Management magic is improving Norwich City players
Don’t get me wrong, I loved former City legend Darren Huckerby as much as the next Canaries fan, but there were a couple of things he just simply could not do.
You rarely saw him defend and you were even less likely to spot him head the ball.
In fact, such was the scarcity of a Hucks header that whenever he did head the ball an ironic cheer would sound out from the Barclay.
It didn’t matter of course because that wasn’t the role he played in the team and he had so many other dazzling skills that made him the great player he was.
We didn’t, after all, expect that Gary Doherty be able to dribble the ball 50 yards before curling it into the top corner.
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That said, I do wonder what impact current Norwich boss Paul Lambert and his coaching team would have had on those areas that were not Huckerby’s forte.
Because one thing that categorises their 18-month spell at the club so far is that they truly know how to get the best out of their players.
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In fact, it is even more than that. In many examples they are equipping players with skills they previously didn’t even possess.
And a couple of great examples of that are the two key players from Saturday’s draw against Cardiff – man of the match Wes Hoolahan and goalscorer Russell Martin.
When Hoolahan joined us from Blackpool it is probably fair to say that, just like Huckerby, neither tackling nor defending was his strong point.
Perhaps attempts had been made by previous managers to try and persuade both wingers to improve in this area and maybe the excuse had been that the more they defended the less they could attack.
However, in the case of Hoolahan this has proved to be anything but the case because 100 games on he not only continues to dictate much of Norwich’s attacking play, but he is also playing a defensive role too, getting in where it hurts and making tackles he simply would not have gone for when he joined.
I swear I even saw him head the ball at one point on Saturday.
Russell Martin, meanwhile, has come on leaps and bounds since his former club Peterborough United somewhat foolishly decided he wasn’t good enough for the Championship.
At times in League One he looked to be at his level, hitting too many stray passes and not getting forward enough to join in the attack.
This season, on the other hand, he is transformed. Without a doubt he is the most consistent player of the season.
He has pretty much managed to fit into his play the role of both an attacking right-midfielder and right-back. And he rarely seems out of position for either.
The same can be said of several other players to spend time working with Lambert and his team. For instance, the same that is said of Martin also applies to Adam Drury.
Elsewhere, centre-back Michael Nelson has massively developed his game and few would have thought when we signed him he would make the step up to the Championship. Initially midfielder David Fox looked way out of his depth at the heart of Norwich’s midfield and now he is the heart of midfield.
Andrew Crofts, Simon Lappin and Korey Smith have all noticeably improved after a spell under the management’s tutelage.
And of course Lambert and co have helped transform Grant Holt from a good lower league player into one of the most feared players in the league.
It is no wonder that just before Christmas current England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce was to be found praising the Canaries’ set-up and proclaiming that he would recommend a spell at the club to any of his players.
FIVE OF THE REST
1. Twenty games left – 60 points available, but how many of those will we need to secure automatic promotion or play-off places? Using the average points per game rate of the current second and sixth placed teams as a rough guide, we are looking at 79 points for top two and 75 for play-offs. So then, 10 wins, two draws and eight defeats could be enough for top two and nine wins, four draws and eight defeats for the top six. Put like that you’ve got to think either are more than achievable.
2. There are worse comparisons that could be made, granted, but at times on Saturday it was just like watching a Championship Arsenal. Great football, yes, but occasional over-elaboration and a sideways pass too many where a shot or cross would do.
3. Is there a better manager at substitutions than our own? We have had so many examples of inspired changes and Saturday’s was yet another. A few eyebrows were raised in the Barclay when Simon Lappin replaced Chris Martin with Simeon Jackson still on the bench, but the impact was instant with the left channel reopened as an option and Lappin contributing to the goal.
4. Fellow Gary “Ginger Pele” Doherty fans will be heartened to hear that he has already built up the same cult status at Charlton Athletic. A trip to London and a failure to convert my godson to the Canaries rather than Spurs, saw me head to White Hart Lane for the FA Cup tie. The Doc had a good game in general, making a few excellent blocks as well as nearly giving away the odd penalty or two of course. He was twice skinned by Jermain Defoe for the goals, but then he is not the first and won’t be the last. He even nearly scored with a header at the death. My favourite moment occurred when both sets of fans joined together for a rendition of “One Ginger Pele...” at the end of the game. I kid you not.
5. One of the trademarks of so many close games at Carrow Road in recent years is that come the end of the second half you can guarantee the atmosphere will build up a notch or too. Until the last-minute goal on Saturday this didn’t happen though and I think that had something to do with the over-zealous stewarding in the Barclay. I’m more than happy to be told in the first half and early second half of the game to sit down, but is there really a need to be enforcing the policy with 15 or 10 minutes left when the excitement is starting to build-up, as happened? The club needs to weigh up which is more important – a bouncing, fired-up crowd roaring the team on or one where everyone is sat politely on their seats, excitement dampened.