The biggest managerial decision of Peter Grant's life? Possibly.
Because as the Canaries head to West London tonight in the hope of proving to the nation's armchair football fans that City's last, live TV 'treat' – the 1-0 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday nine days ago – was just a case of first night nerves, so Grant has to make one, big decision.
And it has nothing to do with who plays alongside returning skipper Jason Shackell at the heart of that Norwich defence.
It has, however, everything to do with the one, huge conundrum that has dogged virtually his every managerial move this troubled autumn – what, oh what, does he do with Darren Huckerby?
Without a goal for the better part of eight hours, the 32-year-old remains City's best attacking weapon. And that if Norwich are ever to haul themselves out of the bottom three and get their season going, they are going to have to score a goal.
Ideally, at least one more than win-less and manager-less Queen's Park Rangers. Under normal circumstances, you might be half tempted to take a point and a gutsy 0-0. But these aren't normal circumstances.
For nine hours without a goal would continue to test the patience – particularly given the fact that the delights of West Bromwich Albion and Burnley away are still to come this month.
So does he go three in midfield to give him the insurance of an extra pair of midfield legs? Or does he go for four and with Lee Croft out away on the right, gives himself the kind of natural, attacking balance everyone yearns for but, as ever, at the cost of that openness?
The kind of openness that can send managers to an early grave if Rangers new-boy Rowan Vine continues where he left off in the 4-2 defeat at Colchester United last week and scores on his home debut.
That's the other point – this isn't just any old game for Rangers either. Most pundits have this down as their best chance of breaking their winning duck this season. Their campaign has also been over-shadowed by the death of young striker Ray Jones in a car accident.
Add that kind of lingering emotion to Mick Harford's first home in charge, albeit on a caretaker basis, and it promises to be a real scratchy, knife-edge affair with nerves fraying all over the pitch. Another classic for Sky's Championship viewers.
If all that weren't enough, after tonight Norwich have a 13-day break before the next home game against Bristol City on October 20. All the time in the world for some bitter navel-gazing and finger pointing.
“It's a massive game,” admitted City winger Lee Croft, whose selection or not tonight will say so much about Grant's state of mind. “We've got to go there and we've got to try and win.”
By scoring goals, by opening up and playing 4-4-2? As they did against Scunthorpe the other night – right up to the scoring goals part.
“We just wanted to make it work so that we get another chance at it,” said Croft, the sponsors Man of the Match against the Iron.
“Obviously we didn't get the win, but hopefully we did enough to get another chance at it.”
Norwich certainly need to arrest their recent decline and would, likewise, certainly take any sort of break right now in front of goal. They need a lifeline as this season threatens to be over almost before its begun.
The trip to Loftus Road is, of course, the 10th game of the season – football's traditional bench-mark point. Another good reason not to find yourself heading back up the A11 empty-handed.
“I just think we're not playing well,” said Croft, quizzed as to what he thought the reason was behind City's alarming goal drought.
“And if we're not playing well then we're not going to create chances – and that comes hand-in-hand with not scoring goals,” added the Canary winger, buoyed by what he saw as a better performance against Scunthorpe United in mid-week.
It wasn't, exactly, up against much given events against first Wolves and then Sheffield Wednesday. In between, of course, was the trip back to Croft's old employers Manchester City in the Carling Cup where Norwich played with a better belief and confidence.
They also played with no Huckerby.
“Hopefully the performances will keep getting better and the goals will come with that – and the points will come with that as well.”
And with points and wins and goals comes, in theory, confidence.
“I think there's maybe been a nervousness amongst the lads and that and, hopefully, that will go as games go by and as we starting playing better. Then, hopefully, everyone will get confident again and start doing things off the cuff and create chances.”
It is chicken and egg time; cart before horse – that to win games you need confidence. But confidence only comes from winning games.
“I think the only game that we have played well in was Manchester City away and even then we came away with a loss. So we've got into a bit of a rut which we need to get out of. ASAP.”
In fairness, Norwich are certainly making every effort to get out of this division this season. Look what fun Leeds United are having…
“Obviously it's the wrong end of the table from where we would like to be, but it's only a few games gone – there's a lot more games to play and a lot more points to be won.”
Is this lack of goals playing on everyone's mind?
“I don't think it is when you're playing, but when you look at the stats it's there isn't it? But once that goal goes in I'm sure that the confidence will spread and I'm sure we will be fine.”
If it doesn't…
Leave a Reply