City boss Glenn Roeder was this morning handed two, small pieces of good news after an “indifferent” week at the office – the fact that Darren Huckerby was a “50/50” bet to make tomorrow night's game against Stoke City and that Gary Doherty now only faces a one-match ban, not two, following his red card at the Ricoh on Saturday.
Darel Russell's two-match suspension, however, still stands and the Canary chief revealed that the Norwich midfielder – fresh back from serving that three-match ban for the fun and games at Leicester City – had made his peace with the manager yesterday.
“Darel Russell came and saw me yesterday to apologise,” he revealed, his line on the decisions starting to soften. Not that referee Paul Taylor is likely to find himself back on the manager's Christmas card list, but – on reflection – Roeder could see where the official was coming from.
“He was genuinely upset, but both tackles were unnecessary. As much as I thought the referee was desperately poor over the 90 minutes – in fact I didn't think he was that good – but looking at them, he had little option really.
“You like to think common sense [might prevail], but with an assessor sat in the stands – and all the problems they cause – referees seem to be frightened to apply common sense. But they were fouls. Doc's was from behind; Rusty's was when he was trying to get away from him and he brought him down.
“So he's just missed three games, now he's going to miss another two. It doesn't help us – at all.”
Roeder, like the rest of us, was working on the basis of Doherty likewise missing tomorrow's game and Saturday's trip to Sheffield United. It was, however, subsequently confirmed that despite having already served a one-match ban last year and this weekend's two yellows taking him up to the ten-mark, Doherty will only miss the one game.
Both will now be subject to club fines – the level of which Roeder was keeping “in-house”. He also revealed that yesterday's session at Colney was just part of their usual preparations for a mid-week match; there was no punishment element to it following the non-events at the Ricoh.
“The one thing I don't believe in – I think it's old-fashioned and pathetic – is punishing them. You're in becauseyou didn't play well… Nobody plays poorly on purpose.
“But the fact is that we've had a very indifferent week. And we put our hands in the air,” said Roeder, who laid one or two gauntlets down in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's defeat. Clearly reviewing the video evidence of events at the Ricoh has done nothing to dissuade him that his side have gone off the boil.
“Apart from the second-half at Watford where we did very well – and that shows you that we are still capable of playing very well – Blackpool, first-half Watford, Saturday; they were all poor from what we've come to expect,” said the City chief, with the Canaries now boasting just one win in their last six games.
With Dion Dublin warning that City will need to start looking over their shoulder again if their recent run of form continues, the Potters game grows ever more in significance. The fact that both Doherty and Russell will be missing merely adds to the challenge.
“We need to get the season going again tomorrow night,” said Roeder. “And it couldn't be a better game than against a team that are second in the table.”
Was this dip down to the players easing off mentally, convinced that they were now safe for the season it was a case of feet up, job done?
“No,” said Roeder. “I think it's just a case that they've had this fantastic run when they've done terrifically well and they're not machines. They're human beings – and we've hit a flat spot. And that seems to be quite a fashionable word – flat.”
The key, said Roeder, was to look at the start of each of the three games; that's where the problems started. Being slow out of the blocks.
“The feature of the three winning – or good – performances is the first 15 minutes. We certainly didn't start well against Blackpool; certainly didn't against Watford; we didn't Saturday.
“And when we were winning and picking up points we really forced ourselves onto the opposition in the first 15 minutes,” he said. “It's not about as if we don't speak about it, but we haven't carried it off – the importance of starting well. So tomorrow's the next opportunity to start a game well and, hopefully, get back to winning a game of football.”
Whether Huckerby will be involved given that Roeder now finds himself another two, senior bodies down is something he will consider over the next 24 hours. His nagging groin problem was, it seems, on the mend. Whether in time to face the Potters remains a moot point.
“He has got a chance,” said Roeder, left with little alternative but to pair Alex Pearce with Jason Shackell at the back and return to a two-man midfield with Matty Pattison partnering skipper Mark Fotheringham. In theory, that might then leave space for Huckerby on the bench if Roeder opts against risking a recurrence of the problem by handing the 32-year-old winger a start.
“Whereas before he's had no chance with these last couple of games, he's 50/50 – which is never a really good stat. It at least gives him a chance for Saturday, anyway.”