A sting in the tail . . .

RICHARD BALLS The visit of Watford this afternoon raises the spectre of two Carrow Road ghosts who, if they do come back to haunt us, could do more than just dent Nigel Worthington's pride.

RICHARD BALLS

The visit of Watford this afternoon raises the spectre of two Carrow Road ghosts who, if they do come back to haunt us, could do more than just dent Nigel Worthington's pride.

While the players signed by the manager in recent times have been puzzling, I believe, put a question mark over his judgement, his decision to release others has been equally disquieting. For Danny Crow and Matthias Svensson last August, see Malky Mackay for the previous one. I am not saying this now with the benefit of hindsight, I said it at the time. I remain convinced that he should have been maintained as part of the first team squad that won us promotion and to this day I remain baffled as to why he was allowed to leave the club. Pace was never his strong point and, if I am totally honest, I shared the suspicions of others that he might not have been up to Premiership football. Then again, it seemed incredibly harsh that a player who had been at the heart of a City defence that was the bedrock of our championship winning season, and who had a knack of scoring more than the odd goal, was cast aside after the job had been done. However, there was something even more puzzling about the whole episode.

We all know that there are players who fit the Worthy mould and players who do not. Craig Fleming is a Worthy-type player, Paul McVeigh is not. Gary Holt once ticked all the Worthy boxes, whereas Phil Mulryne was never going to do that. That is not to suggest for a minute that McVeigh and Mulryne are not talented players. Indeed, it is probably their individual flair and the nature of their personalities that means they will never conform to the Worthy ideal.


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So what about Malky? He was settled in Norfolk with a young child, lived and breathed the “work ethic” that is one of the cornerstones of Worthy's management ethos, and had the respect of the supporters. He also had a habit of scoring goals and even if he wasn't going to be the manager's first choice in the top-flight, he would have been a welcome sight on the substitutes bench. In the event of relegation, which was always a possibility, he would have been more valuable still. But others did not see it that way and he was sold. When he was signed from West Ham by Watford in the summer, the irony of that move could not have been lost on anyone at Carrow Road because it united him with Adie Boothroyd whose own departure from the club also drew some criticism, most notably from Nigel Worthington.

Boothroyd, a thrusting young coach with ambition to burn, left as City's assistant academy director to join West Brom, then City's play-off rivals. Neil Doncaster said that everyone at the club was disappointed to see him go, but he aspired to opportunities that Norwich City simply couldn't offer. He had big ambitions and wanted to progress his career.

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Worthy was seething though and when asked at a press conference for his view, it was like putting a lighted match to petrol. “Was enough done to keep him at this football club? No there wasn't,” he fumed. “People will say there was, but there wasn't. A lot more could have been done. You can save money all your life, but you've got to spend a bit at times. I think we are losing a very good coach and I'm very disappointed that he is leaving. I was desperate for him to stay.”

If that wasn't un-politically correct enough for the powers-that-be, he went on to suggest that the development of youngsters like Ian Henderson and Ryan Jarvis had been down to the young coach and no one else. “Other people take the plaudits, but it's down to Adrian Boothroyd, it's as simple as that.”

Two days later, he issued a grovelling apology to the then academy boss Sammy Morgan. In a carefully prepared statement, he said it was not the case that promising young players coming through the system at Colney had been down to one person and he was sorry for suggesting otherwise. Thus a line was drawn under the whole episode back in October 2003, but Boothroyd's rise and rise up the coaching ladder to become manager of a Championship side suggests that Worthy's initial observations about his abilities were bang on the money.

At the start of this season, many were predicting disaster ahead for a Watford side that had sold prolific strikers Heidar Helguson and Danny Webber and were being led by a man with no managerial experience. But under Boothroyd's astute guidance, the Hornets have been the surprise package of the season and haven't been out of the top six for months. They are currently fourth and if they were to beat Norwich today, they would be 13 points ahead of Norwich. In a development that will again have irony fans on their feet, he has also been casting an eye over Peterborough's prodigious young striker Danny Crowe, the one that Worthy decided not to keep a year after he signed his first professional contract with the club.

Simon Charlton has described this afternoon's encounter as a “six-pointer” and it is not hard to see why. The Crystal Palaces, Prestons and Watfords of this world just keep on winning and if we fail to take all three points, that five point gap between us and the play-offs could be stretched to eight by 5pm tonight. Despite their slow start, Iain Dowie's side also have two games in hand on several other teams, including us, and could even push for an automatic place if their form continues.

Let's hope the three points on offer today don't get added to the list headed, 'Ones That Got Away'.

RESERVE WATCH:

Splat The Cat and Captain Canary are the stars of Soccer PM. But given what tends to follow their antics beneath the Barclay Stand, it is surely time that the pair were fitted with boots and given a game. Even with their galumphing great feet, they couldn't do any worse.

The reserves are not having a happy time of it and although that may seem of little significance providing the first-team are picking up results, I would question what affect it is all having on players, especially the youngsters.

This week's 5-0 thrashing at Carrow Road by Tottenham was not the best yardstick to use given that the Spurs line-up included Wayne Routledge, Grzegorz Rasiak and our old friend Calum Davenport. They fielded a side with plenty of quality. But the stats over the season should give cause for some very red faces.

The top scorer for the reserves is Craig Fleming. When I say top scorer, he is joint top with Jim Brennan, Ian Henderson, Chris Martin and Paul McVeigh, all sharing the common bond of one goal each. Yes, in the 14 games Keith Webb's side have played, they have scored just five goals and three of those came in their first win of the season against Fulham on September 5. Take that game out of the equation and we have managed two goals in 21 hours of football.

Oddly enough, we are bottom of the 14-team Reserve League South.

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