Practice makes perfect for Lansbury
Ten days on, and people are still talking about that moment when Henri Lansbury steered the ball past the Millwall goalkeeper with virtually the last kick of the game to send a packed Carrow Road into raptures.
Not much has been said about his near-perfect free-kick, though, that led to Elliott Ward smashing the ball home to make his late winner possible.
Lansbury’s technique was impressive. For a right-footer, hitting the ball from right of centre when facing the goal isn’t the easiest of tasks. The on-loan Arsenal youngster, however, was good enough to deliver the goods.
Which brings me partly to the main point of this piece.
Because you don’t get to hit a free-kick like that purely by chance. It takes practice. Many hours of practice.
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I often say to our youth team players, if you’re not prepared to put those hours in on the training ground, don’t be surprised if your technique lets you down on match day.
There are many famous quotes from some of the sporting greats down the years alluding to this. From Gary Player’s “The more I practise, the luckier I get,” pearl of wisdom, to Ali’s, “The fight is won far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, on the road, in the gym; long before I dance under those lights.”
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The bit the paying public gets to see is merely the icing on the cake. Ninety-nine per cent of the “spade work” is done alone.
Many of you will fear where I’m going with this. “Adams is now going to bang on about all those free-kicks and penalties again, and his daily routine of practising after training had finished,” I can almost hear you thinking.
No need to worry.
But, and this really is the main bit, I suppose. Do teams or players practice enough?
When asked about his success-rate at free-kicks, the great Gianfranco Zola once said: “I put the success that I achieved down to five per cent skill and 95 per cent visualisation.” Meaning that his focus on seeing where the ball was going to go before he struck it was key to him scoring so often.
Now this is an altogether different debate. Incidentally, Jonny Wilkinson used the visualisation technique before striking all those penalty goals – That’s what he was doing when adopting that strange hands-clasped, semi-squatting position.
But – and far be it from me to question a legend like Zola’s rationale – I think he was wrong. OK, so I suppose I just did question him.
Because while his visualisation techniques would undoubtedly have improved his success rate, the primary reason why he became so proficient at the dead-ball situation was because of the many hours of practice that he dedicated to improving in the first place.
We constantly hear about how set pieces can be so crucial in determining results. Which indeed they are. Yet I wonder how many teams really work on them on a regular basis? And I mean, really work on them.
Do you know for example how many corner kicks on average it took for a goal to be scored at the World Cup last summer?
Seventy. That’s right. For every 70 corners taken, only one goal was scored. It’s almost unbelievable, but it’s true. And that’s at the highest level possible.
I know that Stoke work religiously on their set plays, and it’s no coincidence that they score such a big percentage of their goals from them.
Apart from Chris Martin, who has scored from one or two impressive efforts, Norwich have not really had another dead-ball specialist for quite some time now. So that Lansbury free-kick was like a breath of fresh air.
It’s no secret. Practice – or rather, perfect practice, that is – makes perfect.
• NO ROOM FOR CRITICISM OF THE CANARIES
I can’t believe that anybody would seriously think about criticising the Canaries after they returned from Burnley empty-handed last Saturday.
OK, let’s be honest. For 45 minutes last week City struggled to get a foothold in the game.
And they hadn’t really been firing on all cylinders in their previous three matches against Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Millwall, either, despite managing to secure a very impressive total of seven points from those games.
But it was a completely different story after the break at Turf Moor, when City came flying out of the traps and increased the tempo of their game tenfold to seriously pin Burnley back into their own half of the pitch for long spells.
That second half display was the type that has become synonymous with the Canaries this season, and which is the principal reason why they sit in the lofty position they currently occupy in the Championship table.
The desire was present again, the energy was visible, and the quality of some Norwich’s attacking play was of the highest order.
True, you could argue that the game lasts for 90 minutes and not just 45. And that ultimately it is the result that counts above all else. But this is precisely my point. Because the very fact that Norwich occupy one of the play-off spaces right now means that they have secured results on a consistent basis this season. Be it by playing unbelievably well, so-so, or even below the standards that we know they are evidently capable of.
With two thirds of the campaign having already been played out, City have delivered the goods to date. And in all fairness, in doing so they have surpassed even the widest expectations.
Think back to what the general feeling was last August when City were about to embark on their Championship campaign after having recently been promoted from the third division.
A few supporters would have been happy for City to simply ensure that they kept their Championship status this season. Some would have felt that Norwich would have coped well enough so as not to be involved in a relegation dogfight, but essentially hovered a few places above the drop zone. I suspect that the vast majority, though, would have tipped City for something like a mid-table finish. And more to the point, been more than happy with that to boot.
Few, in fact, very few, would have put money on the Canaries to still be in with a shout and battling it out for one the top places in the table with 30 games already having been played.
It can’t be mouth-watering football every week.
Norwich, like every other side in the country, will have their off-days from time to time. They might have a successive sticky few weeks, or it might be that their bad days at the office are sporadic. But it will happen (Manchester United at Wolves last week? Chelsea at home to Liverpool?)
But that league table still makes for very comfortable reading.
And as I said after the game last week, if it’s form or how the team happens to be playing at the moment that floats your boat, that second half at Burnley last Saturday would suggest that, after a bit of a dry spell, Norwich just might have got the bit firmly back between their teeth once again.
• HOLT’s FINISH WAS TOP DRAWER
I read in one newspaper that Grant Holt’s goal at Burnley last week would “not win any goalscoring competitions in terms of its beauty.” No, maybe not. But for those who really know the game it was a terrific finish and only achievable an account of Holt’s excellent technique.
Considering the height that the ball arrived at him, if he had put any power on the shot it would have gone over the bar. Therefore, he knew that he could only “steer” the ball towards the target. And that’s not exactly easiest thing in the world to do when your foot is up above your shoulder!