The Thursday Preview: Reading Vs Norwich

Posted by on Nov 11, 2010 in The Thursday Preview | 4 Comments

This week’s Preview marks Norwich’s second airing in this column in 2010-11, after Lanterne Rouge correctly predicted a slender home win against Barnsley back in September. In fifth place going into Saturday’s early evening trip to the Silicon Valley, the Canaries have been lingering around the play-off berths for most of the intervening period and their position in the form table speaks of a discreetly competent first third of the season.

If they haven’t quite managed to ratchet the entertainment up to the levels of last season’s remarkable League 1 title stroll, then at least Norwich are a long way clear of the mess they were engulfed in the last time I set my eyes on them. A season before the East Anglians’ eventual relegation, Glenn Roeder had recently taken over following Peter Grant’s ill-advised stab at management. Now safely nestled in the coaching staff at Birmingham, the Scot was perhaps best remembered for the signings of no marks Julien Brellier and David Střihavka, and his year in charge in which Norwich lost the likes of Robbie Earnshaw and Dickson Etuhu only to bring in sub-standard replacements was symptomatic of a club in decline.

That side of 2007-08 was marked by disorganisation and a palpable lack of punch, but this term’s crop stand in stark contrast. Starting with the reasonably rated ‘keeper John Ruddy, two experienced centre halves in Leon Barnett and Elliott Ward and a couple of solid full-backs flanking them from either side, today’s Canaries have a solid base from which to launch what looks on paper to be a particularly strong offense.

Plenty of observers raised an eyebrow when Wes Hoolahan, without doubt one of the Football League’s strongest goalscoring midfielders, opted to stay with Norwich despite their seeming demise, yet his loyalty has been rewarded. While unlucky to have made just one appearance for the Republic of Ireland to date, he continues to excel at club-level, playmaking for a side who possess a decent shot at promotion to the top flight. Whereas pre-Paul Lambert the Canaries’ threat may have been nullified if Hoolahan was marked out of the game, that’s less the case these days: with Korey Smith and Anthony Macnammee possibles out wide, Norwich have an alternative reminiscent of Swansea’s outside prongs in Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer.

Strikers Grant Holt and Chris Martin had it all too easy a league down last season, but they’ve unsurprisingly found Championship defences harder to break down than those of Stockport and Wycombe. The goals have instead been shared around, with noticeable contributions from a revitalised Andrew Crofts and Simeon Jackson.

The Canaries travel to Reading for the first time since April 2004, back when Robert Green was full of youthful promise. Like Norwich, Reading have since had a foray into the Premier League, but they’re back and, ultimately, look pretty much at home at this level. Much of the recent Royals talk has involved the inability of their strikers to strike, but with Noel Hunt hopefully onside following injury and discontent at being left out of the side, those well-documented problems should continue to subside.

Manager Brian McDermott (whose name probably still needs to be suffixed with ‘Manager’ for people to know who he is) was game enough to choose three in attack last night as Cardiff were held to a 1-1 draw, but with winger Jimmy Kébé still absent with injury, the decision was perhaps indicative of the way that Reading seem to lack spark when the Malian’s unavailable. Fellow flank man Jobi McAnuff has been around to stretch and tease in recent games, but Kébé’s the real catalyst and Norwich supporters will hope that he doesn’t recover from a knee injury in time for Saturday.

After some back and forth earlier on in the season, the Royals back line has now settled down with Ian Harte joining Matt Mills, Zurab Khizanishvili and Andy Griffin, a trio who were central to Reading’s push up the Championship table during the second half of last season. This defence would have kept a clean sheet on Wednesday were it not for referee Andy D’Urso’s controversial decision to award an inconclusive goal to Cardiff after Jay Bothroyd’s shot came off the bar. With the bit between their teeth, Reading should see off a Norwich side who haven’t won in their past three games, but the Madejski can be a quiet place and I wouldn’t be surprised to see City nick a point if the game starts without remark.

