Midfielder Lappin had been with the Canaries less than three weeks when he played at Stamford Bridge against the then reigning Premiership champions in the FA Cup fifth round.

It was only his second game for City. And for a man whose debut at Carrow Road a fortnight earlier had come against another big name in Leeds United - admittedly fallen giants and heading for relegation to League One - it was not a bad introduction to English football.

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But a date with the Gunners took rather longer to arrange, and when it finally came this week, it was in less glamorous circumstances.

Lappin was the senior player - goalkeeper Stuart Nelson apart - in the otherwise very youthful City Reserves side that scored a resounding 4-2 victory at home to Arsenal's own youngsters in front of more than 7,000 fans on Tuesday night.

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The Scot's performance in giving a lead to City's brightest prospects in the friendly fixture earned special praise from manager Glenn Roeder, but his chance of a first team recall looks as remote as ever, even for a team lodged in the bottom six of the Championship this morning - two places lower, in fact, than when Lappin arrived in January of last year.

Roeder said yesterday he had congratulated Lappin for his contribution against Arsenal.

"I thought Simon's attitude was absolutely superb and I said that to him the next morning," said Roeder. "I shook his hand and said that was fantastic - not that I was surprised because he has maintained his dignity around Colney exceptionally well considering that he is not involved and is unlikely to be involved in the team.

"I would defend Simon Lappin right to the hilt if anyone was critical of him as a person. He's a real good guy, and he comes to training every day and he puts it in every day and you can see how he played against Arsenal's kids the other night. I thought he was excellent and he knocked in some wonderful balls, some lovely diagonal balls.

"But he knows his future's away from here. I am very surprised no one has come in to take him on loan - it just shows you the state of the game.

"I spoke to him the day before the Arsenal game and asked if he had heard anything and he's heard nothing at all. Whenever he has gone back to Scotland he's held his own in the team he has gone to. I believe it's simply the financial state that football finds itself in."

Despite the compliments, Roeder's comments make it fairly clear he does not plan to use the 25-year-old Lappin, whose contract runs out at the end of the season, except in a genuine emergency.

"While he's here everyone's got a chance, but he is down the pecking order," he said.

"We've got Ryan Bertrand and Adam Drury in front of him. If both of those weren't to be involved, then there is a possibility, but he's a fair way down the pecking order. Everyone knows what I think of Ryan, and Adam as well.

"But I believe in being fair and if someone does well, even if they're not in your plans, I think you have got to be big enough and be honest and say they did well, and he was terrific in the way that he helped those young players the other night and I was pleased for him."

Roeder made it plain long before the end of last season that Lappin did not figure in his first team plans, a judgment swiftly made on the basis of what he saw in his first three games as manager.

It all started brightly enough for Lappin in Roeder's first game when he was Sky TV's choice as man of the match in the East Anglian derby against Ipswich, but the 3-1 home defeat by Watford two days later proved a less happy 90 minutes. Then, like so many City players at Plymouth in Roeder's first away game, he suffered a miserable afternoon in the 3-0 defeat and has not been seen in the first team since.

In fairness, in all three of those games, Lappin played at left-back - not his best position - because of Drury's long-term knee injury.

But the arrival last season of left-sided trio Mo Camara, Ryan Bertrand and Matty Pattison effectively ended his hopes of a recall and, apart from being an unused substitute in the first two games of 2008, his name has not figured on the teamsheet since.

He spent the second half of last season on loan at Motherwell and scored a memorable winner against Celtic at Parkhead, but for the Canaries, he has been consigned to pre-season friendlies against non-League opposition and the occasional game in the reserves while Roeder has introduced a steady flow of new faces.

The "lovely left foot" that the manager has referred to more than once brought Lappin three goals - all of them beauties - in his 33 appearances for City, and it could be argued he delivers as good a dead-ball kick as anyone in the current side. On the down side, he admitted last year that he needed to beef up the physical side of his game, while critics condemned him for a lack of pace, something of a drawback for a player in a wide position, though it must be said some of City's best midfielders down the years bore little resemblance to Usain Bolt. Well, apart from the yellow top and green shorts.

Since the Canaries are committed to paying Lappin a decent wage until the end of the season, it is surprising - almost unprecedented at Norwich - for a player to be so publicly written out of the manager's plans with so much of his contract to run.

But, barring an unlikely change of mind from the manager, it seems the best he can hope for is another date with Chelsea - if Roeder can persuade Frank Arnesen, the Blues' director of scouting, to send his boys to Carrow Road for a bit of the Arsenal treatment.

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