Playmaker Wes won't get shackled too often
PUBLISHED: 10:14 12 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:06 02 July 2010
Thirty games into the season and City sit in pole position. A far cry indeed from the situation that hit 25,000 Norwich fans between the eyes with the force of a swinging sledgehammer some 29 games ago, when we all suffered the sight of the Canaries being humiliated at the hands of Paul Lambert's rampant Colchester side on the opening day of the season.
Thirty games into the season and City sit in pole position.
A far cry indeed from the situation that hit 25,000 Norwich fans between the eyes with the force of a swinging sledgehammer some 29 games ago, when we all suffered the sight of the Canaries being humiliated at the hands of Paul Lambert's rampant Colchester side on the opening day of the season.
It was hardly any better 27 games back, when City were languishing in the relegation zone with just a solitary point to their name from their opening three league matches.
Since then, of course, the Canaries have embarked on a run of form that has surpassed even the most optimistic of expectations, to the point where as we enter the final third of the campaign, securing promotion back to the Championship is now a very real and distinct possibility.
We know that won't all be plain sailing.
As has been evident in recent matches, teams have afforded the Canaries much respect by changing their usual gameplans or preferred formations to try to restrict City's effectiveness.
Some have sat deep and got men behind the ball.
Others, like Millwall last Saturday, have opted to use a man-to-man marking in attempt to stem the flow of service to the strikers.
Most of them have been simply brushed aside without too much fuss, whereas Millwall's tactics did bear fruit at the New Den.
And no doubt there will be much more of the same in these remaining 16 matches. Not that they ever should, but as we approach the business end of the season results do seem to take on more significance. And accordingly opposition teams will take whatever steps it takes to try to get them.
The thing is, the vast majority of teams in this division simply don't have the quality of players in their line-ups to see them through.
Because it's one thing drawing up plans on tactics boards and then being pleased with the results when they've be run through on the training ground against the reserves or youth teams, but very much another when they then have to be put into practice against a City side that has been very much on a roll this term.
Fair play to Millwall. Man-to-man-marker Jimmy Abdou did a very impressive job on Wes Hoolahan last week and it did have a significant impact on the game. But I think it's safe to say that City's playmaker won't be as subdued as he was last week again on too many occasions. He hasn't all season, after all. Many have tried to stop him playing, but virtually all have failed.
The majority of teams in League One aren't a match for a City side that has been well-organised, resilient and dominant on a recurring basis. And providing they continue to be so, and can also maintain the impressively high standards they have set for themselves this term, then opposition teams can deploy whatever systems, tactics or ideas they think may suitably unsettle the Canaries, but ultimately it shouldn't be a problem.
t LIONS' FANS DELIVER A VERBAL ONSLAUGHT LIKE NO OTHER
You often hear the saying that a noisy and passionate crowd can almost be as good as the team's 12th man.
And on that score, given that 25,000 supporters turn up at Carrow Road for every home game, plus virtually every ticket being snapped up for away games by those that follow the team on the road, it's safe to say that the Canaries are undoubtedly afforded that particular luxury.
But I've got to say that those 11,000 or so Millwall fans who were present at the New Den last week didn't half make a racket.
In any crowd, there's always the hard core noisy element that will remain vocal no matter what.
Then there are those who only tend to get animated depending on the circumstances of the game.
And finally there are those who prefer to absorb the atmosphere and generally keep their thoughts to themselves.
At Millwall, though, it seemed as though everyone was up for a verbal onslaught. At everything and anything. They reacted to every decision that didn't go their team's way as though it had just cost them their life's savings.
And the women and children were just as rowdy as the men!
There was no let-up for entire the duration of the game.
They'll never be as intimidating and as they were at the old Den, as I'm sure that anyone who played at that Godforsaken place, or anyone who was brave enough to stand in the away end there will probably testify. Once, during the 1984-85 season, I heard a really old woman come out with a mouthful of expletives that were so bad it was almost surreal.
Especially as a lad I presume was her young grandson was standing beside her at the time, nodding in approval!
But despite it being some 16 years since they moved to their new ground, they clearly haven't mellowed all that much!
t TOGETHERNESS IS THE KEY TO KEEPING THE SQUAD HAPPY
Last week someone asked me how a manager can keep all the players in his squad happy when his first choice eleven virtually picks itself?
Well, in my opinion, the only way he can do so is by making them feel that they are all in it together.
No footballer can, or should ever be truly happy unless he is playing in the first team. But there are ways a manager can soften the blow if you're not.
I think back to how it was at Everton under Howard Kendall during the 1986-87 season that ultimately saw us crowned as league champions.
Barring injury or suspension, everyone knew what the side would be. It virtually picked itself (although as it turned out, several key players did pick up injuries that season, and many of us “squaddies” benefited with more appearances than we might have otherwise expected).
But Kendall wouldn't allow anyone not to feel as important as the next man. “I'll need every single one of you at some time during the season,” he would say regularly. “We can only win things together as a group.”
Accordingly, he took large squads whenever we played away. The entire first team squad trained together whenever it was possible. He even organised nights out for us and insisted that every single one of us attended - not that he really needed to though! Everyone felt part of the group.
And he would never publicly criticise any of his players.
And unsurprisingly it created a strong bond in the dressing room at Goodison Park and paid rich dividends with something like 18 of us picking up Championship winners' medals (and remember these were the days when you were only allowed one substitute.)
I say this because City fans might get the impression that it might not be too dissimilar at Norwich these days, because the one thing you continually hear boss Paul Lambert saying after matches is how pleased he has been with “all” of his players.
Even after the defeat at Millwall last week he still paid tribute to his players. “They gave me everything today and they've been brilliant all season,” he said. “The lads who have played (regularly), the lads who have come in - I couldn't ask any more from any of them.” As a player, hearing that sort of thing from your manager can make a big difference, believe me.