April 23 2014 Latest news:
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Just where to start with the last few days following Norwich City Football Club? There I was, all set to write a column praising last Saturday’s performance against Everton and ready to urge fans to dwell on that game rather than the expected defeat to Spurs, when they only go and put on a cracking showing and return to Norfolk with all three points.
There’s no doubting the 2-2 draw against the Toffees has been cast in the shadows by the events of two days later.
But for me the one point gained on Saturday was as satisfying as the three on Monday.
Form has a massive bearing on results in whatever standard of football you play in and prior to coming to Carrow Road, Everton were on the back of their now traditional second half of the season storm, losing just twice in their last 15 games and winning the previous three 2-0.
Spurs on the other hand have had a dishevelled and tired look about them for a few weeks and had won just two of their last nine games. At this moment in time, therefore, I would argue Everton are a better side.
Collectively, both games have to be up there with the best Norwich City fans have enjoyed since Paul Lambert walked through the door – and that’s saying something.
In fact, in terms of level of performance they are the best, simple as.
Of the 22 players who started against Norwich in these two games, 19 have international experience.
I shudder to think how much the two teams are worth in terms of transfer value.
And that’s not me adding to the whole ‘little old Norwich’ impression, but you can’t ignore the fact that of our starting 11 in both games only a select few had top-flight experience prior to this season and many of them were playing in League One two years ago.
For me both games have brought with them increased hope.
Just four weeks ago I raised the fear that sooner or later Norwich fans were going to have to face up to the fact that our spectacular rise has to end somewhere, and that when that happens every supporter would have to think hard about how they would react.
But these two results give us real belief there is yet more to come from Lambert and his men.
Once again Lambert and his team of coaches and players deserve so-much credit, especially for sticking to the same policies that have served them so well for the past two seasons.
Monday’s result in particular highlighted the continued importance of the Norwich City squad.
Spurs looked tired, however there was a freshness about Norwich’s play, despite the fact so many had played just two days earlier.
And when you look at the stats you start to understand why.
Sixteen players have appeared in 16 or more of the 33 matches in the league for the Canaries so far this season.
This is a similar trend from last season when 17 players appeared in more than 20 league games.
Furthermore the end of season run-in has been helped by not just January’s signings Jonny Howson and Ryan Bennett, but the re-emergence in the squad in the second half of the season of Adam Drury, Elliott Ward and Aaron Wilbraham.
Of the Spurs squad only 14 of them have appeared in more than half of the Premier League games.
Throw in the fact that whilst two came in, one went out for Spurs in January, as well as the many cup games they have faced and you quickly come to the impression it’s a lack of squad depth that has done for them in this year’s title race.
It is interesting that Swansea, who many seem to have chosen as our rivals elect, have faded lately and largely rely on just 11 players who have appeared in more than half their games.
What Lambert has shown is that you can chop and change the team around, but it will only work if those players coming in get enough game time to stay in form, learn the system and know how best they work in the team.
• In so many ways this season’s achievements massively outweigh those of the previous two, both of which were preceded by an open top parade enjoyed by thousands in the city. Should we therefore prepare ourselves for the third such celebration in a row? I hate to be a killjoy but it doesn’t merit it as far as I’m concerned. If we were to go overboard for what is likely to be a mid-table finish, does it not set the bar a little low?
• Some new signings hit the ground running, others take a little while to settle in, but one striking hallmark of the Lambert and co era has been their ability to really improve players in the long run. Russell Martin, Simeon Jackson, David Fox, John Ruddy and Andrew Surman all took a while to get going, had their fair share of doubters, but have played a key part in our progression. And you can now add former Brighton winger Elliott Bennett to that list. He looked a little out of his depth earlier in the season but has upped his game recently and has now played a part in every game going back to mid-January.
• You often hear people uttering the phrase “the ref ruined the game”. Well I couldn’t agree less. For me, the day uncertainty and controversy is taken out of the match, will be the day football gets a lot less entertaining. Players are only human, fallible to mistakes, so why not the referees? That doesn’t mean improvements should not be sought and there’s definitely one needed with respect the rules surrounding a player obstructing the ball for a lengthy period of time in the way Steven Pienaar did on Saturday. There’s no rule regarding it at the moment, leaving it open to interpretation.
• One of my favourite indulgences when reading the reports of Norwich games in the Evening News and our sister paper the EDP is examining the many brilliant photos that sit alongside them. So often there are two or three real gems, whether it be a key passage in play frozen in time or the raw emotion of players, managers or fans reacting to events on the field. I thought the main image on this page by Paul Chesterton, of Focus Images, of Everton full-back Leighton Baines and Elliott Bennett was worth enjoying again. Absorbed, focused, their eyes on the prize.