City boss Glenn Roeder gave his biggest commitment yet to playing a passing game after this weekend's 3-1 away win at Barnsley.
First-half and as the Canaries heaved the ball long in Dion Dublin's direction and Norwich were going nowhere fast – other than slipping back into the Championship's bottom three following Martin Devaney's all-too easy opener.
Come the interval and one of Roeder's more direct 'pep talks' had City pinging the ball through midfield with far greater effect. Indeed, the second period was just three minutes old before Ched Evans levelled. Thereafter, the Canaries ran riot as their hosts – unbeaten at Oakwell for the last 12 games – disappeared without trace.
The lesson for Roeder afterwards was clear – City have to get the ball down and play. A lesson he would then extend to England and this nation's woeful inability to make an impression at tournament level, be it European Championships or World Cups.
For those of a mind to make a little mischief, you could also apply his argument to recent events at St James' Park where playing 'the Bolton way' played a large part in Sam Allardyce's downfall. Roeder's way of playing football was always far more in tune with Gallowgate thinking – he would argue he just never had enough fit players to play it.
“I did enjoy that,” said the City boss as he looked back at that latest away day success, with Norwich now having lost just once in their last 12 outings. “This has never been an easy place to come to – even when I played. It's a difficult place – and we thoroughly deserved the win.”
It was not without it's faults – not least the number of chances that went astray after the interval. “Again we've let Barnsley get away with it,” said Roeder, an accusation he has already levelled against his team in the festive 1-1 draws with both Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace.
“Because if we take the clear-cut chances that we make, it could have been embarrassing. We swamped them in the second-half. The first-half performance wasn't bad either – we just didn't take our chances and conceded a rotten goal.”
That said, Norwich stepped up at least two gears after the interval as Roeder got them back to their passing ways; that once skipper Mark Fotheringham got his foot on the ball and used the acres of space around him to far better effect, so Norwich ripped the Reds apart.
“The important thing was that we started the second-half well; that we had momentum – and, of course, we did. We got the goal. And the first goal was always going to be very important. But it's unusual for a team – especially away from home – to keep the momentum going for the whole of the second-half.”
Cue an insight into the tactical make-up that is now at work at Colney.
“There's ten, 12, 20 ways to play a game of football,” he said. “And I can't coach what is back-to-front football.”
Which, in translation, is long-ball; is direct; is a Bolton or a Stoke. Or an England on occasion.
“Playing off a big striker in one long ball from the back. And then feeding on second balls. And I thought we had spells in the first-half of doing that. And, unfortunately, that is what is engrained in English football.
“And that is why England will never win a World Cup or a European Championship. Because while we play the way we did in the last 20 minutes of the game against Croatia, we will never win anything. Unfortunately that's engrained in the history of English football.”
It's in the midst of such speeches you begin to realise why Roeder can find such common cause – and friendships – with the like of Sven Goran Eriksson and Arsene Wenger. And why an encounter with Potters' boss Tony Pulis produces such a frosty response.
“It'll get you out of the Fourth Division; it'll get you out of the Third Division – and it might get you out of the Championship. But it will never win anything at the top end. And until we all get together and have the same thought process of how football should be played – like it is in Europe – we will always struggle. And – it's a long way of saying it – but I said to them we need to pass the ball more.
“Barnsley drop off so deep and give you so much space to play in, there's no point in trying to hit the ball over the top. There's no grass to hit. And there's no point in hitting the ball aimlessly at Dion because the midfield then can't get up for the knock-downs because the pitch is so big. We need to pass the ball more…”
Having got that penny to drop – albeit, he suggested, at the expense of the paint-work in the away dressing room – and everything else fell into place. It could have been five or six had Lee Croft made the most of a three versus one and Dublin converted a typically darting run from second-half substitute Darren Huckerby.
Roeder also reserved a special word of praise for his Chelsea starlet Ryan Bertrand who made his first, full Championship start at Oakwell.
“There were some good performances out there – none more so than the lad we got from Chelsea,” said the City boss, employing his now standard away-day formation of one winger only with Bertrand tucked away on the left in front of Mo Camara.
“I don't normally praise one player because it is a team effort and it's a terrific team victory. But he is new to us and I am so looking forward to working with him for the rest of the season. I thought he was excpetional when you consider he really is a natural left-back playing in a position that he has not played in before, I just thought his decision-making was first class and he did look a cut above a lot of the players on the pitch.”
A few more Bertrands and things could really take an interesting turn this spring.
“The teams getting better and if we can add three or four players in the January window, then things can really start looking up,” said Roeder.
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