Quality not quantity must be the policy
David Cuffley It is symptomatic of Norwich City's chaotic turnover of players this season that only four of the eleven who began the Championship match at Plymouth in September were expected to be in the starting line-up for today's return fixture at Carrow Road.
It is symptomatic of Norwich City's chaotic turnover of players this season that only four of the eleven who began the Championship match at Plymouth in September were expected to be in the starting line-up for today's return fixture at Carrow Road.
The missing seven are loan players Elliott Omozusi, John Kennedy, Antoine Sibierski and Arturo Lupoli, who have all departed, central defender Dejan Stefanovic, long since ruled out for the season because of a serious knee injury, and midfield pair Mark Fotheringham and Matty Pattison, who have fallen sharply out of first team contention since Bryan Gunn replaced Glenn Roeder as manager.
The 2-1 victory at Home Park, unquestionably City's most dominant away performance of the campaign - even if the scoreline didn't reflect it - was just six months ago. But already there are few survivors from that bright early autumn afternoon, with only David Marshall, Ryan Bertrand, Darel Russell and Wes Hoolahan set to feature against the Pilgrims today, another illustration of just how quickly the picture can change in football, especially when a team is as unsuccessful as the Canaries have been in another very disappointing, still potentially calamitous season.
When defender Adrian Leijer and striker Cody McDonald made their City debuts as substitutes in Tuesday's 2-0 home victory over Cardiff, they became the 29th and 30th players to appear in the first team this season. No fewer than 13 of them have been loan signings.
The revolving door at Colney is not a new phenomenon, however. In four seasons since relegation from the Premiership in 2005, under four different managers - plus two caretaker bosses - the number of players used by the Canaries has been utterly ridiculous.
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And it may come as a surprise to know that, in terms of turnover, this season has not been as bad as the previous three.
In Nigel Worthington's last full season as manager, immediately after relegation from the top flight, 34 players appeared in the first team.
The next season, during which Worthington was replaced by Peter Grant, the figure rose to 36.
Last term, when Grant made way for Roeder, 33 players took the field at different times.
With eight games left before today's visit of Plymouth, City had already hit the 30 mark once again, not counting unused substitutes such as Stuart Nelson and Simon Lappin - both on the bench for the last three games - as well as Luke Chadwick, Damon Lathrope, Korey Smith and, of course, Troy Archibald-Henville.
Whether the constant chopping and changing has been the root cause of City's lack of success, or merely a symptom of it, much of the managerial energy this season has been devoted to trying to find the right attacking combination.
After Roeder lost the services of Ched Evans and Dion Dublin, dispensed with Darren Huckerby and reduced Jamie Cureton to a bit part role, he also lost the men responsible for 38 of last season's goals.
He failed to adequately replace Evans or Dublin but seemed to have found a potentially potent partnership in the aforementioned game at Plymouth when Lupoli and debutant Sibierski, both admittedly on loan, scored excellent goals and Lupoli was unlucky not to get a hat-trick. But after the Franco-Italian alliance started the next game at home to Queens Park Rangers, they were not paired again in the starting eleven until Sibierski's final appearance for City at Sheffield United in January.
In all, 11 strikers have been used this season, not including Russell's appearances in an emergency attacking role, in a bid to find the right combination.
Gunn has rung the changes up front as much as his predecessor but he believes he may finally have found a winning formula after fielding loan pair Alan Gow and David Mooney against Cardiff on Tuesday, the fifth different strike partnership in his 11 games in charge.
“Glenn had a similar problem earlier in the season but you've got to keep going until you find the right one,” he said.
Mooney's goal against Cardiff made it a memorable home debut for the 24-year-old Irishman, while 26-year-old Gow rightly took the man of the match award.
“On Tuesday evening there seemed to be a connection between David Mooney and Alan Gow, who had only worked together on the training pitch for a number of days,” said Gunn.
“They have to get the service from their team-mates but I think that they all linked in very well together.
“They all understood the type of runs that the strikers would make. Alan likes getting the ball to his feet but he can also get away from defenders.
“David is constantly on the move. His running stats and distance covered in the game were incredible, and Alan covered the most distance of all the strikers this season.”
In fairness, while there is a perception that the Canaries cannot score goals, it is not entirely justified, though they have been so scattered among the squad that Mooney's Reading colleague, Leroy Lita, remains top scorer this season with the seven he bagged during his three-month loan spell.
But outside the top 10 in this morning's Championship table, only one team had scored more goals than Norwich. Watford had netted 54 times to City's 48.
Perhaps attention should be diverted to the other end of the field. In the whole of the Championship, only two sides had conceded more goals before today's games - Watford letting in 58 and bottom club Charlton a painful 63, compared to City's 57.
The return of Jason Shackell, on loan from Wolves, has helped shore up the defence in the last six matches and his partnership with skipper Gary Doherty will be as crucial over the next seven weeks as any pairing at the business end of the team.
One hopes a more settled line-up can help the Canaries over the safety line, but if it does, quality rather than quantity must be the aim when they start recruiting again in the summer.