Norwich City touchline drama is compulsive viewing, too
As if the action on the pitch was not gripping enough at White Hart Lane on Monday, there is an added bonus for the written media, courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur.
Unlike most grounds in the Premier League, the Press seats at Spurs are located directly behind the two dug-outs and sitting there provides a fascinating insight into what managers, coaches, substitutes, support staff and – oh yes – the fourth official go through in the course of 90 minutes, plus the agonies of stoppage time.
Those supporters who sit in the front rows in the central part of the City Stand at Carrow Road for every home game probably have a pretty good idea of what I mean. I can remember sitting in a similar spot in the front row of the old Main Stand on one occasion in the 1970s when Ron Saunders watched from the bench as his Aston Villa side were getting hammered 5-3 by the Canaries. It was a colourful afternoon, and not just because the two sides were wearing yellow and green and claret and blue. Blue, in fact, was the dominant colour.
But at Tottenham, the bonus is that both sets of substitutes’ benches – luxury padded seats in this day and age – are the same side of the tunnel, so it is possible to gauge the mood of both management teams and observe the elation, agitation and fury in both camps from a few feet away.
The low elevation is not an ideal vantage point for watching the game, for what happens in the goalmouth is often viewed through a forest of bodies and legs. It was difficult to see what occurred in the Spurs penalty area for the first City goal in the few seconds between Anthony Pilkington harrying the ball away from Younes Kaboul and the same player tucking it into the net.
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But for drama and tension, it was compulsive viewing – like watching a football match and a manic stage show at the same time.
What stood out was just how much more involved in the action City manager Paul Lambert and assistant Ian Culverhouse appeared to be than their Tottenham counterparts.
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We often talk about fans or managers kicking every ball and Lambert was so animated he at times appeared to expend as much energy as his players, albeit without covering the same ground. The comparisons with Martin O’Neill are not misplaced.
His delight at Pilkington’s opening goal, his disbelief when a penalty was not awarded against Ledley King, his anger when Spurs equalised a few moments later, his frustration over Bradley Johnson’s second-half miss, his immediate concern over Aaron Wilbraham’s clash of heads – the physical and mental strain on the manager must be enormous. In addition, Culverhouse frequently leapt from his seat to bellow very specific instructions to players at set-pieces or during breaks in play.
It was all in marked contrast to the output from the Tottenham bench, where manager Harry Redknapp, assistant Kevin Bond, and coaches Joe Jordan and Clive Allen were in a more subdued and at times almost resigned mood.
Redknapp stood, hands in pockets, looking bemused by his team’s efforts, turning occasionally to his coaches to rant at his players’ errors or poor decision-making. Perhaps it was all good practice for the day he becomes England manager.
The other major player in this touchline drama was the fourth official, Phil Dowd. What a thankless job that is, acting as a sort of safety valve for the referee and taking the full force of the managers’ complaints about decisions on the field over which he has no control – such as referee Michael Oliver’s failure to award City one of two possible penalties.
Dowd had at least three visitors in the tunnel in the opening half-hour, but from our vantage point, he appeared to handle the protests calmly and with good humour. Doubtless fourth official Jon Moss had to do the same job for Dowd when he had one of those nights refereeing the Wigan v Manchester United game on Wednesday.
• IF SPURS HAVE A ROLLS-ROYCE, CITY HAVE AN ASTON MARTIN
At times you feel some columnists get a bit carried away.
Here’s a good example from next week’s edition of Radio Times: “Spurs, on form, delight the neutral. Gareth Bale, in flight, is as thrilling as Nijinsky (the man not the horse!); Luka Modric, as artful as Modric of Arthurian legend; Aaron Lennon, like quicksilver on the wing; Rafael van der Vaart a Rembrandt; and Kyle Walker, a Rolls-Royce at full-back. It’s wonderful stuff.”
A pity Stuart Hall was not at White Hart Lane on Monday. The Canaries might have had Red Rum, Merlin and Van Gogh in the same team – not forgetting Russell Aston Martin at full-back, of course.