From the team that Lambert built to the team to that Hughton has now rebuilt, who is the glue that binds both together? Be you, Mr Holt…Tue 4 Dec 12 by Rick Waghorn
I can’t now remember whether it was something that I heard – or something that I read.
Either way, the implication was obvious.
That City boss Chris Hughton was merely reaping the benefit of Paul Lambert’s team-building as the Class of 2012-2013 powered on up the Premier League table on the back of taking 16 points from their last 24 – an eight-game unbeaten sequence currently only bettered by reigning champions Manchester City.
And what follows is not to decry or deny Lambert’s success in that regard. His feats will remain the stuff of Canary legend.
But when you actually sit down and analyse the team that is holding all-comers at bay right now – and beating Manchester United and Arsenal, to boot – it might come as a slight surprise to realise that of the team that held onto to another famous, three points on Sunday only three were Lambert’s buys.
And but for Michael Turner’s recent injury woes, you could conceivably make that two – Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson.
Every other player that started against the Black Cats was brought to the club under someone else’s charge.
Grant Holt was, of course, a Bryan Gunn signing; Wes Hoolahan was about the one and only decent legacy that Glenn Roeder left the club.
Robert Snodgrass may well have long been on the Lambert radar, but arrived on Hughton’s watch; Alexander Tettey was pure Hughton – ditto three-quarters of that obdurate defence in the shape of Steven Whittaker, Sebastien Bassong and Javier Garrido.
Only Ryan Bennett was a Lambert addition; in John Ruddy’s absence, Mark Bunn has stepped up to the plate following his £1 million summer switch from Blackburn. While one or two might suggest that – on previous form – Ruddy would have pushed Craig Gardner’s 44th minute effort the other side of his left upright, let the record books show that Bunn’s second Premier League start for his new employers yielded three points.
However they were actually gained.
City fans also have Bunn to thank for his part in the Capital One Cup success over Spurs that booked Lambert in for next week’s return visit.
So, that’s six players who are Hughton’s doing in that starting line-up on Sunday. To my mind, that’s not a team that Lambert built; that’s a team that Hughton has re-built. To quite considerable effect, too.
There is, however, another Lambert ‘legacy’ to ponder. And that is one of spirit and character.
The 1-1 draw away at Goodison was, many noted, ‘pure Lambert’; that Norwich’s never-say-die attitude – the one that yielded goal after last-gasp goal in the Scot’s reign – was still alive and kicking within the City dressing room.
Once again, Hughton was merely building on someone else’s foundations; he’d got lucky; he’d been parachuted into a ‘winning’ dressing room.
To a point, they have a point.
Although the winning habit that his predecessor instilled over three, glorious seasons was rather less evident on the opening day of the new campaign; ditto in the home game against Liverpool and the away trip to Chelsea.
So, someone worked hard and convincingly on that dressing room to get that habit back and deliver the kind of far post header that Bassong found with little more than a couple of minutes left on the clock.
Somewhere in that mental mix, Hughton surely deserves some credit for restoring the spirit of old – with half a dozen players that will never have ‘enjoyed’ a Lambert verbal boot up their butt.
But whilst I think Hughton’s success of late needs a re-visit and a re-appraisal – that this is very much his team, not Lambert’s at work – there is one other person in this whole debate who demands a mention.
The same person that Hughton himself mentioned in his BBC interview afterwards – the skipper, Grant Holt.
It’s been muttered before, by the Midlands Press, that – in their eyes – it was Lambert who got lucky when he found Gunn’s greatest signing sat in his dressing room awaiting orders. And that from that day forth, the 31-year-old has instilled a work and team ethic on the pitch that managers past and present have both reaped the benefit from.
Holt leads by example; whether or not he is adding to that extraordinary goal tally, he puts a huge shift in. Game after game. And expects the exact same off all around him.
He is the consistent factor in all this; the character ‘glue’ that binds the Class of 2010-11 to that of 2012-13 as the Canaries continue to defy all those who believe that ‘little ol Norwich’ will be returned to sender this season.
In forcing that deal to be done this summer, in finding that third year that the Holt family craved and forcing the likes of Martin O’Neill at Sunderland to seek the services of a Fletcher and Sam Allardyce at West Ham to bet the Gold’s house on a loan deal for Andy Carroll, Hughton did both himself and the football club the biggest of favours.
For that one act alone, he deserves every credit as Holt, for his part, continues to carve his name into Canary folklore.