The reliable rock at the heart of Norwich City’s Premier League battles
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I’m thoroughly enjoying my return to playing fantasy league football this season. That said, there is a confession to be had – there are not many Norwich players in my squad.
• The City fan in me has already kicked in – Saturday’s trip to winless Reading couldn’t be any more predictable in that sense. It’s pretty straightforward for the Royals – they need to beat City, otherwise staying up will already look a tall order for a side struggling with the quality of the division. Whereas, what City have in front of them is the chance to strike a huge blow to a genuine relegation candidate. A ruthless 90 minutes would be more than enough, avoiding defeat feels a necessity. We’ll see.
• As good as Wes was against big bad Stoke, my men of the match were Sebastien Bassong and Javier Garrido. Their little second-half pantomime in the centre circle was pure gold. As funny as I’ve seen at a football match…
• …and I’ve seen few more embarrassing things than Andre Santos getting his hair ruffled by Robin van Persie at half-time on Saturday, before the United striker donated him his shirt. That column I wrote on the Gunners a few weeks back? I take it all back.
In fact, there’s only one. And it would seem a bit rude to go out on a limb and say who it is.
But arguably it isn’t the one man my rivals across the country should eye spending a few million quid on before sitting back and reaping the rewards.
And if you think about it, he’s a man who this time last year was still having his ability questioned.
Since City’s Premier League return there hasn’t been a more consistent performer in yellow and green than goalkeeper John Ruddy – although admittedly, he’s the one who doesn’t actually play in the Canaries’ proper colours.
It all sounds like stating the obvious, given Ruddy is now accepted as a regular fixture in England’s keeping trio.
But recently it has really hit how immensely reliable Ruddy has been over these two seasons – to the point of almost fearing for him being taken for granted.
As last season wound down, the big man got better and better. And this season he has taken things on to another level. He looks every bit a goalkeeeper who knows what he’s got and has supreme confidence in it.
What’s more, at 26 he still has plenty more to come.
Ruddy has delivered time and again this season, earning his third clean sheet at the weekend against Stoke – as many as City secured all last season, as I’m sure you know.
He has also made more saves than any other top-flight keeper since City’s return – 172 apparently.
We’ve seen it go wrong in front of him – but that’s another story.
Ruddy made BBC Sport’s Premier League team of last week, as well as the Fantasy Premier League’s best XI too. To think of all those points I missed out on…
Anyway, it’s always worth looking at a team sheet and remembering what it’s like to worry about your team’s last line of defence – and then remembering what you’ve got.
It was no doubt a sigh of relief – and an interesting curiosity – City did not have to work harder to fend off other clubs from their players in the summer.
Maybe that was because the rest of the top-flight’s top brass were unconvinced by City’s achievements over one season. Maybe the people who left were the ones awarded the real credit by their peers?
Even the very man just alluded to didn’t publicly come calling for some of his old charges – something he has previous for, and the likes of Swansea had to deal with from Brendan Rodgers.
Whether these things change come January will be an interesting one. Certainly one national newspaper’s suggestion Wes Hoolahan – believed to be contracted to City until 2014 – could leave as a result of City “dragging their heels” over a new deal was put in the public domain for a reason.
Either way, in the end it is arguably Paul Lambert’s departure that ensures City’s players can make a real name for themselves.