City boss Glenn Roeder revealed this morning that captain Mark Fotheringham was by no means guaranteed a swift return to the starting line-up as the Canaries prepare to face Blackpool at Carrow Road tomorrow.
The Scot, who has been in fine form this season since the arrival of Roeder, missed last weekend's 1-0 win over Barnsley through suspension and with Arsenal loan starlet Kieran Gibbs and Matty Pattison impressing in the engine room, the Canary chief admitted that the former Celtic man should not take his place in the team for granted.
There is genuine competition in midfield now ? even with Darel Russell's continued absence as he serves his three-match ban – and according to Roeder, it is the sort of headache he needs more often.
“Fozzy should be worrying,” admitted Roeder, speaking to the gathered press at Colney this morning. “The two boys in the middle did very well. The longer the game went on, the better Kieran Gibbs did. His training this week has been fantastic and he's really settling in now.
“We musn't forget he's 18-years-old. He's only a young man but they have all impressed enough in training to all start but obviously only eleven can. But I don't see it as being a problem.
“I'd like these problems every single week. I'm going to work hard on having these sorts of problems every week and the only way we are going to do that is to have players of the same quality competing for the places.
“But I don't see it as a problem. I don't lose any sleep over leaving a player out or 'resting' a player as they call it these days.”
One player also returning from his own one-match ban is the ageless Dion Dublin, and the City boss hopes an enforced rest will have done Dublin the power of good. He is 38 after all – not that you would know ? and, in truth, he has played more often than Roeder would have liked this season.
But needs must and to be fair to the former Aston Villa striker, he has been one of City's outstanding performers. You don't leave out someone of Dublin's ilk without giving it some serious thought ? 38-years-old or otherwise.
“Would Dublin have benefited from that week's break? I think so,” Roeder added. “Dion wouldn't agree with me but I believe we've asked too much of him already this year.
“But he keeps coming up with the answers. He's a warrior and he never complains. There have been times this season, in the third game of the week, when I've seen him sprinting from one side of the pitch to the other in the final minutes and running past much younger players.
“But I think the break won't have done him any harm at all. Hopefully, it's done him some good. And to get the three points when he was suspended was the double whammy.
“We need to get the balance right with Dion and make sure he doesn't have too much of a break. When I had Nigel Winterburn at West Ham, he felt one of the factors that kept him going was the fact he was playing regularly.
“In his last few years, he had his two-week summer holiday but trained all year either side of that. He felt that if he took six weeks off, like the rest of the players, he would struggle to get going again. I do think you get to an age where you need to keep your break short.
“The break that Dion has had has just been perfect and with a midweek game at Watford coming up, I'd like to think we'll get a lot out of Dion in the next two games, and Ched and Cureton as well.”
Last week's match-winner Cureton seems to be enjoying a new lease of life since that appendix operation but whether he gets to keep the captain's armband will depend on the selection of Fotheringham.
But it would be a major surprise to see the City favourite anywhere other than leading the attack and Roeder revealed that the Bristolian had been looking red-hot this week, under the glare of the Spanish sun on their three-day training camp.
“Cureton has come back from his appendix operation looking sharper than at any time since I've been here. He seemed to like the sunny climes this week and he's looked exceptionally sharp in training.
“He carried off being captain well by scoring the winning goal and as I saw and heard, it was a proud moment for him. Even if it never happens again, he will always remember that day and he will have achieved what most captains don't ? a 100 per cent record.
“We've got options in there now. Last week, we had to put James Henry in there. I asked him if he'd played as a striker before and he said no, but we had to give him a go.
“That is the nature of a lot of squads in the Championship but it shouldn't be like that at Norwich. We shouldn't be that bare. Part of my job is to make sure we don't leave ourselves so bare.”
The City boss will be hoping that the squad doesn't become even thinner when the recall option comes into play regarding Gibbs and Henry ? the only two loanees who can be returned to sender under the agreement of their temporary deals.
Whereas the others are on a 'window-to-window' loan, the Arsenal and Reading midfielders are at Carrow Road until 28 April, with an option to be recalled after the first 28 days of the loan. Confused?
But Roeder is confident that both Arsene Wenger and Steve Coppell will see that their immediate future lies in Norfolk and that City can reap the benefit right up until the end of the current campaign.
“I don't see any reason why they will call them back. Although they are not always playing week in, week out, they are gaining valuable experience of being in the first-team squad and being involved at senior level every single day.
“I think it's a great learning curve for these young players, to come out of the Premiership and sample Championship football ? the rough and the tough side of football if you like.
“Certainly our loan players have all contributed and I think it is a combination of the players we have already have here, and the ones we have on loan, that have got us to where we are today.”
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