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Doherty turnaround is a real fairytale for Canaries

PUBLISHED: 13:11 28 April 2010 | UPDATED: 10:03 02 July 2010

David Cuffley

When the story of Norwich City's triumphant League One title-winning season is finally complete, the game played at Carrow Road on Tuesday, September 8, 2009, is unlikely to warrant a mention.

When the story of Norwich City's triumphant League One title-winning season is finally complete, the game played at Carrow Road on Tuesday, September 8, 2009, is unlikely to warrant a mention.

That will come as no surprise because it was a reserve match, played in front of fewer than 1,000 fans.

The 5-0 win over Southend marked the Canaries' return to the Combination after a season playing little or no second string football - a short-lived comeback, as it turns out, given the club's decision to withdraw from the league once again next season.

Despite the scoreline and some excellent goals, it was an unremarkable evening except, in the light of what followed, for one thing - the City teamsheet.

The margin of victory should have come as no surprise given the presence in Ian Crook's team of Wes Hoolahan, Gary Doherty, Darel Russell and Chris Martin.

But it seems extraordinary now that these four players should have been on reserve team duty at all.

Two of them have just been named in the League One team of the season. The other two have played a huge part in City's title success.

But at the time, with manager Paul Lambert in the job just three weeks, none of them had figured greatly in his first team plans.

Though Lambert had signed forward Hoolahan from Ireland when he was Livingston boss, the Irishman had started just one of his first five games in charge of the Canaries, and had not even made the bench in the previous three.

Midfielder Russell, not involved in the first seven matches of the season after not figuring in former boss Bryan Gunn's plans, had only just returned to the senior reckoning with a Johnstone's Paint Trophy outing against Brentford and an appearance as substitute in the league game against Walsall.

Striker Martin had scored against Brentford in the Trophy tie but had come off the bench just once in the other four matches under Lambert's charge.

For centre-half Doherty, the picture looked most bleak of all. His only outing under his new boss had been the 4-1 Carling Cup home defeat by Sunderland and, like Hoolahan, he had been omitted from the final squad completely for the three matches that followed it.

But, one by one, the discarded quartet forced their way into the manager's plans.

Hoolahan, from the moment he was recalled for the League One game at home to Charlton, in which he scored a vital goal, quickly began to cast his spell on opponents home and away and though he has scored just once since hitting his 13th goal of the season on Boxing Day, he continued to have a major influence on City's storming run to the title until he picked up a thigh strain in the Good Friday defeat at Tranmere.

Russell has become as close to an automatic choice as it is possible to get under Lambert and Martin has demonstrated what we have long known, that he is a clinical finisher and a quality performer, with 22 goals to his name.

But Doherty's return from the brink of a Carrow Road exit has been the most inspiring story of all.

Back in September, he was resigned to his fate, told he had no future with the club. Yet an unexpected recall for the home match against Leyton Orient at the end of the month gave him a first team lifeline, one he has grabbed so impressively that he has missed just two league matches since then, one through suspension, the other through injury. In an unexpected twist, he was wearing the captain's armband when promotion was clinched at Charlton.

His seven goals, six of them in crucial league games, have been further proof of his overall value to the side, which has now been recognised by his fellow professionals with his inclusion in the divisional team of the season.

All in all, it has been quite a comeback for the one-time player of the season. Few City players in recent years have divided fans' opinion so sharply, but few have deserved this season's success more. A real diamond geezer, as they say.

t WHAT THEY SAID

“Doc's an old pro, been around the block a few times. I know he has his detractors. I think that's unfair, he's a reliable safe defender, doesn't take chances. And I don't want defenders taking chances. He plays to his strengths, end of story.”

Glenn Roeder, October 21, 2008

“He doesn't want to come off the pitch because of injury, he will play through things and carry on, spend most of his time in the treatment room the following week then recover and be on the pitch again. He is totally committed to the club.”

Bryan Gunn, April 24, 2009

“We sat down and he (Lambert) said I wasn't really in his plans. He told me he was going with other players, which was fair enough. That is what managers do, but then with all the injuries we've got he just asked me in and said 'Where is your head at? I need you to play'.”

Gary Doherty, October 14, 2009

“Gary has been brilliant and I'm delighted with him and for him. That decision shows how much I know about football.”

Paul Lambert, January 16, 2010

“You need your seven-out-of-tens every week . . . the likes of Gary Doherty, by the way, who had a very tough start to the season and again, he's turned it round and shown people what he can do.”

Nigel Worthington, March 30, 2010

“All the papers were giving Gary Doherty rubbish but he's one of my favourite players. He's a bit like Marmite, people either love him or hate him but I'm one of those people who thinks he's brilliant.”

Harry Dawson, lead singer and guitarist, We Can't Dance, April 1, 2010

“You need people to push you on to get the three points and the leadership can make a big difference at this stage of the season. Be it the captain, whoever, they are really important. Gary Doherty, he was there when I played. He can be one of those players to push the others on.”

Mathias Svensson, April 16, 2010

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