United in one goal
Norwich are easily the best side to have played Derby this season and are the only team in the Championship that have so far looked a class above the Rams.
Those are not my words, by the way, but essentially the comments made by more than a few Derby fans I spoke to after the game at Pride Park last Saturday.
It’s a big statement, something like that, when it’s issued by supporters of another team, but it’s absolutely fitting given the manner of the Canaries’ performance.
Norwich played some terrific attacking football last week and they also demonstrated that they’re more than capable of digging in at times and defending as a team.
The collective gasp of the home fans as Chris Martin expertly headed the ball into the corner of the net from a peach of a cross from Simon Lappin to make it 2-0 with only 12 minutes of the contest having elapsed said it all, really. The ensuing couple of minutes of them then staring wide-eyed at each other in total silence – the hope that someone would eventually come up with an explanation as to why they were witnessing their team being unceremoniously ripped apart on their own ground – was just further testament of City’s dominance.
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Those Derby fans haven’t been used to anything like that happening at Pride Park this season. They didn’t see it coming. And it hit them like a train.
The game obviously couldn’t continue for 90 minutes with the same intensity as it began, and even though the home side soon managed to get a foothold in the contest by scoring not long afterwards, City were nevertheless able to maintain the same positive and disciplined approach that we’ve become accustomed to this season and were ultimately full value for their win.
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Of course, as we look at the league table and continue to marvel at what has happened at this club over the past 18 months or so, we must continually remind ourselves that at the start of the above timeframe the Canaries were a third division side. And that four months ago, once the promotion party and celebrations had subsided, the main priority was for City to simply establish themselves in the Championship again.
So as hard as it is, we must try to keep a lid on things to a certain extent and refrain from becoming over-confident.
After all, a few defeats on the spin can dramatically change the perspective of how things might look for any side, as you can rise or drop six or eight places in the table seemingly overnight in this division. But then again, there’s nothing wrong with being positive and believing in yourselves.
And that’s how I see things with the Canaries at present. There’s no one shouting from the rooftops about how good they are and how they’re going to do this, that or the other.
There’s just a quiet confidence and understandable satisfaction because things have gone well so far, but also a realisation that the only possible way that it might continue that way is if everyone continues to give 100 per cent effort.
That is how all the best sides operate. Having been fortunate to be a part of two title-winning sides, I’m to be able to speak from experience here. At Everton in the top flight and also at Oldham in the second tier, all the players, coaches and the manager just got on with their jobs and hoped that results would continue to speak for themselves.
There was no gloating, no delusions of grandeur, and no promises being made. Just everyone adhering to a philosophy of hard work and demonstrating a steely desire to continue to improve.
• YOUNGSTERS DID THEMSELVES PROUD IN THE CUP
It was pleasing to see the youth team making progress in the FA Youth Cup in midweek.
We had to field a very young team, but all the players worked incredibly hard and they deserved their victory against a much older Charlton side. Of course the youngsters have not achieved anything yet. Their ultimate aim is to progress through the ranks to be considered good enough for a professional contract. But we’ve got some talented players in every age group at the Academy, and if they continue to work very hard at their development they could reap their rewards at some point down the line.
Because if they’re good enough, there is every chance that they’ll get their opportunity at this club. That has always been the case. On the one hand the players know that they’re not going to get to a certain point and be knocking on the door of the first team, only to then find themselves pushed back down the pecking order because the club has just gone out and spent �20m on a new player.
But, more importantly, as manager Paul Lambert has already publicly stated on many occasions and also backed with actions, if he considers players to be good enough to be in his side he also considers them to be old enough to be in his side. He has never hesitated to select youngsters. And that is the biggest incentive of all.
• ONE THING IS CLEAR IS THAT FINAL PITCH DIDN’T COUNT
Just a few words on the whole sorry mess that turned out to be England’s 2018 World Cup bid.
Firstly, FIFA do not like us. Period. And the sooner we accept that the better.
For it to have been widely accepted that our bid was the best from a technical and economic perspective, and for our bidding team to have supposedly been assured that certain members of the voting committee had promised them their support, only for them to do no such thing when it came to the actual ballot, is suspicious to say the very least.
Those FIFA committee members were either simply telling porkies when they promised us their votes, had been ordered to switch their allegiance or simply decided to change their minds at the last minute. What is clear is that the result had little if anything at all to do with the actual quality of the bids themselves.
In response to the outpouring of criticism that FIFA have subsequently received from a disgruntled nation this week, their president Sepp Blatter simply said that England are “bad losers.”
He is partly right. After all, it is customary here in England when something doesn’t go our way, once the initial outpouring of anger, resentment and sense of injustice has subsided. We do tend to sulk, don’t we?
But then again, he really shouldn’t be surprised in this instance since the annoying and flippant manner in which he has subsequently disregarded our anger, once again, is simply the tip of the iceberg following many previous years of showing similar contempt.
However, the suggestion that has been mooted in some quarters this week for us to withdraw from FIFA in protest is just plain barmy.
Because the last thing that any Englishman now wants to see after all this is a smug, grinning Sepp Blatter witnessing England taking part in an alternative World Cup.
After all, it would be too much to bear if England were involved in a competition for all the disgruntled, bitter and twisted and just plain rubbish footballing nations, and were drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside the likes of Madagascar, Aruba and Guam, before – as would be inevitable – being eliminated in the first round of the knockout stages against one of the ‘big guns’ like the Isle of Man.