City full-back Jon Otsemobor was today insisting that competition for places is what life at an ambitious Championship football club is all about – if that's what it takes to push for the play-offs…
The 25-year-old, one-time Liverpool trainee made just his third start of the season in last Saturday's last-gasp 1-0 win over Sheffield United. An hour and a half later and he was walking off with the Man of the Match bubbly after providing City's principal attacking threat down that right-hand side following his successful reunion with his regular partner in crime, Lee Croft.
Whether it was all enough to book him a start at Oakwell this weekend is one of a number of big decisions facing City boss Glenn Roeder.
With Dejan Stefanovic fully expected to shrug off the bruising that ruled him out of the Blades clash, the City chief has to decide whether or not to slam the 34-year-old Serb straight back in to his side after watching that patched up back four of Otsemobor, Adam Drury, Elliot Omosuzi and Jonathan Grounds rack up Norwich's first clean sheet of the campaign.
Put Stefanovic in and someone has to give. Does he partner Stefanovic with the on-loan Grounds after the Middlesbrough defender barely put a foot wrong in his first start for the Canaries? Or does he give the Omosuzi-Grounds combination another go?
Likewise, if Stefanovic does get the nod and Grounds gets the gig alongside him, what does he do with Omosuzi? Does he revert back to right-back and the luckless Otsemobor is bundled out of the side? Or does he rest the returning Drury again and revert to what he has already labelled 'the best full-back pairing in the division' – and put Omosuzi back in at right-back and Ryan Bertrand in at left-back?
Roeder's line tomorrow in the pre-match Press conference can almost be written now – that that's what he wants; to have such tough decisions to make.
Last season and the side all but named itself. Which – as Otsemobor was the first to admit – was a sure sign that competition for plces at Carrow Road was all-but non-existent.
“It's good,” he told the club's official site. “It keeps everyone on their toes and it's competition for places – which all the top sides have.
“Sometimes last season it was surreal because there wasn't really another out-and-out right-back, so to speak. This season it's good – and I feel that I'll probably get the best out of myself in the training sessions and the games.”
There is evidence a-plenty that until anyone gets the chance to see David Bell in action, the Otsemobor-Croft combination looks the most potent going forward. The two appear to click – on and off the field.
That, however, then impacts on the let-hand side of the pitch. For just as Roeder went with a one, out-and-out winger policy last season – principally and often controversially at Darren Huckerby's expense – so he was suggesting after Saturday's win over Sheffield United that he could not afford to be too open on both sides of the pitch; that Croft to one side, Wes Hoolahan to the other was an attacking luxury that he could not afford.
Hence why the more defensive-looking pairing of Bertrand and a fit-again Drury could be his preferred option against the Tykes – for at least as long as the goal-scoring Croft keeps his place in his starting line-up.
Keep that thought process going and the one now to miss out if Croft is to the right and Bertrand is to the left is Matty Pattison. The South African-bred Geordie picked up a slight hamstring strain in the Blades clash. And while the news on him appeared to be better than first feared – ditto Arturo Lupoli – so he might have trouble shifting Darel Russell out of his favoured position alongside skipper Mark Fotheringham.
What is very interesting, however, is the way in which the Colney 'veterans' – Croft, Russell, Drury, Fotheringham, Otsemobor and keeper David Marshall – are starting to shape City's season. That for all Roeder's well publicised – and highly successful – use of the loan market, many of the 'key' moments belong to the old guard.
Not surprisingly, Otsemobor is taking nothing for granted this weekend.
“Nobody wants to sit out – especially when you train all week. You don't want to sit in the stands,” he said.
“It's something new for me and it's kind of taken a bit of getting used to,” he added. “Given my chance on Saturday, I thought I did well. Hopefully come this weekend and I can get a shirt.”
Saturday's injury-time success propelled the Canaries into the dizzy heights of 11th. Given Barnsley's own indifferent start to the season – and the fact that City cruised to such an easy success at Oakwell last season – the hope is that they can now cement their place in the top half of the table for the forseeable.
“The gaffer talks about us staying in the top half of the table for the majority of the season and, hopefully, on to the play-offs,” said Otsemobor.
“Everyone wants to get promoted and we know how difficult it is, but I think we've definitely got the players and the quality to be in the top half this season.”