Lloyd
is co-editor of The Two Unfortunates. He’s 30, supports Plymouth Argyle and takes a particular interest in the fortunes of those Football League clubs west of Bristol.

4 Comments

  1. Matt Wallace
    November 11, 2010

    Hello – Matt W here (the one referenced in a previous Norwich related blog).

    Good preview, and accurately sums up the Holt/Martin combination at this level. They are both seemingly finding it difficult to break defences down, but Holt is faring better. Even though he doesn't get as many goals this year, his link up play and overall workrate mean he is still valuable, while Chris Martin has often been anonymous and was dropped for Jackson until recently. Kudos for the credit to Wes Hoolahan too, a player equal to Taarabt when it comes to game changing playmaking.

    The comments regarding Anthony Mac and Korey Smith are interesting, as they are 2 very different types of player – one a direct, pacey winger and one a more central workhorse. K Smith has the fans on his side as he's an academy product, but he's been in poor form and while he has all the running in the world, he's not the best with the ball at his feet. We often look stunted with him on the wing in our diamond formation.

    Also, while I agree that Reading should win this if they're on form, it'd be wise not to count us out given our away form this year. We drew with QPR, only got pegged back against Millwall in the 94th minute and have proved better away than at home. I'm certainly more confident going away than home at the moment.

    Finally, given your comments in the Norwich/Barnsley preview in September, do you agree with your assessment of Leon Barnett as a serial failure at WBA? I'm not sure of the ins and outs and whether he's had a chance there – maybe he has and he hasn't taken it. But he's been a superb loan for us and one I think all of us want to make permanent.

    Anyway, keep it up!

    Reply
  2. Lanterne Rouge
    November 11, 2010

    Interesting to hear that Barnett has been good Matt -I should 'fess up that it was me and not Lloyd who wrote him off – our fellow blogger Frank Heaven and occasional contributor Jarvo were neither of them impressed by him in a Baggies' shirt.

    I think Royals' results against the top 2, D'Urso notwithstanding, probably underline that they are a bit short of the quality needed to challenge at the very top. As Lloyd says, Kebe is badly missed and of course the board sent out a message about the club's priorities by cashing in on Sigurdsson at the season's start – 4 goals in 6 appearances already for Hoffenheim.

    Reply
  3. The Trumpington Riot
    November 12, 2010

    “The Canaries travel to Reading for the first time since April 2004”. Still it is only a blog eh?

    http://www.soccerbase.com/results3.sd?gameid=476781

    A significant match since it was the same evening as the panic signing of Earnshaw.

    Reply
  4. Lloyd
    November 12, 2010

    Thanks for your comment, Matt. I must admit that I'm surprised that Holt's managed to remerge as he has. I last saw him playing for Shrewsbury in a losing League 2 play-off final team (in which Jackson scored the only goal late on) and he looked like a right chuffer. Fair play to him, though, after what happened at Forest.

    The away form certainly looks decent; I just wonder whether there's a reason for your home form sliding as it has done? I notice that you've already lost as many at home (3) as you did for the whole of last season. Is it anything beyond the fact that there's simply been a step-up in quality?

    As for Barnett, I've personally never been that impressed but then I'm largely judging him for some of the mistakes he made up in the Premiership. He looked ok for Cov last season, but nothing more. On the other hand, I think Ward is a fantastic player and he almost single handedly sorted out my team's defence when he was on loan a few years back.

    The Trumpington Riot: Whoops! I did rush this one through a little, and I even forgot that I saw Reading put a few past Norwich towards the end of that Championship relegation season, so in fact the two clubs have been in the same league twice since the game I highlighted. Shoddy! For measure, I saw it on tv beamed live to Walkabout in Reading. Hardly any pubs were showing the game, which was important for the Royals, perhaps emphasising how the club had fallen since their two-year EPL spell.

    Reply

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