What's up with Doc? City defender deserves better

David Powles I'm pretty sure there will be plenty of people out there who will scream to the high hills about this next statement, but what the hell, here goes. I can't help but feel a little bit sorry for outcast central defender Gary Doherty.

David Powles

I'm pretty sure there will be plenty of people out there who will scream to the high hills about this next statement, but what the hell, here goes. I can't help but feel a little bit sorry for outcast central defender Gary Doherty.

Now that might be the columnist's kiss of death and enough to stop many of you from reading on, but bear with me.

In his very first Press conference as Norwich City manager, Paul Lambert stated that as far as he was concerned every single player began with a clean slate - quite a brave statement when you consider he witnessed first-hand that 7-1 Carrow Road debacle and the many shocking individual performances that day.

However, just two games later, both Doherty and winger Wes Hoolahan found themselves cast aside and seemingly free to find employment elsewhere.

While I can't profess to know the behind-the-scenes goings on involving the decisions - whether they have asked to leave, they had a run-in with the manager or we simply need to get them off the wage bill - in pure footballing terms I'm not a massive fan of either player being so easily placed on to the Canary scrapheap.

Most Read

To a certain extent, winger Hoolahan divides fans as much as Doherty, but in my opinion, at his best, flashes of which he showed before getting injured at the end of last season, he is a real asset to have at the club as he brings us something completely different, namely flair and panache.

How much could we have done with a bit of that on Saturday afternoon when our only tactic appeared to be to lump it forward in the hope that something, anything, came off?

True, he isn't the most defensively-minded player, a fact which appears to have alienated him with Lambert, but does that really matter? Did it matter when he banged in 13 goals and provided countless assists in two seasons for Blackpool, including - interestingly - a promotion season from League One? Did it matter when we had the equally attack-minded Darren Huckerby tearing down the wings in his promotion season prime?

Surely every good team has a balance with the work of defensive-minded players allowing the attacking ones to express themselves?

I know we have to scrap and play hard to get out of this league, but that doesn't mean there isn't a bit of room for creativity, a feature that was so badly lacking in the drab 0-0 game against Walsall.

And it would seem that, at one time at least, Lambert was aware of this fact as well.

Take this quote: “We watched him several times before the end of the Irish season and he lived up to all we had heard about him. He is an exciting player and will bring us width and more attacking options. Wes will bring additional quality to a side that works hard and plays as a team, which is vital as we enter the second half of the season.”

I'm sure you won't need any clues as to who was the Livingstone manager quoted here in 2005 after snapping up a certain Wes Hoolahan.

Of course, all this may all be academic. It may be that Hoolahan wants to go. Perhaps relegation, the run-in with the Season Ticket Two against Colchester and allegations that he made gestures at fans after the match have made him totally fed-up with his brief tenure at Carrow Road. And, sadly, these days it seems that football's balance of power has swung so much in favour of the players that once they express a desire to leave they pretty much get their way.

But with Doherty I suspect it is a different picture.

Within weeks of relegation he was one of the few to actually come out in public and say he wanted to stay at the club and put right the wrongs of last season.

He told the Evening News at the time: “I had the option last year if I wanted to leave and I made the decision that I wanted to stay here for a couple more years and I'll stand by that.”

Now the harshest of you would probably argue that Doherty didn't have a choice as no one would come in for him anyway. However, I have feeling that he may soon find himself playing in the league we so badly want to get back into, so someone must rate him.

And while the manager's clean slate must also be applied for positive as well as negative acts of the past, it is not Doherty's apparent loyalty to the club that has led me to question his sudden removal from not just the first eleven, but the matchday squad altogether.

I have often felt that during his time at Norwich, Doherty has been too harshly treated by those who berate him.

Yes, he is prone to bad, sometimes awful games and sloppy errors, but who in recent years hasn't been?

It is just that when you are a central defender your mistakes often get punished more harshly and when you are, how shall I say, not the most stylish looking player, each mistake just looks even worse.

However, if you were to actually study Doherty's contribution during his 180-plus games I believe you would find he is consistently one of our better players, repeatedly puts his body on the line to make last-ditch tackles and that he successfully stops attacks more often than not. That's probably why he was named player of the season in 2005-06 and came third last year.

Granted, he has not made the best start to the season. He was as culpable as anyone for the 7-1 defeat and was made to look foolish by Kenwyne Jones for Sunderland's first goal in the Carling Cup. But is that enough to dismiss him as a Norwich player altogether?

We may have kept three successive clean sheets during the last three games, but I still feel that on the evidence of his first few games in defence, Michael Nelson is not a better option.

Of course, he might turn out to be. After all, just three games in I have not really had long enough to assess how good Nelson really is. So surely then the same could be said of Lambert with regards Doherty?