I can’t remember who said it; but someone once suggested that the number one quality any manager has to have is luck.
And I think they’re right. To a degree.
For sometimes, there has to be more than that. So, for example, if Paul Lambert were to follow last year’s automatic promotion back to the Championship with a strong, play-off type finish in his second season at the Canary helm, it will be down to more than just a kindly smile from Miss Fortune.
This week’s win over Middlesbrough was very much a case in point. There’s some smart, strategic thinking going on between him and Ian Culverhouse; the type of bold management that deserves the kind of reward that Simeon Jackson’s lone strike delivered.
I haven’t studied the replays; I haven’t re-wound the video tape; freeze framed the iPlayer or whatever. But there is every chance that City’s lone strike was ‘close’ to being offside. That, maybe, the Boro boys had a point when they stopped in their tracks and waited for the linesman’s flag to flutter.
Of course, it never came.
A goal to the good and Norwich simply saw the game out. Two, big banks of four proved all-too much for Boro to overcome and memories of the mid-week defeat by a lowly Palace side were swiftly banished.
Once again, Norwich had avoided back-to-back defeats under Lambert’s charge – in itself, a sure sign that something decent is afoot within that dressing room.
But the victory and the ‘luck’ that accompanied that single strike was one of those that, for me, was earned… And earned the hard way. Earned by the team-sheet. For that was a big call; ousting both Wes Hoolahan and Korey Smith from the start and switching to a flat, midfield four; dropping the diamond that had – by and large – sparkled so brightly this autumn.
Because it is hardly rocket science tactically to look at a Crofts-Fox combo in the centre of that rebuilt midfield and work out what it will and what it won’t deliver. It will deliver two tons of graft, but little by the way of creative craft.
Certainly not in the attacking sense. Their natural game is to sit and dig; not to bomb on and chase. What they need, above all, is a lead to defend.
Nick a goal in front and then let the opposition come on… see if they can find a way through.
And if they do, then there’s Barnett-Ward to out-smart. No easy feat; one does height, the other does pace. The two complement each other in 101 ways; they ‘work’.
Whether through that word ‘luck’ again or shrewd design, they ‘click’.
Put the two pairs together, add Russell Martin having one of the games of his Canary life and young Steve Smith offering enthusiasm and endeavour in Adam Drury’s absence and you have a very, solid ‘back eight’.
Simon Lappin has, after all, a long-standing career as a left-back on his cv. He can quite happily go backwards; close in and defend when required.
The key to all that working, however, is nicking that one goal ahead.
Give all of the above a lead to defend and odds-are that – at this level – they can deliver. Which is why – minus Hoolahan – the performance of Anthony McNamee is so key; he has to be the supply. He has to create; to deliver.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The ball in to the far post was a defender’s nightmare – onside or offside. Particularly with someone like Grant Holt floating around the back of the box.
In that one, big diagonal ball, McNamee turned the game; delivered Lambert his victory; got ‘the plan’ to work. But it was more than just the plan working on the day; more than just being brave on the one occasion when out went Hoolahan and in came McNamee.
You have to be bold and visionary in your transfer dealings to be in a position to effect such changes with the right personnel; to have at your disposal the right tools for the job; the right horses for the right courses. Over and about that, the horses have to be willing.
To be ready. To be fit and able to answer the manager’s call. And that suggests decent man management.
That McNamee hasn’t sat there and sulked whilst Hoolahan nicks the early creative glory; that when required, the former Swindon winger has delivered – ‘fresh’ from the bench.
OK, so his free-kick wasn’t the best, but the body language suggested that Chrissy Martin buys into this; there was little evidence of a sulk afoot when he lost his place to Jackson… He hasn’t disappeared into a moody shell, never to return.
Right now, Lambert would appear to have a squad at his disposal; players willing to drop in and out of the team and yet still deliver – both in terms of performance and attitude.
And that doesn’t happen by chance – even if the final reward might owe something to Lady Luck.
That owes everything to good man management, smart player recruitment – not bringing in a ‘moody’ to the dressing room – and by having the boldness of thought and vision, to shake things up at the right moment.
In short, it demonstrates a decent manager. Something that is becoming ever less of a doubt with every passing week and victory.