Settled life is key to City success

RICK WAGHORN Ask Gary Doherty why nerves are likely to be frayed before tonight's match at home to Brighton and he offers one startling set of statistics - startling when set alongside the best teams the division has to offer.


Ask Gary Doherty why nerves are likely to be frayed before tonight's Coca-Cola Championship match at home to with Brighton & Hove Albion (7.45pm) and he offers one startling set of statistics - startling when set alongside the best teams the division has to offer.

“I think if you look, Reading have used fewer players this season than anyone else,” said “The Doc”, a model of consistency at the heart of the City defence and the favourite to be crowned Player of the Season in April.

“I think so far this season I've played with six right-backs, four centre-halves and three left-backs. Once we get a settled team, then we'll start looking like the old Norwich.”

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Dig behind the statistic and you can see his point. Matthieu Louis-Jean barely had time to find his feet in Norfolk before he succumbed to the deep-seated hamstring trouble that has ruled him out since the second game of the season. Jurgen Colin came in and as City struggled for confidence and results through the autumn, his form and fortune dipped. In between, Andy Hughes, Rossi Jarvis, David Wright and now club skipper Craig Fleming have all come in and out of the side.

At centre-half, Jason Shackell's hesitant start to the new campaign saw the on-loan Calum Davenport arriving alongside Doherty. He headed back to Tottenham and in came the ever-reliable Fleming before on-loan Fulham defender Zesh Rehman arrived in the January transfer window. At left-back, Adam Drury's injury problems have seen both Simon Charlton and the now-departed Jim Brennan step into that role.

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The reasons for all the changes are many and varied - and that's before anyone starts on the whole chop-and-change routine in midfield. Or the impact Dean Ashton had on the possibility of a settled front line.

“A lot of them can't be helped - it's football,” said Doherty. “We've had a lot of injuries, suspensions and, yes, some of them have been down to a loss of form.

“But it's never easy when you're having new partners, so many changes at right-back and you're having to learn their game, having to get used to how they play. And I think the Ipswich game came just too early in terms of bedding the new boys in - particularly when you're talking about a new front two.”

Bedding in a new system also causes a headache as players take on new responsibilities and new duties - and all in the middle of a frightening loss of home form.

Lose at home to Brighton tonight and Norwich will have slipped to their fifth straight home defeat and the demands for a managerial change will step up another gear.

Doherty is, however, taking heart from Saturday's improved showing in a 1-1 draw at Hull and the knowledge that £2.75 million striker Rob Earnshaw is itching to get off the mark.

“I thought we passed the ball about quite nicely at Hull on Saturday,” said Doherty, in the thick of things as Hull's Stuart Elliott bundling Paul McVeigh's 87th-minute cross home for an own goal.

The big problem arrived in the final third of the field.

“We just didn't create the chances we wanted too, but hopefully we can put that right tonight.”

Pick up the right result, says Doherty, and the pressure will ease.

“All the boys prefer playing at home, but, of course, there's pressure on us because we're not getting the right results. Get the right results and then the freedom and the confidence will come.”

Provided midfielder Youssef Safri shrugs off the slight knee knock he sustained in Saturday's 1-1 draw at the KC Stadium, City are likely to be unchanged - a word that has not been used too often this season.

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