December 13 2013 Latest news:
Monday, October 14, 2013
The biggest thing to be considered at Colney during the latest international break must surely be who leads the line at Arsenal this weekend.
You’re not going to go to the Emirates Stadium with what, in the modern age, would almost seem a ‘cavalier’ two-up-front formation, so do you stick with the man who has now gone 528 league minutes without a goal or the one who has so far only had the chance to strike twice against top-six Championship opposition?
It’s a tough one. I don’t expect anything this Saturday other than the chance to reflect that it will be 12 days short of four years to the afternoon that we went to Stockport – another reminder in a week of good financial news that how this club’s fortunes have been so transformed that the likes of Arsenal has now become a regular fixture.
But if Ricky van Wolfswinkel fails to register at the Emirates, then the questioning will start in the run-up to the must-win game against Cardiff seven days later.
Everything the manager says suggests that even if those two games come and go goal-less the status quo will continue for a bit longer.
I suspect the trio of November games from which Chris Hughton must be targeting a few points – West Ham and Crystal Palace at home sandwiched around a trip to Newcastle – are the ones which will represent some sort of crunch point.
Because if we’re not firing on all cylinders by then, that will be the time that maybe irate punters ringing in to Canary Call will start to have a point.
As the Arsenal game marks two months of the season gone it’s worth reflecting on two previous big-money signings and their struggle to make an immediate impact.
Van Wolfswinkel is perhaps the highest-profile striker signing made by the Canaries since Dean Ashton in 2005.
(I don’t think Grant Holt comes into this category simply because having moved around – a lot – the jury was still very much out on him.)
And following his £3m move from Crewe great things were immediately expected of him in the fight to avoid relegation.
The Canaries took significantly more away fans to his debut, a 3-0 defeat at Aston Villa.
And he struggled to find his mark after that.
The following week he did manage City’s second – and what looked like being consolation – goal in the never-to-be-forgotten 4-4 draw against Middlesbrough.
But three further scoreless goals followed, then there was one effort in the 3-2 home defeat by Manchester City and another three matches without success.
It was only after he opened the scoring in the 2-0 victory over Manchester United, three months after his debut, that the goals not only started to come but prove meaningful as well.
It wasn’t much better for his replacement.
Apart from two goals against soon-to-be-relegated Brighton it took Robert Earnshaw a while to get into his stride as he was otherwise scoreless in his first seven City appearances in 2006.
The fixture which kick-started things for him was getting the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Sheffield United – the infamous “Nigel Worthington refused to shake my hand after the final whistle, rages Neil Warnock” afternoon which shook football to its very core. Remember it now? No, me neither.
The Blades match came six weeks after his debut, but the pressure on Earnshaw in an already meaningless Championship season was a great deal less than that now being faced by van Wolfswinkel.
• FORSTER MAY HAVE MEDIA ON SIDE BUT RUDDY IS BETTER PLACED
Whatever the merits of John Ruddy’s case to appear for England in meaningful fixtures it’s pretty clear that there’s a pretty uneven playing field when it comes to publicity.
Our goalkeeper suffers from being in an out-of-the-way location where officials and players aren’t exactly rushing to give the media their views on anything other than ‘there are no easy games in the Premier League any more’-type platitudes.
As opposed to Glasgow.
There, headlines of all manner have been appearing on the subject of a possible replacement for Joe Hart in the event of any more wayward form.
Such as ‘Fraser Forster backed for Barcelona by Dani Alves’, ‘Fraser Forster’s Champions League display warrants England recognition’ or ‘Terry Butcher tips Fraser Forster to break the border barrier and star for England while playing in Scotland’.
(That last one, incidentally, is a bit strange, given the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager’s love of all things NCFC – is he not aware of where Forster was playing four years ago?)
It distorts the picture, given that there is page after page after page of Scottish sport sections waiting to be filled in the absence of any game and to foster a belief that Scottish domestic football still actually counts for something south of Dumfries.
Ruddy just isn’t going to get that sort of attention in England, but the fact remains that he plays in a far more consistently demanding environment than his Celtic rival.
Yes, Forster will have another six Champions League group appearances under his belt by the end of the year, but the fare for the rest of his season isn’t quite as lavish.
Indeed, some might even suggest that facing the likes of Hibernian or Kilmarnock is on a par with the sort of opposition he took on during his season at Carrow Road.
Ruddy, meanwhile, has a schedule that began against Everton and should finish with the visit of Arsenal.
On the basis of that alone, I know who I’d be favouring.
• CARDIFF VISIT COULD SHAPE OUR SEASON
For some time now I’ve felt that the home game against Cardiff in 12 days’ time could be the defining fixture of the first half of the season.
It all goes back to losing at Hull. Fail to beat another newly-promoted side and some will be sharpening their knives, metaphorically speaking, on Canary Call or messageboards.
Two seasons ago Paul Lambert collected a maximum 12 points from Swansea and QPR – a great platform on which to build a comfortable survival effort.
Even though last year we managed only seven points against the newly-promoted trio we did actually lose just the once, suggesting that if nothing else we were hard to beat. Slip up against Cardiff and we’ll be on course for even fewer points this time around.
There’s a huge irony in a former Carrow Road favourite being in the opposition dug-out for this one – and those who wanted Malky Mackay, pictured, appointed in the summer of 2012 are even less likely to have their wish granted any time should Cardiff take another step towards survival on October 26 at the expense of the Canaries.
As far as we’re concerned, this is the sort of fixture that any club looking to stay up should win. End of.
Because if you can’t get three points against the likes of Cardiff at home, then who can you beat?
But now all the pressure appears to have swung from Chris Hughton to his opposite number, with the news that some unknown 23-year-old Kazahkstani appears to be pulling the strings on the playing side.
Even Cardiff’s – how can we put it diplomatically? – unpredictable owner, the man who made his club the new MK Dons by changing their colours, can‘t be expecting much from the visit to Chelsea this weekend, but a trip to Carrow Road will be very different, especially as it comes eight days before the first South Wales derby of the season.
Victory for Norwich and who knows what he’ll say or do to Mackay, a man who deserves a lot better treatment than this.