Sweet and sour for ex-Canary bosses

DAVID CUFFLEY It has been a comparatively low-key week for City manager Peter Grant. No games, no new signings, no queue for the loo and no fresh injury worries - barring any late shocks on the teamsheet for today's visit of Crystal Palace.


It has been a comparatively low-key week for City manager Peter Grant. No games, no new signings, no queue for the loo and no fresh injury worries - barring any late shocks on the teamsheet for today's visit of Crystal Palace.

But what a week for two of his Carrow Road predecessors. There could hardly have been more contrasting fortunes over the past seven days for Nigel Worthington and Gary Megson.

The old Sheffield Wednesday team-mates and former managerial sparring partners have both been in the headlines, albeit for very different reasons.

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What must have seemed like a dream opportunity for Worthington to steer Northern Ireland one big step closer to a place in the finals of their first major championship since 1986 - when he was a member of their World Cup squad in Mexico - was all but destroyed by surprise defeats in their European Championship qualifiers, 1-0 in Latvia and 2-1 in Iceland.

And, as if it wasn't bad enough that both defeats were sealed by own goals, Irish Football Association chiefs are now investigating an alleged fight between team-mates Keith Gillespie and George McCartney on the aircraft waiting to bring the squad home from Reykjavik.

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Megson, on the other hand, was all smiles after he was appointed the fifth different manager of Leicester City in 18 months and the fourth since Milan Mandaric took control of the club in February. Ironically, this was the job Worthington had been in pole position to secure after Mandaric put him in charge at the Walkers Stadium for the final five games of last season.

Megson played under 16 different bosses at nine clubs during a career lasting nearly 20 years and, if we count his spell as assistant to Chris Kamara at Bradford City, he is now with his eighth club in management.

Rolf Harris used to sing a song entitled “I've been everywhere, man”. He obviously hadn't met Gary Megson.

But if returning to work 18 months after leaving Nottingham Forest means delight for Megson, Worthington's new start has gone horribly wrong.

Perhaps it's the month of September coming back to haunt him.

Defeats by Coventry, Crystal Palace and Plymouth, plus a potential victory thrown away in a 3-3 draw at Southend, put him on the slippery slope towards the exit door at Norwich 12 months ago.

But even his biggest critics could not hold him responsible for inexplicable lapses by Chris Baird in Riga and Gillespie in Reykjavik. All the preparation in the world cannot eliminate individual calamity.

Nevertheless, 45-year-old Worthington must be shaking his head in disbelief after taking over a side given their best chance in more than 20 years of reaching a big tournament, largely by the exploits of his former City loan striker, David Healy.

The national team boss was putting a brave face on a week of crushing disappointment as he contemplated his side's three remaining Group F games - at home to Denmark and away to Sweden and Spain.

Said Worthington: “We have to keep our heads up, keep smiling and look forward to what lies ahead.

“This is a young group of players who can grow together and become a good team.

“It was a cruel way to lose but that is football for you. Sometimes you do not get what you deserve.

“Keith was unlucky, as was Chris. There was no logic to what happened.

“You can play well and get beaten. You can play poorly and win.

“I was delighted with the response of the players after Saturday. The work rate, the effort and commitment was all there.

“We have come away with nothing but we can take many positives after the Latvia match.”

That post-match verdict had a familiar, defiant ring to it, but a place in Austria and Switzerland has gone, barring a miracle.

Alas, it wasn't just Worthington who was fighting his corner when trouble broke out the next day on the 0740 Icelandair flight to London Heathrow.

IFA chief executive Howard Wells and president Raymond Kennedy pledged to deal quickly with the alleged fisticuffs between Gillespie and McCartney.

According to witnesses, punches were thrown before other squad members quickly intervened, and cabin crew reported the incident to Worthington, further up the plane, before take-off.

Kennedy, who was with other officials on a separate flight, said: “It really was the final straw from what was a terrible trip with two defeats when we all expected so much more.

“You don't expect something like this to happen at any level of football, never mind after an international.”

Shortly after the Irish squad landed and the inquest began, 48-year-old Megson was sitting next to his new boss at Leicester with a 2½-year deal in the bag - and getting a glowing introduction.

Mandaric said: “I think Gary has the experience and ability to do the job for us.

“He is a straight, honest guy who impressed me in the talks we had. You can look him straight in the eye and what you see is what you get - a strong personality who can take us forward.”

Megson, who managed Norwich in two spells before taking charge at Blackpool, Stockport, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Forest, was not slow to point out that he had taken Albion into the top flight twice, in 2002 and 2004.

He said: “I know I am not going to be welcomed with open arms by everyone. I have to prove myself and I hope I can do the same job at Leicester that I did at West Brom.

“We took West Brom from second bottom up into the Premiership.

“So my record at this level, in terms of promotion, is probably better than anyone else's in the last 10 years.

“I am the only manager to take two teams up to the Premiership automatically and I want Leicester to be the third.”

Given that Mandaric gave Worthington only five games and Martin Allen just three, there is clearly no time to lose.

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