Not very pretty, City, but pretty effective

Chris Lakey Norwich City 2, Tranmere Rovers 0: Patience is a virtue, someone said a long time ago - presumably long before Wes Hoolahan was around. But the little midfielder showed it in abundance on Saturday as he found his every move blocked by the Tranmere tactic of 'parking the bus' - which entailed putting nine outfield players, and occasionally striker Michael Ricketts, behind the ball in an attempt to suffocate City.

Chris Lakey

Patience is a virtue, someone said a long time ago - presumably long before Wes Hoolahan was around.

But the little midfielder showed it in abundance on Saturday as he found his every move blocked by the Tranmere tactic of “parking the bus” - which entailed putting nine outfield players, and occasionally striker Michael Ricketts, behind the ball in an attempt to suffocate City.

Some teams throw their toys out of the pram, become frustrated and irrational in the face of such tactics: others wait and wait for the breakthrough to come. And when it does, they grab it with both hands.


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Which is why Hoolahan's patience - and, it has to be said, that of the rest of his team-mates - was so vital at the weekend.

Hoolahan is the master planner. It's him who generally dictates when play is switched; it's him who spots the runs from Grant Holt and Chris Martin, the overlaps by Jon Otsemobor and Adam Drury, the support from Darel Russell behind, and Simon Lappin and Korey Smith closer. It's Hoolahan who pulls the strings - quite rightly, because he has a wealth of talent.

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Stifle him and you tend to stifle a lot of what is good about City. Fortunately, it doesn't take away the resolve, or the patience.

The price of success for City at the moment is the prospect of facing teams with few ambitions, few expectations and just a smidgeon of hope that their tactics might produce a point, or even three.

Tranmere were a good example, even though they had a fright or two up their sleeves. The excellent Chris Shuker was their version of Hoolahan and saw Fraser Forster turn a shot around the post and, just before City scored from the penalty spot, poked one against a post. Perhaps he should have shot in the first half rather than cross for Paul McLaren who, with Gary Doherty challenging, forced Forster into a superb reaction save.

If, buts and maybes - the fact is that once again, it wasn't pretty by City, just effective. Patience and the ability to avoid frustration - a virtue that was also shared by City's second biggest crowd of the season, 25,025.

Expect more of the same: the more games City win the more often they will be faced by this sort of approach and the less attractive it will be - until that final whistle when the points are in the bag and it doesn't really matter.

The theory may be that if poorer teams come and shut up shop, then half decent teams will be a little more ambitious.

Oldham, Yeovil and Huddersfield ought to be more offensively-minded and while they will be a tougher proposition, they might be more appetising for the casual punter to watch.

City camped around the visitors' area in the opening stages, with Tranmere taking a matter of minutes to retreat into their shells. Doherty played as high up the pitch as is possible for a centre half, within touching distance of Russell and Co.

But with congestion in that third of the pitch, there are few places to go. The bus is parked, and when you try to go round it there are people in the way. Jon Otsemobor and, in particular, Drury did well enough, but it was slide rule stuff to try and get them a yard of space behind a full-back.

Grant Holt had been named Coca-Cola League One player of the month, but didn't quite have the same fizz about him: he saw one header blocked by Ian Goodison - Tranmere's best defender - and put another one over.

A skiddy surface and the swirling wind didn't help anyone, and after the frights of the first half, City began to chip away at Tranmere's resistance: all that chasing at the back had taken its toll. Shuker was dangerous, but not as effective.

He jinked away from Otsemobor and Korey Smith put when Forster spread his huge frame, could only hit the post with his shot. And that was Tranmere's lot - you sense it took the last little bit of hope away.

Within minutes City were ahead: Drury's low cross from the left was blocked by John Welsh. Drury saw the rebound heading his way and his run into the area going, striking a right-foot shot that was certainly on target, its path blocked by the arm of Welsh, who appeared to turn his back on the ball.

It's a cardinal sin: and while it maybe wasn't deliberate it did give Tranmere an advantage in that it prevented a goalbound shot.

Referee Darren Deadman thought so, and after the fuss died down, Hoolahan stepped up and put it just beyond the reach of keeper Luke Daniels, in the bottom right-hand corner.

City were passing the ball more quickly on the slippery surface, Tranmere unable to match them stride for stride, and never threatened for the rest of the game.

Drury was enjoying lots of space down the left, Lappin's passing was much improved and all the while Holt and Chris Martin were hanging around waiting for a chance to strike the killer second.

It came 10 minutes from time when Lappin took a leaf out of fellow left-footer Drury's book and used his right to good effect, putting in a cross which two Tranmere defenders failed to cut out as it skidded six yards in front of goal.

Hoolahan was at the back, midway into the area. He could have squared it right to Martin, but took and extra second and saw Doherty standing within yards of the goal, and slipped the ball to the big man who clipped it past Daniels from close range for his first of the season.

It was a quality goal, all three players involved using the ball well.

Martin could have made it worse after Hoolahan set him up for a one-on-one against the keeper as the match moved into time added one, but, having gone round Daniels, could only find the side netting.

He was a little unfortunate moments later when his header from Lappin's cross was tipped over, but the youngster missed the chance to move into double figures.

The goal scoring charts are a nice side story to what's happening at Carrow Road.

Holt looks set for a 20-plus haul this season, while Martin is only four behind his tally of 13 for Luton last season, the most productive of his short career.

Then there's Hoolahan who has now scored eight from his attacking midfield role and should be able to beat the 10 he notched for Blackpool in 2006-07 - when he helped them to promotion to the Championship.

It's healthy competition - and if it brings promotion, the patience will be worth it.

t PLAYER RATINGS

Fraser Forster 7

Made a superb save before City had scored, and wasn't too shabby with one or two other stops as well. Otherwise fairly quiet.

Jon Otsemobor 7

Not easy to use his pace and bomb forward against a packed defence, but contributed well at both ends of the pitch.

Gary Doherty 8

Solid in the air, but made some telling passes as well. Maybe denied Rovers a goal, and scored one to rub it in.

Jens Berthel Askou 7

Didn't do much wrong at all. Quick into the tackle and seems to thrive on doing simple things well.

Adam Drury 7

Quality performance: crosses from attacking positions were good, and he was instrumental in winning the penalty.

Korey Smith 6

Disciplined. Stuck at it when there was no place to run to. Couple of efforts on goal show his confidence.

Darel Russell 6

Admirable stuff in the teeth of a storm and a packed midfield where he had little time to rest in possession. Quietly efficient.

Simon Lappin 7

His accuracy with his left foot was wasted a couple of times, but did well to help set up the second goal - with his right.

Wes Hoolahan 7

Perhaps not as influential - but then you realise he scored one, made the other and was involved in even more chances.

Chris Martin 6

Won't be happy that he failed to score late on when two chances came his way, but put in a good shift on the front line.

Grant Holt 6

Couple of headers went close, one blocked, one over. But on a day of few clear-cut chances he missed out for a change.

t SCORERS

Norwich: Hoolahan (pen, 61), Doherty (80)

t MAN OF THE MATCH

Gary Doherty

t ATTENDANCE

25,025

t REFEREE

Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire).

t YELLOW CARDS

Tranmere: Welsh (foul on Russell, 17), Goodison (dissent, 62)

t ADDED TIME

1 min / 3 mins

t MATCH STATS

Shots on:

Norwich 4, Tranmere 2

Shots off:

Norwich 9, Tranmere 1

Fouls:

Norwich 5, Tranmere 8

Corners:

Norwich 12, Tranmere 5

Offsides:

Norwich 2, Tranmere 1

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