Norwich City show that they’re a match for anybody
I doubt that even the most resolute of Cardiff City supporters would deny that a share of the spoils was the very least the Canaries deserved last Saturday.
The manner of Norwich’s performance and particularly the way they continually took the game to their opponents showed there is a confidence among the players, and that they know they are more than a match for any team in this division if they play to their potential.
It was a cracking game of football, and one that developed end-to-end in spells as Cardiff looked to hit City with pace on the break whenever they managed to break up Norwich’s attacks.
As the game progressed, though, Norwich’s dominance became apparent, and it meant that the visitors were afforded less and less of the ball.
It was similar to New Year’s Day when City did likewise to league leaders Queens Park Rangers.
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In truth, City did enough to have won three or four games last week.
The never-say-die spirit and winning mentality that has enabled the Canaries to force themselves over the finishing line on many occasions this season came to the fore once again.
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But arguably just as important as the fact that City managed to put another precious point on the board, to stay in contention at the business end of the Championship table, was that they underlined the fact they have got stronger and stronger as the season progresses, in terms of results and performances.
That’s just one defeat now in the last 12 league games for the Canaries.
There will be a few ups and downs between now and the end of the season, and many tough tests to overcome – none more so than these next two matches away to Sheffield United and Crystal Palace, who are fighting for their lives. But the comforting thought is that whatever challenges City might face they are more than adequately equipped to deal with them.
• Russell Martin has simply got better and better since he joined the Canaries from Peterborough three years ago. The City right-back has caught the eye with some terrific displays this season, and he has regularly provided a solid and reliable presence from a defensive perspective, while offering a genuine attacking threat down the right flank. He has developed into one of the best full-backs in the Championship.
• BELLAMY – HE ALWAYS GIVES YOU BIT EXTRA
Many of you that were inside the stadium early enough last Saturday would have noticed that Craig Bellamy seemed reluctant to leave the pitch after the Cardiff players had completed their pre-match warm-up.
While the rest of his team-mates were heading back to the away team dressing room to put their shinpads on and ready themselves for the match, Craig grabbed a bag of balls and promptly started practising free-kicks into an empty net from various distances.
They were all rubbish, by the way, and he’d have been just a tad embarrassed with himself!
To anyone that knows Bellars though, it wasn’t surprising – his enthusiasm, that is, not his lack of quality from the deadball situation.
When he began his career at Norwich, he was exactly the same, and he’d often be the first player out on training pitches in the morning and also regularly be the last one to leave them.
He’d be happy to join anyone who was doing a bit extra when normal training had finished, and many a time I remember Bruce Rioch having to send one of the apprentices out to tell him that he had to finish practising and come back inside for his own good.
He’d eat, sleep and drink football, and he amazed me one day with his football knowledge.
I was reading a newspaper, and he came over and asked me to test him on – as he put it – “anything to do with football, because I know most of it.” (Shy, unassuming young lad who was lacking in confidence was Bellars!)
Fair enough, I thought. So I turned to the European section and asked him to name the league leaders in the various European leagues.
I kid you not, he confidently rattled off the top four teams in the table in every European league. Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium – the lot. Do you know who the top four are in the Belgian league right now for example? No, me neither.
But he was determined to be the best player he possibly could, and would put in the hours of practice and study in order that he would do that. Maybe he’s not been the ideal role model for younger players in some respects, but in terms of being dedicated and determined to improve, I can think of few better examples.
• WHEN IT PAYS TO TURN YOUR BACK ON THE AUDIENCE
I was intrigued by Leicester forward Paul Gallagher’s penalty-taking technique during the FA Cup third round replay against Manchester City on Tuesday night.
When Gallagher put the ball on the spot he then stood directly behind the ball with his back to goal while waiting for the referee to blow his whistle.
And when the referee did, he took four or five measured strides away from the ball, before turning and running up and smashing the ball into the net. I’ve never seen that technique before, but it was interesting in that it tied in with a study concerning penalty-taking that I read last summer that had been compiled by some analysts who obviously had too much time on their hands.
They’d calculated that over the past 20 years or so there was a distinct difference between the success rate of penalty takers who turned their back on the goalkeeper when they were pacing their run-up and those who put the ball on the spot but then backed away from the ball while still facing him.
They reckoned it had something to with psychology and the fact that turning your back on the ‘keeper not only shows confidence but also prevents him from giving you the eye, in order to gain a psychological advantage. Bruce Grobbelaar and that European Cup final penalty shoot-out springs to mind here.
Incredibly, the success rate for those who turn their back on the goalkeeper was something like 88 per cent, while for those who remained face-to-face with him it was as low as 60 per cent. That really is as a staggering difference.
As it happened, I always used to turn my back on the goalkeeper during my penalty-taking routine, although I didn’t do so intentionally for any particular reason. It was just the way I did it. It was how it felt best at the time. But looking back now it does make me wonder.
It’s got to be worth thinking about.
So if you’re a penalty taker and you’re playing either tomorrow or on Sunday morning, it might be worth giving it a go!