Norwich City are winning the battle with the weekly ‘grind’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A few weeks ago I was deeply concerned about Norwich City, as I could see a very long, hard, struggling season ahead.
After the defeats at Villa Park and The Den the team looked a million miles away from a top-six finish.
However, after what can only be described as a belter of a result on Tuesday night at The Riverside where, similar to Bramall Lane nearly two weeks ago, one goal was enough to give Daniel Farke and his players all three points.
The change in this team is quite simple extraordinary, going from one that had the second worst defensive record after the Millwall game to one that’s kept five clean sheets in a row – and, believe you me, that takes some doing. In my 750-plus games I don’t think I’ve been involved in a team that’s achieved that.
From a club that was dropping like a stone towards the basement of the Championship, Norwich City are now play-off hopefuls and, yes, I know there’s a long way still to go, but the signs are good. Having won two games on the road against two very good sides in Sheffield United and Middlesbrough this will really make heads turn in this division.
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When I first moved to Leicester and won promotion, the nickname we gave ourselves as a team was “the grinders” because on so many occasions we had to roll up our sleeves and grind results out – exactly what Norwich have done this month. It is a great sign that maybe when you’re not at your best you can still win ugly, and, no, you don’t win any extra points for over-entertaining.
On Saturday at the Madejski Stadium gives the lads the chance to win their fourth consecutive away game. Just stop and think for one minute – Norwich won only FIVE away games in the whole of last season! This just shows that Farke and his players are learning, and learning fast, about life in the Championship, something that pleases all of us.
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I’ve got some memorable memories from playing at the Madejski for City – and some not-so-memorable from my season with Gillingham.
We all remember that brilliant night in April 2004 when Phil Mulryne’s 86th-minute winner in front of 4,000 Norwich fans won us the game and put us within touching distance of the Premier League. However, I doubt any of you will remember Reading v Gillingham back in September 2004 – and let’s be honest, why should you?!
I didn’t like being substituted, no player does, but I have to say when I was taken off at half-time at the Madejski when we were 3-0 down it came with a huge sigh of relief from me as I really didn’t want to go back out for the second half. Dave Kitson had scored a hat-trick – two of which came from the penalty spot – in 28 minutes and I’d had no influence whatsoever in the opening 45 minutes.
Anyway, we got into the changing room when our manager Andy Hessenthaler pulled me and Wayne Jones, his assistant, into the shower room for a chat before talking to the players. It was as clear as day he wanted to take me off, but he didn’t like to just come out with it as we were really close and good friends. He said to Wayne and I that he needed to get big Mamady Sidibe up front, but didn’t want to take Darren Byfield, my striking partner, off, which left me as his only other option to make way for Mama.
I could tell that Hessy felt so uncomfortable and I didn’t want him to as decisions have to be made and I’d never have fallen out with him about being taking me off, especially when I was having one! It all went quiet in the shower room for a few seconds until I suggested to Andy and Wayne that I didn’t mind making way for Sidibe as we really needed an injection of pace up front and it clearly wasn’t going to happen while I was on the field.
The relief on Hessy’s face that I’d taken the decision out of his hands told me everything: I’d got him out of a sticky position, but I didn’t do it for just him. I did it for myself as much as I did it for Andy as my desire and enthusiasm had gone and the last thing I wanted to do was to go back out. We won the second half 1-0, which shows I was right in sacrificing myself!