City midfelder Wes Hoolahan is backing himself to shine at Carrow Road as the 26-year-old prepares to take to the 'international' stage tonight in his home city of Dublin.
Hoolahan has been named in Giovanni Trapattoni's starting XI for this evening's senior 'challenge match' at Dalymount Park against Championship strugglers Nottingham Forest – in effect, a Republic of Ireland 'B' international with a place in the Italian's World Cup thinking next week for the crucial qualifier against Cyprus on offer to those that impress.
It also offers the 26-year-old the chance of a early, pick-me-up after being left out of the City 16 altogether for last Saturday's 1-0 home defeat by Derby County – his switch to Carrow Road yet to quite live up to expectations.
Twice he all but single-handedly destroyed the Canaries last season in the orange shirt of Blackpool. But since his summer switch to Norfolk, the man some viewed as the natural succssor to Darren Huckerby on the entertainment front has failed to live up to that billing.
It's all gone a bit flat and this weekend's disappearance from the team-sheet altogether left more question marks beside his name. Glenn Roeder himself has suggested that Hoolahan has yet to adjust to the fact that he's just another fish in the pond here as opposed to the only fish in the Seasiders' pond at Blackpool.
The player himself remains convinced that he has the answers – once opportunity knocks again at Carrow Road.
?It is hard when you aren't in the team because every footballer wants to play,? he admitted in the Irish Daily Mail today.
“You love the game and you want to play, but I am only there a few months and I'll have to bide my time. Once I get a run of matches I feel I'll do OK.”
His hopes of a decent run in the side have not been helped by Lee Croft's blossoming form and Roeder's belief that the Canaries leave themselves way too open if they play two, out-and-out 'wingers' in Croft and Hoolahan – or as close as an out-and-out winger as the one-time Shelbourne youngster gets.
It was the same argument that found Huckerby sidelined to the bench towards the end of last season. And whilst Hoolahan is not one to hug the far touchline as if his life depended on it, his natural inclination to drift way inside in serach of the ball can still leave a Huckerby-esque hole in front of a lonesome left-back.
Hence why with Croft on ne side, the City chief has gone safety-first with either a Matty Pattison or a Ryan Bertrand plugging any left-hand hole. The return to fitness of David Bell threatens to merely complicate the picture further. It was Roeder's late decision to throw the ?600,000 winger in against the Rams that cost Hoolahan his place on the bench.
One wonders what is going to change on that score ahead of the trip to Bristol City in nine days time – particularly if, by then, Pattison has shrugged off his slight hamstring strain. Not a lot, would be the immediate answer.
?I wasn't in the squad last weekend and I haven't been involved in the last few games for Norwich – it is a big club and it takes a bit of time to settle in,” added Hoolahan, well aware of the opportunity that knocks tonight.
?The Irish game is a great opportunity for players like myself to be involved in,? he said, convinced that the Canaries too can turn their own corner soon and start motoring back up to where they feel they should belong. Above Plymouth, for example.
?Things aren't going as well for us as we would have hoped,” Hoolahan told the Irish Mail. “The plan would really have been to be fighting for a play-off position. But that is still what we want.”
Tonight and Hoolahan has the chance to blow a further few cobwebs out of the system – and on a slightly bigger stage that Monday night's reserve team friendly against Southend United's second string.
This evening's team will be skippered by Ipswich Town defender Alex Bruce and with Trapattoni promising to give all 19 players involved a run out at some stage, Hoolahan could yet find himself being replaced by Town's Republic of Ireland Under-21 star Owen Garvan.
The wily, old Italian was more than happy to dangle a big, fat carrot in front of everyone too – impress me tonight and a Wolrd Cup gig awaits.
“Three or four or five players will join the senior squad after the Nottingham Forest game. Maybe a striker, maybe a midfielder as we're missing Steven Reid, and maybe a defender too – we will see,” said Trapattoni.
Certainly the manager is expecting a decent work-out as he decides just who to hand his last remaining senior places to.
“It will be a difficult game,” said the Italian. “Sure, it's only a friendly but really, there are no friendly games these days and they will want to win for their own reasons.”
Hoolahan more than most, you suspect.
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