City boss Glenn Roeder has revealed that Canary skipper Mark Fotheringham took his decision to rest him to the bench for yesterday's home defeat by Derby County like a true pro.
“I didn't think he'd been at his best lately,” was Roeder's immediate explanation for the big decision to drop his 24-year-old captain.
The fact that he then handed the captain's armband to Darel Russell added an extra twist to the tale as the Canary boss searches for the right mix in that central midfield.
Last weekend's fortunate 0-0 draw at Oakwell found the micro-scopes out afterwards after Roeder suggested that, for the first time this season, his midfield had been badly out-fought by their hosts; minus any midfield authority against the likes of the six-foot two-inch Anderson de Silva his original pairing of Fotheringham and Matty Pattison had never been able to deliver the kind of solid platform the others needed to go onto the offensive.
Tuesday night's subsequent 2-0 defeat against a teenage Southampton side hardly improved the manager's mood and with the return of Sammy Clingan to that anchor role this weekend so he had a big decision to make. And Russell got the nod.
“Him [Fotheringham] being the professional that he is – and he is a terrific professional – when he was told that he wasn't starting in the team, he accepted the decision and admitted that he hadn't been at his best recently.
“It's now up to him to fight his way back into the team and, as I say, Sammy Clingan came in and did particularly well.”
There's the rub. That the Canary midfield now looks set to be S Clingan and A N Other. The Northern Ireland midfielder's shoulder permitting. Tomorrow will also, in every likelihood, bring a response from Belfast as to the fact that the Canary star is not fit enough to feature in their forthcoming World Cup and games having aggravated his shoulder in the midst of yesterday's clash. In which he won the Man of the Match award from the sponsors.
One would expect a frosty reaction from Nigel Worthington and Co – there may yet be a scenario where Clingan has to be examined by the Northern Ireland medical team before they take Roeder's 'No…' for an answer.
Back in Norfolk and the Canary manager had other concerns on his hands – not least why the Canaries did not keep their foot pressed hard down on the gas once Roy Carroll had seen red and Clingan had swept home the most emphatic of spot-kicks to drag the home side level on the hour mark.
Roeder had his own answer. And before anyone jumps to any conclusions as to who the manager had in his sights, there is likely to be more than one candidate. Managers also have a habit of seeing games in a very different light than both Press and supporters. Arturo Lupoli, for example, has a habit of dropping deep in search of the ball.
“We had them on the rack at that stage – but we were playing quickly then,” said Roeder, as he watched his favoured tempo slip from City's system. In fairness to Rams manager Paul Jewell, his decision not to go all 4-4-1 on the Canaries and to stick to his attackig guns with Nathan Ellington installed alongside Rob Hulse in a 4-3-2 set-up also gave City a reason to keep looking over their shoulder.
To little effect as events of the 85th minute were to prove.
“We were sliding the ball to each other quickly; getting the ball wide; crosses were coming in. And we had them right on the back foot. And then we started slowing the game down…
“And we were trying to get the message on to the players – or one particular player who kept coming to get the ball off the back four and he was bouncing the ball to where the ball had come from. And it just slowed the whole game down for us.
“And, of course, even though they're down to ten men, it then becomes easy for them to play against; they get bodies behind the ball. Then when we do, eventually, try and get forward we're trying to thread the ball through an eye of a needle. And that was very disappointing.
“But for ten minutes or so we had them right on the hook. And we let them off.”
Not the first time that that thought or expression has crossed the mind of both Canary manager and City supporter alike. If there's a gift-horse to be seen…
The fact that only Doncaster Rovers have scored fewer goals than the Norfolk club this season is killing any realistic hope Roeder might have had of troubling the play-off pack this autumn.
New-boy Leroy Lita came the closest – scuffing a late effort wide of Stephen Bywater's left-hand post after Antoine Sibierski's flicked header had put the on-loan Reading man in behind his marker.
“By his standards that was a good chance,” said Roeder, after his ninth loan signing of the summer starts to find his feet in Norfolk. He now has two, full weeks to be in before resuming his short-term Canary career against his former employers Bristol City on the 18th.
“Had he played a little more first team football this year, I think he'd have been a bit sharper onto that and stuck that one in,” said Roeder, reaching for another what-might-have-been.
“But unfortunately for us he missed it. But I think I saw enough today to know that there's a lot to work with over the next few weeks and I'm sure we'll move on in a forward direction when we play Bristol City in a couple of weeks.”