Trust in one another
PUBLISHED: 11:28 26 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:09 02 July 2010
People often ask me what it's like in the dressing room before a really big game. As a player, you can - or should - only prepare for every game the same as you normally do.
People often ask me what it's like in the dressing room before a really big game.
As a player, you can - or should - only prepare for every game the same as you normally do. The routine doesn't change, whether it be a top-of-the-table clash or top versus bottom encounter.
Accordingly, you'd expect there to be no great difference in the atmosphere from one week to the next in the time just before the referee presses the button that sounds a bell in both dressing rooms to signal that it's time to go to work.
And you'd expect that there'd be no difference in the amount of involuntary passion, desire or noise that invariably accompanies its ringing. But that's not quite true.
Players are only human. And unless they have been fortunate enough and good enough to have enjoyed careers when winning silverware and medals has almost become second nature, the adrenaline courses through the veins just that little bit quicker when the stakes are high.
I've played with players who were physically sick before big games such was their heightened emotional state. And don't for one minute think that meant that they were any less likely to do their jobs properly or were any less capable of handling the big game atmosphere as anyone else. It's just how it affected them. Remember Zinedine Zidane being sick on the pitch moments before he started his run up to take a penalty against England in the European Championships?
I think the best piece of advice I ever heard about how best to quell any excessive nerves in such situations though came from Everton manger Howard Kendall.
I remember him calmly saying before an important away match: “Nerves are a good thing. They show that you're ready. But if you think that there's a chance that they might start to affect you more than normal, just sit down for a moment and take a look at the quality that surrounds you in the dressing room. That should do the trick.”
Now granted Everton were one of the best teams in Europe at the time and, as such, it made Kendall's advice giving a lot easier than it might have been if he had been surrounded with a less talented dressing room.
But to any City player that might need a calming influence tomorrow, I can only refer them to the above advice.
Because I know which of the two dressing rooms that I'd prefer to be sitting in tomorrow, that's for sure.
t NO ONE WILL UNDERESTIMATE THE CHALLENGE LEEDS POSE
We've known for quite some time now that tomorrow's clash with Leeds was always going to be one of the biggest clashes of the season in League One.
A few months ago we had identified it as a possible opportunity to maybe close the gap on the Yorkshire club who were running away with the division and who would seemingly have automatic promotion and the league title sewn up with many, many games to spare.
Now it's a much different story. No one at the club, though, will be underestimating the challenge that Leeds will provide tomorrow.
True, they have seemingly been doing their level best to force themselves out of the top two with some of their performances and results in recent weeks. And we all saw the worried looks on their faces on TV on Monday night as they were being booed off the pitch by their fans after Millwall had just deservedly beaten them on their own patch.
But looking at things from their perspective you can be sure that they'll be fired up for the game and, privately, probably viewing it as a game that could shape the rest of their season.
As such, you can be certain that the away team dressing room tomorrow will be one of no less determination than the one a few yards further down the corridor that has exuded focus, motivation, togetherness, as well as determination, for quite some time now.
As far as City are concerned, well, naturally a victory - or even a draw - tomorrow would do nicely.
Just two defeats from their last 24 league games speaks for itself. It's an unbelievably good run of form. Accordingly you wouldn't bet against Norwich leaving the pitch tomorrow evening with smiles on their faces and to the deafening roar of approval from yet another packed house. But the most important thing of all is that no one starts panicking if all doesn't quite go according to plan tomorrow.
City have put good distance between themselves and all the rest at the top of the table, and providing they reach 90 points or more - they might not even need that many - it's virtually certain that they'll be playing Championship football again next season.
In other words, they need another 11 points from any of the remaining nine matches - Leeds tomorrow being just one of them.
t FORSTER HAS BEEN REVELATION AT CITY
As the Canaries have strengthened their position at the top of the table in recent weeks, many players have impressed with the standard of their performances on a matchday.
Arguably none, though, have made as telling a contribution on such a consistent basis as Fraser Forster.
Norwich have kept a hugely impressive 15 clean sheets in the league to date, and while he would be the first to acknowledge that they have only been achieved because the players in front of him have also done their jobs properly, whenever he has been required to shine during big moments in games the big City 'keeper has duly stepped up to the plate.
Most recently his late saves at Oldham, the two one-versus-one situations he virtually dealt with to perfection at Huddersfield and that world class tip over the bar late on at Swindon last Saturday remain fresh in the mind.
But it's only what he's been doing all season. Pleasingly, as City have basically continued to run riot over the past eight months, Forster has been rendered a virtual spectator on many occasions.
But when opponents have managed to break through to find themselves facing the Canaries' last line of defence, they've usually come off second best.
t ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY?
Where there's blame there's a claim. We all see the adverts. And no doubt tut-tut in disapproval at the sue-everything-and-anyone culture that has unfortunately made its way to these shores from over the Pond.
I certainly did… until, that is, the seat that I was sitting on at Swindon last Saturday snapped clean off at its hinges - while I was on air on Radio Norfolk - dumping me unceremoniously on my backside.
I'm told I bore a not-too-dissimilar resemblance to Del Boy Trotter when he eventually got to his feet after having just fallen through the bar-flap in that hilarious Only Fools And Horses scene - dishevelled, embarrassed and basically wondering what the hell had just happened. My letter is on its way. I'm going to sue them for the two points that they stole off us in stoppage time.