Norwich City do not have to be victims of circumstance
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A popular myth grew out of England’s stirring Italia 90 World Cup campaign that suggested the late Sir Bobby Robson was the victim of a player coup which propelled the Three Lions all the way to a memorable semi-final, penalty heartache and Gazza’s tears.
"What that glorious episode in English football history underlines is just how circumstance can intervene to spark a new direction. "
Following a less than inspiring 1-1 draw against Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland in their opening group game England adopted what was deemed at the time a revolutionary new tactical system for the second match against the Dutch, comprising three central defenders flanked by two wing-backs.
Given the characteristic resistance to evolve which has seen us perennially lag behind our European cousins on the international stage that marked a radical departure; one prompted by a disgruntled clique of senior players.
Gary Lineker used the occasion of Sir Bobby’s (pictured) passing in 2009 to make it clear such a progressive change of tack had been Robson’s idea and Robson’s alone. The likes of Lineker, Terry Butcher and Bryan Robson were consulted ahead of the Dutch game by the England chief, but there had been no player revolt. Nor could there be in a world where a manager’s authority would soon dissolve if he was taking orders from the dressing room.
Respect is a massive part of the survival rates in a demanding profession. But what that glorious episode in English football history underlines is just how circumstance can intervene to spark a new direction.
The trigger for Robson was the need to improve results but his tactical switch was only possible because he had the players at his disposal to embark on a fresh approach. Butcher, Mark Wright and Des Walker were three imposing centre-backs who combined the aerial power and the requisite pace required to deal with the best strikers of that era. In Stuart Pearce and Paul Parker, Robson had a pair of full-backs with the energy and attacking instincts to operate further forward.
City’s fruitless recent search for the league points most feel their dominance of possession and territory merit, has foundered on some familiar themes.
Goalkeeping heroics, strikers unable to match their early season potency, a worrying vulnerability to the counter-attack and perhaps a factor that is largely overlooked; a persistent seam of injuries. From the moment Jonny Howson twisted awkwardly in a pre-season friendly against SC Bastia, to Vadis Ofoe’s latest exit at Hillsborough, Adams has been buffeted by the vagaries of a gruelling fixture calendar.
Ofoe started Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate at Sheffield Wednesday operating at the point of an attacking diamond with Alex Tettey anchoring the base.
One injury later, allied to a second-half exit for the ineffective Bradley Johnson, and City finished with Jonny Howson at the point and Gary O’Neil operating in that holding role.
Both looked a perfect fit in those re-deployed roles.
It is an open secret Howson relishes the greater licence and attacking freedom he gets to probe in advanced areas. The Yorkshireman has that ability to support the frontmen and a genuine eye for goal; qualities Adams must harness as City strive to get back to winning ways. O’Neil’s experience and nous offer protection in behind, getting across the pitch laterally to put out fires, but he also showed enough in Sheffield to suggest he is a genuine threat on set-pieces with superb deliveries for Cameron Jerome and Russell Martin.
Adams knows that already, which is why he brought O’Neil to the club whilst only that untimely summer injury robbed him of Howson’s influence during the opening month.
What he got at Hillsborough was a compelling reminder as City look to prevail against Bolton on Friday.
The Norwich manager has routinely shuffled his pack for that elusive win and long-overdue momentum but he may now just be in a position to reap the benefits from unforeseen circumstances.