City boss Glenn Roeder has told all four of his newly-signed loan stars that they are at Carrow Road “to play” after employing just two of his New Year arrivals in Saturday's 1-0 win over Preston North End.
Matthew Bates and teenage Reading winger James Henry were the two that forced their way immediately into the City manager's squad thinking – even if he kept faith with the same starting XI that nicked another priceless 1-0 win away at Southampton in mid-week.
Both made their City debuts, but it still leaves both Henry's Royals' pal Alex Pearce and Arsenal starlet Kieran Gibbs up his sleeve. If only on the evidence of Friday's first training session, neither teenager will have to wait too much longer for their chance in a City shirt.
“Just looking at training on Firday morning and the four boys have looked good players,” said Roeder. Bates, in particular, proved that point after enjoying a very composed, 35-minute run-out at right-back.
His fisrt touch was an excellent whipped cross from the by-line following a well-timed over-lapping run; moments later and he was squeezing an excellent 30-yard pass between centre-half and full-back for Lee Croft to chase. Given that the Boro 21-year-old has been sidelined for the better part of 14 months following two serious knee ligament injuries, Bates' performance caught the eye.
“He looked a player that's come from a Premiership club,” said Roeder, more smitten with his solid defensive work. “He looked classy – and he looked very, very mean up in the corner there when he took the ball and the player. I wouldn't think wingers will enjoy playing against him whilst he's here.”
Whether that's a little clue that he has Bates ear-marked for a right-back role as opposed to his more favoured position at centre-half will have to await on events. Jon Otsemobor's sore Achilles could finally be granted a rest. With seven games squeezed into the month of March, it was always going to be a big ask of City's existing full-back.
“Jon has got a sore Achilles, but I wanted to get Batesy into the action as soon as possible,” said the City boss, already in line for the Freedom of the City given Norwich's current run of 29 points from the last 42.
In the meantime, however, Roeder will spend the next couple of weeks ushering some of the finest teenage Premiership prospects into the Championship limelight.
“They are here to play,” he said. “As I said to the two boys that never even made the bench today (Pearce and Gibbs) – they're here to play. And I said to them after I'd named the team, I took them into my office and I said: 'You're not here to be on the bench, you're here to play…
“'But we've only had you for one day and we need you to show a little more patience – which is not a problem for them. Because you will be playing.”
Roeder admitted that he simply couldn't change a winning team overnight, though given the flat and nigh-on chanceless nature of the opening 70-minutes or so, whether everyone will start again in South Wales this weekend is something for Roeder, his No2 Lee Clark and first team coach Paul Stephenson to ponder over the next five days.
“They deserved it – no doubt about it,” said Roeder. “They deserved it for the way that they played against Leicester and the result that was achieved against Southampton.
“They deserved to start again, but those players know that they are under an awful lot of pressure now with the four lads that have come in.”
But the City chief will be faced with another tricky dilemma at Ninian Park this weekend. Does he tinker with a winning formula? Or stick with the same individuals that have powered a reborn Carrow Road club to within first glimpse of the play-off places?
He will, after all, have promised Messrs Eriksson, Southgate, Coppell and Wenger that their boys will get games whilst on tour in Norfolk.
“As I said, what I saw from the four players yesterday (Friday), I'm quite excited with what I saw. I really feel that those four players are going to lift the technical level that is in the squad at the moment and help us to climb into the top half of the table, shall we say,” said Roeder. Note he avoided the word 'play-off' in that sentence.
He also revealed that he may well be back dabbling a big toe in the 'emergency loan' market again this spring after missing out on his January strike target – Southampton Grzegorz Rasiak. That particular window opens again seven days after the January window officially closed – 9am, Friday, in effect.
By when, the theory goes, Premiership managers fresh from their own spin on the January transfer merry-go-round will have had time to assess their own squad strengths and who they might, just, farm out for the final three months of the season.
“I do wish I'd got another striker,” he said, with Sven Goran Eriksson's late decision to let Ched Evans out on a window-to-window deal offering a small consolation to missing on the Polish international's signature.
“We were quite close,” said Roeder, leaving everyone else to speculate on the name of the one that got away. “He went to a Premiership club instead and I can't deny the lad when he had an opportunity. He would have come here; he was quite happy to come here until a Premiership club came in and took him away on loan. And I think his team's won today…”
That, of course, would be Bolton's 2-0 win at a wobbling Reading with Rasiak, ironically, being an unused substitute at the Madejski. At Carrow Road he would have been nigh-on guaranteed a game as Roeder looks to spare Dion Dublin's 38-year-old limbs.
“We'll just have to see which way things unfold, but I do think that at the moment we are relying much too heavily on Dion Dublin. At 38,” said Roeder, as the Canary veteran continues to make a big case for 'Player of the Year' in his farewell season to the professional game.
“I think you can sum up Dion's contribution to the game today in how he found the energy, the motivation, the desire… as how he got to the ball from the corner kick straight after we scored. Amazing. And what a great header away it was as well.”
In amidst it all, there was no room at the inn for Darren Huckerby. You sense the world is moving very quickly on, as the next generation of Premiership stars threaten to eclipse a player who, even at 32, remains one of the Championship's brightest attacking stars. Football remains an unforgiving beast; sentiment only goes so far.
“He was fit – just not selected,” said Roeder, quizzed afterwards as to Huckerby's whereabouts. “There's just loads of competition now down the left-side – particularly with Kieran Gibbs, a player who can play left-back and wide on the left. Huge things are expected of Kieran…”
And so the world moves on.
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