City winger Lee Croft would be more than happy to go into battle with a lone striker up-front every week – if that meant that the ball stayed either firmly on the floor or stuck to his flying feet.
On Saturday, the Canaries ended up with just Leroy Lita 'up top' following the early exit of Gary Doherty. Wes Hoolahan – nominally a second striker – was the one to be sacrificed as City boss Glenn Roeder was forced into a sudden re-jig.
But without either a big target man to hit or a second, deep-sitting striker to play through so the Canaries had little or no option but to try and spray the ball out wide to where Croft and David Bell lurked. Bell would tee up Matty Pattison for his opening strike; Croft would earn an in-off off the hapless Luke Chambers to win the game as City reaped their reward for some bright counter-attacking play and, above all, some sheer, bloody-minded defending.
But with Roeder this morning suggesting that there was nothing negative in playing a lone striker; in adopting a Chelsea-esque 4-3-3 formation with Croft to one side and Bell to the other of Lita, so the Wigan-born 23-year-old was more than happy to play his part. 'I'll be Arjen Robben…'
“With just Leroy down the middle we can't really play it to Leroy up in the air – you've got to get the ball down and pass,” said Croft, something that suits his own game to a 'T'.
“I think we should play like that all the time,” he added, as Roeder ponders doing just that for tomorrow night's visit of Crystal Palace – particularly whilst on-loan Fenchman Antoine Sibierski remains no better than 50-50 to make tomorrow night's contest with his lingering knee troubles .
“Maybe it was forced upon us that we had to play and we couldn't just hit up towards Leroy up-front by himself because we know that's not his game and we didn't want to play like that.
“So I think it did force us to play more and I think that suited us. And I think we need to play like that every game; get the ball down and not feel like we have to go long.”
Play with the full eleven men and with Wes Hoolahan sat in the hole off Lita then, in theory, the ball should move even more sweetly along the floor.
“We all know what Wes can do,” said Croft, disappointed that his game came to such an early end after Doherty's exit.
“I felt sorry for him – I thought he'd started the game well. He was really looking forward to it; he'd got back in the team and I think that position would have really suited him. And I think it would have been a good attacking option for us. I know he was gutted, but I'm sure he'll get other opportunities.”
A new-look formation was not the only thing to emerge from a trip to the City Ground. A spot of team spirit was also evident.
“I thought the thing that we showed more than anything was togetherness – we needed the win. And when we went down to ten men some people might have thought: 'Oh, here we go again…'
“But we all put in performances and put really good shifts in and we've come away with the three points,” said Croft, still carrying a spot of the flu with him.
“I was alright during the game, but I was coughing a bit at half-time. Physically I feel alright – I've just got a bit of a cough.”
The best medicine, of course, came in the shape of those three points – only the second time this season that Norwich have won on the road. Funny how the world seems such a brighter place when you've won.
“The lads were saying after the game how much better the feeling is – winning. [Particularly] after the results we've been having recently. So we want more of that.
“It felt brilliant and it was a good journey back after the game.”
The key, of course, is to win your home games – one reason why Roeder today described the Eagles game as Norwich's 'biggest game of the season'. In this scratchy, topsy-turvy division, back-to-back wins can make all the difference.
“We're not that far away – get a couple of wins on the bounce and you're back up there and you're not looking over your shoulder. So we need to continue playing the way that we did the other night and get a few more wins under our belt,” said Croft.
“We've got to go out like that in every game, really. It's going to be a physical game, but we need to just play our football – and get the ball down and play.”
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