City No2 Lee Clark this afternoon confirmed what many had long suspected – that the 3-0 away defeat at Plymouth last November was “a watershed” for the new managerial team at Carrow Road.
Since that hapless 3-0 defeat at Home Park, the Canaries have, of course, lost just once more – and that to a last-minute strike in the 2-1 defeat at Stoke City on the first Saturday in December.
Thereafter, and FA Cup hic-cups aside, City have barely missed a trick and will head to South Wales on Saturday having amassed 29 points from the last 42 – enough to put them just seven points shy of the play-off places, a healthy looking eight away from the drop zone.
Little wonder that the 37-year-old Clark is having the time of his fledgling managerial life in Norfolk even if, for now, he is looking no further forward than Ninian Park on a Saturday lunch-time. Dreaming he leaves to others.
“It's going really well,” said Roeder's right-hand man this afternoon. “We've had a great response from the players – they've have really bought into what Glenn and I are trying to do.”
On that fateful Saturday at Home Park, simply trying to keep the Canaries in the Championship at all looked a formidable task. An early injury to the newly-arrived Martin Taylor hardly helped their cause, but with Clark doing his proverbial nut on the touchline and Roeder stripping the away dressing room walls afterwards, the pair were granted a swift lesson in just what they were left to work with. Or not work with, as the case may be.
Twice Simon Lappin made it as far as the bench before his exit to Motherwell this window, but for David Strihavka, Julien Brellier and Ian Murray Plymouth (a) was their last appearance in a City shirt. Come the end of the transfer window, all three were out of the door – Black Spot long since delivered.
“Plymouth away was the watershed game for us – it showed that we actually needed to make a lot more changes than we thought,” said Clark, as the pair set about their business with a ruthless efficiency. Handed a two-week break to re-group, in came Mo Camara, in came Matty Pattison and away City went.
“I think the players that we brought in from the Premiership raised the standard in training every day and if you do that, then that then raises the standard on match-days,” said Clark, swift to point out that the new managerial set-up – including, of course, a third musketeer in first team coach Paul Stephenson – have yet to fulfil their first brief, simply keeping City in the second flight of English football.
“We haven't done anything yet; haven't achieved anything – all we've done is given ourselves a good base from which to work from,” said Clark, refusing to alter his glance upwards.
“All we're looking to do is just catch the next team ahead of us. It's just a case of taking it one game at a time. And that next game is Cardiff this Saturday; they're one of the in-form teams in the league so it's going to be tough.
“We've just got to go there, apply ourselves, try hard and see what happens from there.”
Of the several pennies that appear to have dropped since that defeat at Plymouth one is certainly a new-found defensive resolution. The fact that the Canaries have now conceded fewer goals than any of the top four sides suggests someone, somewhere is doing something right – be it keeper, back four or the management team, Norwich don't look like shipping goals by the half a dozen these days.
“Any good side has a solid defence,” said Clark.
“And that's something that the manager has worked very hard on – that we don't concede cheap goals,” added the City No2, as Norwich head to Wales this weekend on the back of three, straight clean sheets and seven points from the last nine.
“Defensively, the players have been performing to a high standard and if you can keep a clean sheet, then you've always got a chance of winning games. Having to go into games knowing that you're going to have to score two or three goals if you're going to have a chance of winning a game because you're conceding that many at the other end – that's when you've got a problem.”
The fact that come the end of the transfer window, Roeder and Clark had four new Premiership players to play with had, said City's No2, an instant impact on events at Colney; that the arrival of the Reading pair Alex Pearce and James Henry, plus Middlesbrough's Matthew Bates and Arsenal starlet Kieran Gibbs, has found everyone upping their game again.
“We noticed that the first day that they came in,” said Clark. “That the standard of training went up another level; that the bar had been raised again.
“But we, as a staff, have high standards and that's what we want – for the players to reach those standards and to come with us.”
Two of the January four made an impression against Preston North End on Saturday; the other two – Pearce and Gibbs – might not be too far behind.
“They're young, hungry players and it's just the fact that they are just at that certain age that they're not getting games in the Premiership, but they've definitely got the quality to play there and I thought that the two that came on on Saturday – Matthew Bates and James Henry – showed that little bit of quality,” said the one-time Fulham skipper and long-time Gallowgate favourite, linked in certain quarters to a swift return to St James' following Kevin Keegan's latest return to Tyneside.
You sense, however, that Clark is happy for now to bide his time and learn his managerial trade away from the hot-house world of Tyneside. Roeder, it seems, has long been his managerial mentor even when Clark was only ressie boss at St James'.
“Obviously being that bit closer to the manager's job, you're learning stuff all the time – day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute you're always learning,” said Clark, granted an education in transfer window politics this New Year. In fairness, however, it appears that Roeder didn't let Clark stray too far from his side when they were together at Newcastle.
“When Glenn was manager at Newcastle I was invloved in what he was doing in the last transfer window,” he said. “Even though I was only the ressie boss, I was still travelling with the team to all the away games; I still had a lot of input. But you're learning all the time. All the time.”
Likewise, he's learning more and more about what makes Norwich City tick as a football club.
“I'm enjoying it very much,” he said. “And the club is Premiership in everything but it's league position. The training facilities, the full houses every week… the challenge for us now is to get a team that delivers that; that delivers Premiership football.”