City boss Glenn Roeder was today offering one very good reason why his players might be very keen to keep that hard-earned place in the top-half of the Championship table – cash.
Last week's 1-0 win over Sheffield United lifted City into 11th spot ahead of this weekend's trip to bottom of the table Barnsley. With games against first Southampton and then Derby County to swiftly follow, opportunity knocks for the Canaries to cement their place in the top half of the table.
Pride in your performance clearly ought to be the No1 motivator. But without revealing too many state secrets, the Canary chief offered another reason why his players might like to stay firmly put – top half bonuses written into their playing contracts was the obvious presumption behind his comments.
“The whispers around the dressing and the corridors when you're walking around the place is that: 'We're in the top half of the table, we need to stay there…'” revealed Roeder, speaking at this morning's pre-match Press conference at Colney.
“And without going into any detail – but I don't mind our supporters knowing – financially they have to be in the top half of the table. They cannot afford to be outside the top half of the table.
“Well, they can. But I bet the Christmas presents won't be half as big as if they're in the top half of the table. So they're there now – and there's a motivating factor that needs to keep them there.”
Lifted by Lee Croft's 92nd minute heroics last weekend, the next three games – on paper – look attractive points-wise. Roeder was, however, swift to crush any assumption that there was anything that resembled an easy game in the Championship.
“Have you seen what Barnsley have been losing by?” he asked. “1-0, 1-0, 1-0… They're not getting smacked. It's only a few months ago that they were in the semi-final of the FA Cup. And I looked at the team last week and there's not too many changes – in fact they've added Hume to the team who they paid over ?1 million for.
“So we're very conscious that we have to be at our best.”
Injury-wise and it was a mixed bag; Dejan Stefanovic – as expected – has shrugged off his bruised calf. Others remain at least three weeks away from making a re-appearance. Or, indeed, a first appearance.
Because for at least three of his injured number, the away trip to Bristol City on October 18 now looks a realistic target – namely John Kennedy (ankle), Sammy Clingan (shoulder) and David Bell (ankle).
For after another busy week of Championship action with this weekend's trip to Oakwell being followed by the visit to St Mary's on Tuesday night and the home clash with Derby County on the Saturday, the Canaries grind to a halt for another long fortnight as World Cup qualifiers again take centre stage.
For Roeder those two weeks offer a crucial chance to get three of his bigger players up and running again. For Bell a Canary debut at Ashton Gate would come a full three months after he made that ?600,000 switch from Luton Town; the better part of four months since he injured his ankle in pre-season training with the Hatters.
“Dejan's fine; John's going to be a few more weeks yet – probably after the international two weeks,” said Roeder. “Sammy's probably the same – after the international games.
“Belly [David Bell] we're probably looking at having available after the international games.”
Neither Arturo Lupoli nor Matty Pattison were a doubt after both disappeared early with tweaking hamstrings in the last-gasp success against Sheffield United.
“The players had a day off yesterday and they both trained with the physio – and they're both fine.”
Whether that all signalled an immediate return for Stefanovic at the heart of that Canary defence was another matter. Given that the 'patched up' loan pairing of Jonathan Grounds and Elliot Omosuzi had racked up City's first clean sheet of the season in that Blades success, even the 34-year-old Serb couldn't take anything for granted.
“I might not have to…” was Roeder's response to the obvious question – whether he would have any qualms about ripping the Grounds-Omosuzi partnership apart.
At full-back, Adam Drury's comeback from long-term injury continued against the Blades – until cramp intervened. Again he can't take too much for granted.
“Adam's an absolute wonderful professional to work with, but he's the same as all the others – no-one's guaranteed a shirt. And I think that some of them have finally started to realise that now having seen the difference in the quality of the squad from this year to last year.”
Ditto on the right Jon Otsemobor. “He's got a serious fight on his hands retaining his position in the team,” said the City chief, laying a further gauntlet down at the 25-year-old's feet. That having looked the part in the home games against Birmingham City and Sheffield United, can he do it on his travels?
“The two games that he's played are as good as he's played since I've been at the club – Birmingham and last week. But I will put an emphasis on home games.
“I haven't seen him do it away yet. Can't have home players only; players that play at home only. So whether he gets a chance at Barnsley to see whether he can do there what he's done in the two home games, we'll have to wait and see.”