City boss Glenn Roeder was this morning threatening to take a leaf out of Jose Mourinho's book and persevere with the lone striker option that – kind of – yielded such fruit at Nottingham Forest at the weekend.
Only kind of… Because once Gary Doherty saw red at the City Ground so it was sheer grit, determination and a string of fine saves from City No1 David Marshall that saw the Norfolk side ease over the finishing line with three, priceless away points clutched in the palm of their hand rather than any tactical master-plan of the Chelsea-ilk.
But with Antoine Sibierski still rated only 50/50 for tomorrow night's home clash with Crystal Palace and Jamie Cureton's confidence still at a distinctly low ebb, so the Canary chief can go one of two ways – slip Arturo Lupoli back alongside Leroy Lita and revert to a more traditional 4-4-2 or give Wes Hoolahan another chance to work “behind enemy lines” in the hole off Lita.
It was the way that Roeder had set out to play in front of the Sky TV cameras only for Doherty's early exit to nip that plan in the bud. But as the Canary chief pondered aloud his options ahead of the Eagles' clash, it was clear that he was tempted to repeat the exercise – to the extent that he was warning everyone not to see playing just Lita as a lone striker as “a negative option”.
Cue comparisons with the Special One.
“If we start with Leroy as our only central striker, it mustn't be perceived as a negative formation,” said Roeder. “For, unfortunately, most supporters in this country view it as a negative formation.
“But my answer to that would be that Jose Mourinho won the Premier League title twice with Chelsea with just Didier Drogba through the middle – playing exactly that formation, 4-3-3. And you can't win the Premiership being negative.”
Whether the City version of the famed Stamford Bridge model would be a classic 4-3-3 formation is, likewise, something of a moot point. David Bell and Lee Croft might add the attacking width, but the three-strong midfield base isn't exactly a flat three as Hoolahan drifts into those awkward little spaces off Lita leaving Sammy Clingan and Matty Pattison to mop up behind him. All of which makes it more a 4-2-1-3 than the Chelsea version; all of which, equally, makes Hoolahan one of the keys to making the system 'tick'.
This morning and Roeder admitted that the 26-year-old had made a slow start to his Norwich career. But when he's in the groove – and in the team – then Hoolahan's undoubted vision and technical ability on the ball can come into its own.
“When he's on his game, there's probably no-one here that's got the eye for a pass that he's got,” said the City chief. “But he just hasn't quite settled in the way that you might have hoped he would have done.
“But he's get his own place now and, hopefully, things will start settling down for him and we need to Wes to play at least as well as he did at Blackpool. And I mean consistently. And not just occasionally.
“If you remember against Wolves he was one of the outstanding players among many outstanding performances that night. So the talent's there.”
Fitting it into a system that works consistently is the next challenge. “It's a case of horses for courses – fitting round pegs into round holes,” said Roeder.
“And that system is a very attack-minded system. And not a negative system at all. The way to play it properly is with three, out-and-out offensive players stretched out across the line.
“One [Lita] through the middle and one on each wing [Bell and Croft] playing against each full-back. And then three in midfield [Hoolahan, Pattison and Clingan].”
That Clingan would continue in centre-midfield was the next question this morning's pre-Palace Press conference answered.
The Northern Ireland international finished Saturday's contest in alongside John Kennedy at centre-half after first Doherty saw red and then Elliot Omosuzi saw the physio.
With Omosuzi, like Sibierski, rated no more than 50-50 with his hamstring trouble, so Roeder was dropping every hint that Adam Drury would be asked to perform his stand-in centre-half role again as Clingan continued at the base of that midfield.
“Sammy's doing too important a job in centre-midfield for us to move him,” said the City boss.
Quizzed as to whether he would consider either recalling the luckless Troy Archibald-Henville from Spurs or Michael Spillane from his season-long stint at Luton, Roeder's answer was pretty emphatic.
“No. Next question…” Spillane has his regular side-kick, Chris Martin, with him at Kenilworth Road. He, too, got the briefest of mentions.
“I'm told the two of them are doing alright – two leagues down,” said Roeder. “But as far as I'm concerned they're there on loan for the season.”
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