Both words and actions finally point to Norwich City’s missing ingredient

Gary O'Neil gets rid at Wigan  oh, for a bit more of that in past recent weeks. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Gary O'Neil gets rid at Wigan  oh, for a bit more of that in past recent weeks. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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It’s the question we’ve been dying to have answered from the moment the full-time whistle went at the DW Stadium last weekend. And no, it’s not which row of the stand behind Scott Carson’s goal was Kyle Lafferty was aiming for with that second-half free-kick…

It was pretty clear – and has been much discussed since – that Norwich City did things a little differently in Wigan: added directness from back to front, better in-game management and less naivety in their play as their hosts tried to force the issue.

And of course, the biggest caveat to last weekend was just how capable Wigan were of forcing anything.

For all the Latics’ clear residual Premier League quality, they were so far off the pace and short of belief that maybe the Football Association plans to declare Malky Mackay’s tenure at the DW his punishment for those severe text message misdemeanours at Cardiff.

Come this weekend’s Carrow Road visit from Huddersfield Town, we will all be asking: has the Championship penny finally dropped for City? The definitive answer doesn’t arrive for weeks, at least. But the next clue could be a vital one.

Now, trying to discuss such a situation on the basis of one 90-minute performance can be a difficult task – something I say from all too regular experience… But this time, the signs of encouragement since full-time in Greater Manchester have extended beyond the match action, into words.

Given the differences in expectation to the last time City were operating in the Championship, it’s no surprise the soundbites have been different too – but that audible different is starting to shrink. And with it, the attitude may change too.

“We know we’ve got the quality but we have to work hard like the other teams are doing and after, if we keep doing that and keep working, then our qualities are going to damage the opposition and we have the chance to win,” said Carlos Cuellar on Saturday.

“Of course everybody wants to play football and we’ve got the players, we know already, who can do that. But sometimes you cannot find the space and then you can’t damage the opponents. We came here to fight, we got the goal, we kept the clean sheet… Buen!”

It’s not a conscious thing for City, I know. No one goes out to purposefully struggle. But for me, City have looked like they’ve been out-worked by their opponents too many times since October – in the Championship, that always finds you out.

Cuellar’s comments were the first time in a long time I can recall that work-rate situation being addressed – as well as the rightly-placed confidence that if they match their opponents’ effort, City’s quality will then look after the rest.

So have City finally absorbed what’s needed to make this season the success they crave?

“I’m just coming in and applying a little bit of experience within the coaching department,” Mike Phelan told that renowned football periodical, the International Business Times. The first-team coach is 16 days into his new role.

“It’s a Premier League squad – it needs to adjust to Championship football, but the qualities are there.”

Indeed Mike – and long may that adjustment continue.

Just Saying…

Both the Norwich City supporter and journalist in me is looking forward to Saturday – and the return of Grant Holt for his first appearance at Carrow Road since leaving the club.

He may well score. He will almost certainly annoy the home fans at some point. And hopefully we’ll avoid the acrimony of Reading.

But at least the ground will be united in saluting a proper Canaries’ legend in our lifetime.

Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey

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