Practice makes for pitch perfect result
DAVID CUFFLEY Simon Lappin's first goal for Norwich City, three minutes into stoppage time at Luton on Tuesday night, not only clinched a vital Championship victory for the Canaries.
Simon Lappin's first goal for Norwich City, three minutes into stoppage time at Luton on Tuesday night, not only clinched a vital Championship victory for the Canaries. It signalled that they are, perhaps, at last getting their act together from set-pieces.
For much of this season, the Canaries' efforts from dead-ball situations, especially corners, have ranged from innocuous to downright wasteful.
How many times have we seen corners that failed to even reach the near post or clear the first man, or free-kicks knocked far too long or even straight out of play without a hint of anyone getting on the end of them?
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Well, perhaps that is beginning to change.
Starting with Youssef Safri curling in a direct free-kick in the home game against Plymouth, City seem to have rediscovered the art of making set-piece opportunities count.
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Dion Dublin scored following a corner against Leeds, Jason Shackell headed his first goal for the club from Mark Fotheringham's near-post corner at Preston, and Shackell glanced the finest of headers in from Youssef Safri's free-kick at Luton - before having a header from a corner cleared off the line in stoppage time.
Then Lappin delivered the most memorable goal of the lot at Kenilworth Road when he curled a sweet left-footer out of reach of 'keeper Marlon Beresford.
Of course, the Canaries have not been without their free-kick specialists down the years, though the passage of time may have embellished their achievements in our own minds.
There is no doubt that men like Graham Paddon, Martin Peters, Ian Crook and Phil Mulryne scored some wonderful goals from free-kicks, but whether they pulled one out of the bag more than two or three times a season - if that - is debatable.
Paddon arguably had as much success as anyone. His most memorable efforts came in his first spell with the club, and I distinctly remember a left-foot cracker in the home game against Manchester City in 1972.
Peters, too, had that instinctive knowledge of just where to put one just out of the 'keeper's reach and a last-minute equaliser against his old club, Tottenham, in 1978 led to the description of him as City's “Time Lord”, still able to produce the old magic 12 years after his World Cup glory.
It's easy to overlook the fact that, in the same period, John Ryan, full-back turned midfielder, scored 27 goals for City in the space of 18 months and while many were penalties, there was the odd classic free-kick among them.
Crook, of course, had a happy knack of scoring against his old club, Tottenham, and one of his most spectacular free-kicks came at White Hart Lane in 1990 in a 2-1 defeat, the match tainted by Gary Lineker's “Hand of God” opening goal.
Pink 'Un columnist Neil Adams delivered a pretty mean free-kick in his day, to go with his many penalties, and Phil Mulryne's first goal for the club, from a dead-ball kick at Grimsby in 1999, earned early comparisons with his former Manchester United colleague, David Beckham.
Mulryne repeated the trick several times and was the last Canary to score from a direct free-kick, against Brighton in the FA Cup in January 2003, until Safri struck against Plymouth almost exactly four years later.
Now, with Safri, Lappin and Mark Fotheringham all capable of delivering that special moment, one would hope we do not have to wait so long in future.
Manager Peter Grant is certainly adamant that City are putting long hours in on the training ground to perfect their routines, whether it's his midfield men fine-tuning their shooting, or defenders attacking the ball with more conviction, as Shackell has demonstrated in recent weeks.
He said: “If you ask any footballer, whether it's at Manchester United or at Barcelona 'What's the worst part of your training?' they will probably say doing the set plays, because it's standing about time, moving people about and then let's go again, it's like take two, then take 27. Did we do it right?
“Me as a player, I didn't like it if I wasn't involved, but it's a massive, massive part of the game.
“The players are understanding that and getting their rewards now.
“And great credit to Martin Hunter and Jim Duffy, they've been working with the players to make sure they're doing them right.”
t MILLERS SUFFER A SENSE OF HUMOUR FAILURE OVER KNILL'S LOSING STREAK
Comedians in the boardroom are nothing new - and before anyone gets the wrong idea, I'm talking here about men like Tommy Trinder at Fulham or Eric Morecambe at Luton.
But I think we entered into new territory this week when the sacking of Rotherham United manager Alan Knill was followed by a statement from . . . the Chuckle Brothers.
Paul and Barry, pictured, moustachioed stars of children's TV and a successful stage show, are the new honorary presidents at Millmoor, and were quick to offer their commiserations to the departing boss. “Alan has done a great job in almost impossible circumstances and he is a good guy. But the team cannot carry on losing,” they said. There will certainly have to be “no slacking” if ex-Canary Mark Robins is to dig the Millers, hampered all season by a 10-point deduction, out of an almost hopeless position at the bottom of League One.
One wonders what Craig Fleming and on-loan Canary Ian Henderson will make of it all. But, as a fellow scribe in the Pink 'Un office observed this week, with a joke worthy of Chucklevision, the Millmoor board had little choice: “They probably got fed up with hearing Rotherham Knill.”