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Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Robert Snodgrass is going to take some beating in the Norwich City player-of-the-year stakes.
The defining phase of the Canaries’ Premier League campaign is yet to unfold, but Snodgrass’ considerable value to the cause was underlined not in dry statistics but sweat and toil against Newcastle.
Alan Pardew’s gameplan was painfully clear. Stop Snodgrass and you stop much of Norwich’s supply line. Davide Santon’s testing afternoon eased considerably with Pardew’s decision to harness Jonas Gutierrez right in the Scot’s eyeline whenever he did get the ball on that right-hand side in open play.
Snodgrass would have appreciated the self-sacrifice - the curbing of the Argentine’s attacking instincts - for under Chris Hughton he has often performed the same role.
Few present on a landmark day at Carrow Road earlier this season will forget the defensive shift he put in to help subdue Manchester United’s threat down their left flank. Nor has that been the exception to the general rule.
Snodgrass was a disciplined foil for Steven Whittaker at Swansea in the eye of a second half storm - graft interspersed with the high-end set piece skills which have carried him to the top of the goal charts for the club at this advanced stage in the current campaign.
Snodgrass is also the top dog across every other attacking index offered by the exhaustive weekly list of statistics compiled by the Premier League for each top flight club. Assists, shots on, shots off, free kicks taken, free kicks scored, crosses – all categories headed by Snodgrass.
By his high standards Newcastle was a rare personal blip. Too often Norwich collectively spurned dead ball openings to test the Magpies’ backline. Less an admission of failure, more a recognition just how skilled a practitioner the Scottish international is.
Snodgrass is due a rare off day or two, set aside the productive seam of quality corners and free kicks to this point in his debut season for the club. When you witness sublime goals like those free kicks at Swansea and West Brom and plenty of near misses besides over the festive period there is a tendency to take his ability for granted.
Not only does it showcase his talent, but also the voracious work ethic and willingness to hone a technique so repetitively assured that it must have taken years of practice and hours on training pitches from Livingston to Leeds.
Take Snodgrass out of this Norwich City side and the creative deficit is not difficult to assess. But Newcastle’s suffocating approach also highlighted a pressing issue for the reminder of the campaign for his manager. If the mantra is ‘stop Snodgrass, stop Norwich’ Hughton and his coaching staff need to contemplate a degree of re-invention, maybe even rest, given Snodgrass’ impressive workload in league and cup.
Hughton reiterated again after the weekend’s goalless draw that Elliott Bennett had been unfortunate to find himself behind Norwich’s best player in the pecking order.
The ex-Brighton wide man was superb at Peterborough in the FA Cup and offered a different dimension when he replaced the weary Snodgrass against Newcastle.
One late cross arrowed towards Grant Holt was re-directed just over the top of Anthony Pilkington’s bonce inside the six-yard box. Bennett’s Premier League inclusion would hardly unbalance City - both in formation or defensive shape, given Bennett has the same appetitte for work.
Hughton has already proved decisively once this season he is a flexible innovator. Those league defeats to Chelsea and this weekend’s opponents Liverpool triggered a revision which laid the foundations for that club record unbeaten Premier League run.
Snodgrass has been one of the few genuine constants; the one stand out player in those uncertain early weeks, where his first goal for the club salvaged that merited draw at Tottenham, and right through the high point of the campaign prior to Christmas with his pivotal contributions.
You can expect Snodgrass to remain a key part of this unfolding Norwich story in the key moments ahead.