Scalps come with Hunter

Steve McLaren's reign as England manager has got off to a flier, with three wins out of three, 10 goals scored and none conceded.

Steve McClaren's reign as England manager has got off to a flier, with three wins out of three, 10 goals scored and none conceded.

The Greece game was just a friendly, admittedly, and last weekend Andorra hardly provided the stiffest opposition, but there was still plenty of good football played in both matches.

The Macedonia game was less spectacular, but it was still a case of job done, thanks - once again - to Peter Crouch.

There's no reason to suggest that the results wouldn't have been equally satisfying under Sven Goran-Eriksson, but the recent performances - particularly against Greece and Andorra - have been a cut above those of recent years.

And yet in terms of personnel, there has been very little change in the England camp since the end of the Eriksson era.

McClaren's promotion to manager aside, the only significant changes have been the appointment of a new coach in Terry Venables and the omission of David Beckham.

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A new coach and the omission of a first-choice midfielder, and everything gets better. Sound familiar?

With the best will in the world, Andy Hughes's influence on proceedings at Carrow Road was never as significant as Beckham's was for England, so it's not really a fair comparison.

And it's also unfair to suggest that Hughes's absence has been the difference between this year's performances and last year's grim efforts. In fact, if Hughes has improved over the summer as much as Carl Robinson and Dickson Etuhu have, he could yet surprise us all.

But something has changed this year at Colney, and the spotlight is increasingly falling on new coach Martin Hunter.

I was initially wary of hailing the change of first-team coach as being of great significance, and I admit that I thought his appointment was a case of fiddling while Rome burns.

Steve Foley was a fully paid-up member of the pass-and-move school of thought. He was also the coach when we won the championship three seasons ago, playing superb football.

So what good would replacing him do while Nigel Worthington and Doug Livermore remained in their posts? Surely Foley was just being made a scapegoat for all last year's problems while his former colleagues battled on?

We've only played five league games, but so far those people with pessimistic views - including me - seem to have been proven wrong.

Worthington deserves the plaudits for taking action in the summer, and it can't have been easy for him to get rid of the affable Foley, because the pair had been close since Worthington took over as manager in 2000. Indeed, it was Foley who hit out publicly at Worthington's critics last season, rebuking those who were calling for the manager's head.

But it could all come at a price. Given that the only significant change behind the scenes has been a coach, yet there has been such an improvement on the pitch, people are going to think that Hunter is the magic ingredient we have so desperately needed.

And if it's the first-team coach who is seen as the be-all and end-all, where does that leave Worthington?


Many of the key players in Wednesday's round of European Championship qualifiers had connections with the Canaries in one form or another.

Christian Dailly - number two only to Kevin Muscat in the unpopularity stakes at Carrow Road - scored for Scotland against Lithuania.

And as well as Peter Crouch continuing his brilliant run of form for England, Northern Ireland had David Healy to thank for their remarkable win over Spain.

Hat-trick hero Healy didn't play as key a role when he was on loan at Norwich as Crouch did three years ago, but he is nevertheless a good player and of the calibre that Nigel Worthington will be looking to sign as he tries to strengthen his squad.

It seems as though we'll be unchanged again at Coventry today, which is obviously good news. But some day soon we are going to get an injury or a suspension, and what are we going to do then?

Worthington has admitted again this week that we need reinforcements - but the question now is whether he can sign a couple of players before it's all too late.


Last week, I mentioned that similar sized-teams seem to beat us in the race for a player's signature more often than not, and I listed David Cotterill, Steve Howard and Rob Hulse as examples of this trend.

But rather than Hulse, of course, I meant to say Geoff Horsfield.

The fact that a number of you pointed it out does at least prove that this column is read. And as Worthington experiences on a regular basis, the critics are never far away when you get things wrong.