City midfielder Korey Smith offered a spirited, half-time team talk by Canary boss Paul Lambert as one of the keys to this weekend’s latest Championship success.
Others would look at the switch is shape and service that followed the second-half arrival of winger Anthony McNamee for the 2-1 win over Barnsley.
Tykes boss Mark Robins would point a finger squarely in the referee’s direction for insisting that Jason Shackell leave the pitch for treatment as the game’s turning point.
Minus the one-time City star, Stephen Foster was left all on his own in the heart of that Barnsley defence. In his haste to do the job of two men, Foster found himself racing across to cover McNamee’s cross – whereupon he succeeded only in heading it in beyond a startled Luke Steele and giving the home side that crucial lifeline back into the game.
That, at least, was Robins’ story.
Smith’s was slightly different. His owed much to the power of Lambert’s team-talk at the interval; it laid the foundations for Norwich’s latest turnaround as the Canaries eased themselves into that early play-off pack courtesy of that Foster own-goal and Chrissy Martin’s class strike.
“You could see that they were trying to get men in and sit behind the ball, but the gaffer spurred us on at half-time,” said the 19-year-old, whose own efforts in the heart of that City midfield would be rewarded with the sponsors Man of the Match champagne.
“And the team is very determined,” he added. “We work very hard behind the scenes and, obviously, we got the three points and are very happy.”
It was, he insisted, all that they deserved after enjoying the better of the opening 45 minutes – even if the score-line told a different story following Jay McEveley’s 45th minute free header.
“I didn’t think we played badly – I thought we were all over them in the first-half,” said the blossoming teenager.
“We deserved to be winning in the first-half, but unfortunately we went a goal behind. But once again we showed the determination and courage to come back.”
It was a soft, soft goal to concede. A free header ten yards out after someone had lost their man at the free-kick. Fortunately, the player in question more than made amends by grabbing the game’s winning goal some 35 minutes later.
“I think Chrissy [Martin] was marking him,” said Smith – or not marking him, as the case may be.
“But, at the end of the day, he’s come back and redeemed himself – he had a very good game and scored the goal. And that’s his trademark goal too – to come inside and whip it into the far corner.
“He does that at free-kicks and he’s one of the best finishers that I’ve seen. Hopefully, he can keep doing it.”
Veteran left-back Adam Drury – alongside both Smith and Martin (Chris) – was probably worth a mention too, as a new-look Canary left of Drury and Simon Lappin run riot for much of the opening period. Smith himself could have opened the scoring only to just get under a Drury cross as the pair gave Bobby Hassell a torrid time.
In the end, however, it was events on the right-hand side of the park, not the left that would dictate the destination of the three points as McNamee whipped cross after cross into the danger area following his 63rd minute arrival.
It is a big trick up Lambert’s sleeve to go from that midfield diamond to a flatter midfield four in the instant of McNamee’s arrival. Wes Hoolahan can head out left; Andrew Crofts can join Smith in the middle of the park. It is a well-rehearsed routine that caught the Tykes cold – whatever Robins might claim afterwards.
“The gaffer knows how to adapt and bring on the right substitutes as he’s shown.
“And when the game starts to die down a bit he can bring on players like Macca [McNamee] and really give us a different dimension. He came on; did excellent like he normally does – I’m really happy for him.”
It was actually Smith’s ball in behind goal-scorer McEveley that put the City equaliser in motion as McNamee whipped the ball off the left-back and played for the in-off off the hapless Foster.
Whether coming inside suits Smith’s natural game better than looking to provide the right-hand width in the diamond is something he wouldn’t be drawn on.
For now, the young man is simply happy to be a regular part of Lambert’s starting plans; happy to play wherever he is asked.
“At the end of the day, I’m just happy to play wherever I get put,” said Smith, after yet another high-tempo outing from the Academy product.
“I’m young; I’m happy to play wherever and just take each game as it comes.
“I started on the right; played well I thought in the first-half and then came inside in the second-half and let Macca go out there and do his thing. I’m just very happy for him and the team.”
At least his efforts had earned their due reward with the sponsors bubbly – proof that the Canaries have come as far as they have of late down to sheer hard work as much as anything. Never give the opposition a moment’s peace is etched into Smith’s playing DNA.
It is, likewise, a fundamental tenet of Lambert’s managerial style. Work the opposition; from first whistle to last.
“Holty, Chrissy [Martin] and Wes [Hoolahan] get a lot of the headlines because they’re often the names that are on the score-sheet,” said Smith.
“But obviously it’s a team game and we all do really well; we work hard together and create the goals – and they score them. But we’re not complaining. We’re winning and we’re getting our rewards as well.”
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