Norwich City’s ability to cope with the mounting pressure is key
With just a dozen games left a new factor comes into play that will help determine which teams will win the race for the top six spots in the Championship come May 7.
Until now success on the field of play has largely been determined by four factors; who has got the best and biggest squad, the most talented players, who suffers the fewest injuries and who enjoys most of the luck.
But the Championship winners and losers will also be largely determined by how well each squad can cope with the P-word between now and the end of the season.
And I don’t mean promotion – I mean pressure.
It is true of not just football, but any sport, that a successful team or individual is not just those possessing the most talent, but also the ability to cope with pressure.
It’s all well and good being able to deliver the goods on an average Tuesday in November night when it appears that little is at stake, but what use is talent if you fall to pieces the moment it really matters?
It’s an accusation levelled at many an England player in recent years. They can dish out infamous thrashings to the likes of Germany and Croatia in the qualifying rounds, but when it really matters, whether it be a quarter-final or a penalty shoot-out, they simply wilt, and with it so do our nation’s chances of success.
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And from this moment on the Norwich City squad will be asked to prove that they can stand the heat of the battle.
We have already seen evidence in the past few weeks that pressure levels have risen within Carrow Road.
Had Norwich drawn 1-1 with Doncaster way back in September, when we were all just glad to be back in the Championship, I’m pretty sure the reaction from the fans would have been different to that of last Tuesday. And I don’t just mean the booing at the end of the game by the ignorant minority, but also the lack of atmosphere created during it. Success breeds expectation, which breeds pressure and last Tuesday too many fans within the ground simply expected us to win.
That’s why they sang little and that’s why some reacted in such a way when the final whistle blew.
As far as that game was concerned the players couldn’t quite match up to that increased expectation and increased pressure.
They certainly put that right just a few days later at Barnsley however. Fortunately, many of the current squad have been here before and dealt with the increased pressure.
Twelve months ago in fact when Norwich needed those final few wins to secure promotion back to the Championship.
However, this time round the stakes are much, much bigger – �90m bigger to be precise.
And it has to be said there are also a large proportion of players within the squad that won’t have been here before – that’s one of the by-products of the manager’s habit of signing players with potential from the league below.
However, as far as pressure is concerned we have, in our very own manager, someone who has been here many times before – and proven to be up to the task in hand. You don’t, after all, play in the Glasgow derby, win a Champions League medal and four Scottish Premier League titles if you don’t know how to deal with pressure.
In fact as far as pressure is concerned Paul Lambert has been there, done that and could probably write the book. We have to have confidence then that in bringing together this team Lambert has signed players who not only know how to play, but also have the character to keep a level head when the hopes and dreams of thousands depend on your actions.
And we must hope the Norwich squad possesses the same traits that Lambert himself was blessed with during his own illustrious playing career.
• FIVE OF THE REST
1. A big thank you to Mrs Coe for sending me a newspaper cutting which she found which shows that Paul Lambert is not the first City manager to boss a team of late show specialists. She wrote: “This could almost be a write-up from one of this season’s games. The only difference is this season it’s Paul Lambert’s team and then it was another great manager, Mike Walker.” The season in question was one of Norwich’s greatest ever, 1992/93, as this season would be if we were to go up.
2. So often, and so unlike many managers in recent times, Lambert has proven to be someone who says all the right things. There have been two more examples in recent weeks. His message to Chris Martin following his court misdemeanours, basically summed up as “I’m backing you but only so far” was absolutely spot on. Meanwhile, the potential banana skin of how to react to those ridiculous boos last Tuesday was also masterfully handled. He said just enough to let the fans know he wasn’t best pleased, but you could also tell he appreciates just who it is that pays the wages.
3. In a previous column, I called last weekend’s two-goal hero Andrew Crofts “the Championship’s Steven Gerrard” and a couple of work colleagues could not contain their sniggers. But the way he bursts around the pitch, gets stuck in to tackles and so often finds himself in scoring positions, surely shows that the comparison runs true.
4. On the subject of Crofts, what an achievement it would be if he could get two more league goals between now and the end of the season to make it double figures. You want proof of how good an achievement this would be? Well the last out-and-out midfielder to reach such a landmark in the league was Neil Adams in 1996/7 (Before anyone asks I’m not counting Paul McVeigh, Darren Huckerby, Wes Hoolahan and Darren Eadie as out and out midfielders).
5. My campaign for us to sign Peterborough striker Craig Mackail-Smith has happily gathered momentum in the past few weeks, with fellow Archant hack Chris Lakey now championing the cause as well as a few well-informed posters on pinkun.com. Much to the irritation of a Posh-loving pal I’m adamant he would do an awesome job alongside Grant Holt and, while it’s easy to say these things in hindsight, if we had just signed him pre-season he may have proven to be the missing link that we have been searching for up front.