August 23 2014 Latest news:
Friday, August 24, 2012
It may require a leap of faith, given those unpalatable events at Craven Cottage remain fresh in the memory, but a more significant match in the course of shaping Norwich’s season may have taken place closer to home this week.
The Canaries’ opening development league fixture at Colney on Monday was notable not simply for Jamar Loza’s winning hat-trick to beat Blackburn’s U21s, but an 80-minute sighting of David Fox.
City’s playmaker was sorely missed at Fulham as he inches towards a return from the knee injury which robbed Chris Hughton of his services during the whole of the club’s pre-season preparations.
If anyone remains in any doubt as to Fox’s value it was painfully illustrated at Fulham. City’s defensive laxness has rightly been castigated, but their inability to retain possession and relieve the incessant pressure on an over-worked backline was equally damaging.
Mousa Dembele and the Cottagers’ coterie of technical talents passed and moved Norwich to a standstill. Fulham’s three goals after the interval were all sourced from quick, sharp, incisive work within the vicinity of John Ruddy’s penalty area.
Fox is arguably the best passer in the entire Norwich squad. He has, as someone formerly of this parish used to remark, a wonderful ability to find another player in a yellow shirt. In reality, the ability to guide a ball to your intended target should be a simple transferable skill for Premier League footballers.
Sadly, that is not the case. City spent too much time back-pedalling on a blisteringly hot day in south-west London and as a result were deprived of the ball for long spells.
Fox’s presence at Fulham by itself may not have proved the decisive factor in averting another wretched outing in that part of the world, but Hughton’s men would have been better-equipped to deny the hosts the weight of possession and territory that laid the foundations for such an emphatic victory.
The 28-year-old is a low maintenance footballer who has the unerring knack of making those around him appear better players. You sense he has now reached that stage of his career where he knows his game inside out. What he can do and what he can’t. If you want a player to beat three men and rifle one into the top corner from 25 yards, look elsewhere. If you want a player to keep it simple, keep your side in possession, to find team mates in time and space, then there are few comparable options available in Hughton’s squad.
City at various spells during pre-season and more pertinently at Fulham have looked vulnerable defensively and lacking in attacking potency.
Buy all the new defenders and strikers you wish – and one should be genuinely encouraged by the high class purchase of Sebastien Bassong earlier this week – but if the side has a midfield that is both individually and collectively unable to retain the ball there is no sustainable bridge from back to front; which only exacerbates any inherent weaknesses at opposite ends of the pitch.
Fox may have been plucked from Colchester for a fraction of what some of the blue chip members of his profession earn a week in wages, but the 28-year-old has been an intrinsic part of the Norwich success story.
He may have taken a circuitous route to the top but he enjoyed a privileged grounding at Manchester United; immersed in a culture of excellence where he developed good habits training with some of the best footballers of the modern-era.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams have long championed the craft of midfielders comfortable in possession. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes were joined at Goodison Park on Monday night by summer signing Shinji Kigawa.
The Japanese midfielder may have had to defer to Marouane Fellaini for top billing, but the Borussia Dortmund signing produced a masterclass in midfield simplicity.
Granted, Everton’s doggedness may have ultimately earned them the win on the night: possession is not always the dominant law in the Premier League. But on that evidence Kigawa could prove every bit as vital to United’s attempts at silencing in their noisy neighbours as the higher profile arrival of Robin van Persie.
Norwich harbour less grander Premier League ambitions, but Fox is likely to be just as influential.