Canary skipper Mark Fotheringham, veteran striker Dion Dublin and regular centre-half Jason Shackell will need to be firmly on their toes this week as City boss Glenn Roeder ponders as to whether or not he should split a winning team apart ahead of next weekend's home clash with Blackpool.
For after that 4-0 humbling away at Leicester City that saw the Canaries' 13-game unbeaten run end with a certain bang, Roeder actually made six changes to the side that started at the Walkers' Stadium for this weekend's home clash with Barnsley.
For as well as the three suspended players – Fotheringham, Dublin and Darel Russell – the City boss also hauled Mo Camara, James Henry and Shackell out of his thinking and duly watched with growing satisfaction as a side that featured four teenagers knocked the Tykes off their FA Cup perch and lifted Norwich into the top half of the table for the first time this season.
And as Roeder and Co lap up a little Spanish sun on their short, training break this week, that's what he has to ponder – does he break up a winning team for the Seasiders' clash? Or is it same again City next Saturday?
With Alex Pearce taking the sponsors Man of the Match bubbly and Kieran Gibbs earning rich praise from the manager, the question was whether they had done enough to earn an extended run in the side.
“It would be hard to take the shirt off them now, wouldn't it?” said Roeder. “We'll have to wait and see what happens during the week.”
In part, he suggested, it will come down to a little kidology – or rather how you get the very best out of the kids in your side. How do you keep their confidence and belief intact if you whip them in and out of a side?
“The only thing that I would say is that there isn't anything worse than taking a young player out of a team if he hasn't played well. Because when you put him back in, there's a doubt in his mind.
“There's nothing better if you do decide to take a young player out of the team than taking him out after a good experience – so that when he goes back in, he's got good memories and he's confident about handling himself,” said Roeder, even at six o'clock on a Saturday night reluctant to give any clues away as to his thinking for three o'clock the following Saturday.
“What I've just said is no indication whether they'll start or not start against Blackpool. They're in a winning team today and I don't like changing winning teams much. And if I was one of those players in that team today, I'd be asking some questions if I didn't start the game next week.
“So the lads that are available again have got to do something in training this week – to prove to me that I might have to change a winning team. Which I don't like doing.”
Central midfield is certainly an interesting area for Roeder and his managerial lieutenants to debate after Gibbs grew into this weekend's contest and clearly enjoyed the extra responsibility that comes with that territory.
That might be one of the easier decisions – for now. Fotheringham you could expect to start ahead of Matty Pattison and reclaim his skipper's armband off Jamie Cureton; what happens when Russell completes his three-match ban in time for the away trip to Coventry City on March 8 will be the next interesting decision. Either way and the Gunners starlet was very much to the fore in his thinking. And looks set to remain there.
Gibbs had, said Roeder, simply been starved of the ball on his debut away on the left at home to Hull. Granted a broader stage and his performance this weekend prompted a pointed defence of the young man's talents from the Norwich boss.
“I said he had a quiet debut against Hull – and one or two people might have been critical. But then one or two people don't understand football,” said Roeder. “To judge an 18-year-old in one game? On 60 minutes? To say he looked out of his depth – or whatever? How disgraceful is that?
“And today's proved all thos doubters wrong. He had a wonderful game for an 18-year-old in central midfield,” said Roeder afterwards, as he continued to run the rule over what he described as the “most satisfying” game yet of his managerial reign in Norfolk.
“He got better and more confident the longer that the game went on and you can see why Arsene (Wenger) values him so highly. And I think Arsene will be delighted tonight the way that he's played. And I think that he'll be thinking that staying here until the end of the season and the experience he's going to get in the Championship is going to toughen him up and he'll go back a better player to pre-season at Arsenal next year.”
Ryan Bertrand has already won the manager's favour and this weekend's outing in his favoured left-back berth did nothing to dissuade him that Chelsea have a real little gem on their hands.
“I thought he was outstanding,” said Roeder, as the 18-year-old in particular managed to hold his own against Barnsley substitute Kayode Odejayi – a muscular mountain of a striker.
“How strong is he for a little lad? He's got a light frame, but he's taking on players that are twice his size and coming out with the ball. I don't want to praise him too much because I like him that much.”
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