Norwich City heroes who came back from scrapheap

Chris LakeyThere is a group of players at Carrow Road who might just be getting more of a kick out of City's position at the top of League One than some of their colleagues.Chris Lakey

There is a group of players at Carrow Road who might just be getting more of a kick out of City's position at the top of League One than some of their colleagues.

Simon Lappin is one of them. So is Gary Doherty and Darel Russell, Wes Hoolahan and Chris Martin.

They're the one-time rejects who have forced their way back into a first team shirt at Carrow Road.

At some stage or another in the past season or two they have been surplus to requirements, under the management of either Glenn Roeder, or Bryan Gunn and, in a few instances, under Paul Lambert.

Not every reject makes it back: some have bitten the dust, never to be seen again. Others still have question marks next to their names, with only the inner circle at Carrow Road knowing who stands where.

Jamie Cureton - on loan at League Two Shrewbury and out-of-contract in the summer - is, perhaps more than any other current employee, aware that his future is not at Norwich, and that he will be following Goran Maric, Jon Otsemobor, Simon Whaley and, most recently, Michael Theoklitos, through the exit door.

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Not so a clutch of players who are doing cartwheels for the first team.

When Doherty and Hoolahan ran out at Peterborough last September, it was in hope rather then expectation. Doherty admitted he had been told his time was up and he could leave.

Hoolahan's immediate future was possibly less clear, with Lambert subsequently finding a role for him in his team.

The fact was, instead of going through the motions, both players put all their efforts into the reserve team games - and that left an impression on the manager. Doherty didn't feature for half a dozen games, was recalled for the 4-0 home win over Leyton Orient, and has hardly looked back since.

Hoolahan missed four games, the absence of his magic feet from even the bench puzzling to many. But Lambert's diamond formation had a role for the Irishman, and he has glittered at its peak ever since.

Russell's absence from first team affairs is shrouded in some mystery: some of the facts are known, but not all.

It started in the summer, with rumours of his departure back up the footballing ladder, with League One not his location of choice for playing football. But interest from Preston and Burnley never became any more than that, and Russell was still with City at the start of the season, albeit not rubbing shoulders with his contemporaries on the training field. He was banished. He doesn't talk much about it, but clearly something happened.

A chat with Lambert, a clearing of the air and finally, after missing the first seven games of the campaign, Russell - a player, let's not forget, who would grace any League One team and many more above that level - was back.

The role at the base of the diamond was his, with only his occasional indiscretion keeping him out for any length of time.

I wonder what would have happened had he started against Colchester on day one?

Michael Nelson's fall from grace was relatively short and came when he was dropped by Bryan Gunn after his debut turned into a nightmare on the opening day.

But Lambert chose him ahead of Michael Spillane as Doherty's replacement, and it wasn't until he suffered an injury at MK Dons that he lost his place. By the time he got back, Doherty and Jens Berthel Askou were the chosen two and he had to wait until the latter got injured at Yeovil before he could get back in. And he's been there ever since - defying predictions that he would never regain a regular starting role.

Almost all of Nelson's absences have been related to injury - and the form of his replacement. Ditto Askou, who just can't break into a winning side.

Martin and Lappin have a history that dates back to the Roeder era. It's gone down on record many times, but such was the disarming attitude towards both that their stories are worth repeating.

Lappin, a good, solid citizen, was summarily dismissed from the first team after being one of those Roeder blamed for the horrendous no-show at Plymouth in November, 2007. Of the team that day, Julien Brellier, David Strihavka and Ian Murray never played for Norwich again. Chris Brown had two more games before he was shipped out.

Spillane and Martin played one FA Cup game under Roeder, who then banished them to Luton for the whole of the following season.

It was perhaps a blessing in disguise, because Martin has certainly benefited, although the jury is out on the unlucky Spillane, whose battle to get into the team was ruined by a torn hamstring last October.

But Roeder's description of the pair as Tweedledee and Tweedledum suggests their well-being as footballers and human beings wasn't top of Roeder's list of targets when he sent them packing.

Then there's Lappin, who is another who has refused to do what he is entitled to and take a swipe at one of his former managers. He finished that season on loan at Motherwell and then spent most of last season training with the youths.

He dug his heels in and, you suspect, waited to see who would be the first to budge. Roeder blinked first, was sacked in January last year and there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Gunn didn't pick him immediately, but when Mark Fotheringham - who, ironically, signed for City the same day as Lappin - stormed off in a strop after being subbed against Coventry in February, there was an opening. He featured in just five games, but this season his career has started again.

Lambert has picked him for every league game since he walked through the door last August, resting him up in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and completing arguably the biggest turnaround of the lot.

Lappin, Doherty, Russell, Hoolahan, Martin. All back in the fold.

What of the others?

Cureton was unloved at varying stages by Peter Grant, Roeder, Gunn and Lambert, and, barring a miracle, won't be back. Owain Tudur Jones is back from a loan spell at Yeovil and Rhoys Wiggins is still on one, at Bournemouth - but if they have ambitions at Carrow Road, then they can take heart from half of the current first team.