Win against Derby County showed there’s no substitute for hard graft

Finally something to smile about for Norwich City's players this season. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Fo

Finally something to smile about for Norwich City's players this season. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Trying to make sense of the Canaries' sparkling victory over Derby County, one old cynic remarked as he was leaving Carrow Road on Monday evening: 'The only consistent thing about this team is their inconsistency.'

How a team that could lose to Preston North End, QPR, Barnsley and at Derbycould so comprehensively demolish a side who were unbeaten in 10 matches and were five places higher in the table bewildered their frustrated supporters; particularly the 90-odd per cent of them who had called for the manager's head less than a week earlier.

The one certainty that 2016 brought was that you can't trust opinion polls.

I hold no brief for my fellow Scot, although I have harboured a soft spot for Hamilton Accies for 40 years and was thrilled when, as a rookie manager, Alex Neil led them to an unexpected and dramatic promotion in May 2014.

The evidence of Monday afternoon was that the faults which brought only two victories in the previous 13 matches may lie at another door — the players.

Five changes from a good performance in the 0-0 draw at Brentford — only two of them enforced by the unavailability of Mulumbu and Brady — suggests that team selection may have owed more to drawing names out of a hat than football science, but the one constant since the tumble down the league from top position in mid October was that this expensively assembled and remunerated squad of players had simply not performed.

My reaction when I heard the team announced at Carrow Road on Monday was— there's a lot of football in that selection.

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After a tentative, error-strewn opening, settled down by an opportunist goal from Nelson Oliveira and Derby's pallid response, the selected 11 proved just how much football talent they possessed — much more than the higher-placed opponents they outclassed.

In comprehensively thrashing Derby County, they looked like league champions, not the chumps who had hitherto lost as many matches as they had won.

Perhaps, like me, the players had found a copy of Joey Barton's autobiography in their Christmas stockings.

His fame — or infamy — derives from a catalogue of misdemeanours, but his book reveals some hidden depths and its greatest revelations spring from a genuine passion for playing football.

What he lacked in world-class talent and genuine pace, he made up for in effort and commitment, in which he had no peers.

Monday's match, the performance level and result underlined the major lesson from Barton's book — nothing will be achieved in football unless every outfield player runs around, closesdown, tackles and competes for the ball more than their opponents.

All these things being equal on the pitch, only then will class prevail, which it did against Derby County.

The manager can't apply the physical effort required by the players to achieve success, and in these days of bloated contracts he can't even compel players to do so; it has to come from the players themselves.

John Litster, Lowther Road, Norwich.