There’s nothing new or revelatory here. If anyone is expecting as much, walk on.
But after watching the Palace game the other night ahead of being back ‘in the chair’ for the Boro clash tomorrow, one thing struck me… isn’t the Championship getting quicker these days?
As I said, nothing new in that thought. It’s been doing the rounds for years; how the modern game now belongs to the athletes; the power boys; those that start with a six-foot frame.
It’s still not essential. Look at the manner in which Wes Hoolahan has been able to light up games in this division; a tricky, little one can still flourish on this stage.
But as I watched the game unfold, so it was clear that in Wilfried Zaha Palace had dug out another potential gem from the depths of South London.
It was all credit to Smith (S), that he, by and large, kept the boy under wraps; particularly given the fact that he became a father some 36 hours or whatever before. That was no mean performance from Mr Drury’s understudy on a night not big on performances from the home side.
The other person who reinforced the impression that the game continues to get ever more quicker was Leon Barnett. He’s good; albeit if he didn’t quite leap as high as all would have liked for Palace’s opening goal, there’s a spring and a power in his step that doesn’t scream: ‘Lumbering…’
If he’s caught a yard out of position, you always sense he has the speed and the agility to react and recover. And he has that frame; but, again, not the Darren Moore blockhouse frame of old; Barnett is a genuine athlete.
And it’s athletes like Barnett who will get on in the game.
To state the bleedin’ obvious, Paul Lambert is no fool. He knows which way this wind is blowing and his recruitment policy tends to reflect this.
Anthony McNamee is another of the breed; you don’t have to be six-foot plus to play wide right, but you need to be quick. Seriously quick. He is.
He injected both pace and invention when he arrived on Tuesday night; he’s cut inside and swirling shot just over was about as good as it got in the second 45. Ditto Simeon Jackson; he’s no slouch. Nor is Oli Johnson.
We have been down this path before; and its one you have to tread carefully along.
But, for me, there is every good reason why the likes of a Watford, a QPR and a Palace can keep up with the Jones’ in this regard… one look at their recruitment area Academy-wise will ensure that for as long as Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs look abroad for their talent, so those three clubs have the pick of North, West and South London council estates to pick from.
Is that being un-PC? Probably. But that’s the reality; that’s what clubs of Norwich’s ilk have to fight against; have to try and combat.
In fairness to Lambert, recent hic-cups aside the very fact that Norwich are here – towards the back end of October – and already looking pretty good for a play-off place suggests that short-medium term he’s moulding a side much more to the ways of the Championship world than perhaps it needed to be in League One.
And in Barnett he may well have dug out a player whose qualities need to be secured on a full-time basis – funding permitting.
And for as long as Wesley sparkles at the tip of that diamond, so there is no need for Lambert to look to pull in a midfield marauder of the Francis-Etuhu mould.
The nearest Norwich had was Tom Adeyemi; he’s off learning his craft down below somewhere; maybe he’s the one for the medium term. Perhaps.
Is this trend likely to reverse any time soon? Would a 2011 Ian Crook ever be allowed the time on the ball that, in his pomp, he used to enjoy?
I can’t see it. Not in the current madness that is football’s finances.
The Boltons, the Blackburns, the Stokes and the Wigans have been recruiting power-houses for years now; playing all the percentages you need to finish a 15th or a 16th every season and to keep the cash coming. That’s not about to change.
And that trend filters down; slowly but surely. Year on year, more of those out-and-out athletes filter down into the ranks of the Championship; Premiership loan boys a la Barnett or those that clubs can recruit from the local neighbourhood who – from the age of 14 – look the part.
They have the athleticism… they have the attitude… the ability that an Ian Crook would look for is less of an immediate priority. They have the power; the force is with them.
So, I get the sense that Norwich are still a team in the midst of a subtle re-build; a re-working into something that more befits the Championship and its own Premiership-like demands on what a modern professional footballer should be able to deliver.
And in Leon Barnett, Lambert has started that rebuild; started to run horses for this particular gruelling course.