City boss Paul Lambert will keep everyone guessing as to whether Canary playmaker Wes Hoolahan will be fit for tomorrow night’s trip to Vicarage Road as the Norfolk side look to swiftly bounce back from Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at promotion rivals Swansea City.
For many it was no coincidence that a rare reverse for Paul Lambert’s men happened on the day of Hoolahan’s absence with hamstring trouble.
Minus the Dubliner’s craft – the oil that greases Norwich’s wheels – City let Swansea back into that race for the second automatic promotion slot.
That would be one argument. Another might suggest that the combined talents of Dani Pacheco, Henri Lansbury, Andrew Surman and Grant Holt would – on after afternoons – have been good enough to have at least grabbed one goal in an open encounter at The Liberty.
And, as everyone knows, goals change games.
That all said, many would take heart from seeing Wesley back in Lambert’s starting plans.
For now, however, that possibility will be something for manager and player to discuss. In private.
“I’ll have a chat with him today,” said Lambert, speaking to BBC Radio Norfolk this morning.
“And the best person to know is the patient himself – he’ll know whether he’s ready or not to come back. And the hamstring’s not too severe we don’t think, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Lambert isn’t short of options, but there is no doubt that Hoolahan on his day can be unplayable at this level. He also enjoys something of a ‘talisman’ status within that Canary set-up – certainly amongst the Canary faithful who will again be travelling in good numbers to Vicarage Road tomorrow night.
“The way he plays the game, he can hurt teams,” said Lambert, who has – in that little, tip-of-the-diamond role – found a way for Hoolahan to really sparkle in this division.
“To play that ‘No10’ role as I call it, you’ve got to have awareness and Wes being the player he is, is a lot different to other players. But both Dani [Pacheco] and Henri [Lansbury] can do it with the creativity that they’ve got so if Wes was out then I’ve got options to put somebody else in there.”
And, as Lambert was keen to stress, Norwich are still second in the league – with just six games of the season to go. That, in itself, is worthy of pondering long and hard. Saturday’s reverse – as unwelcome as it may have been – is not a disaster. Perspective, people.
“If you’d have said to me at the start of the season that we’d have been second after 40 games I think I would have driven you to the asylum,” said Lambert.
“We always try to bounce back as quickly as we can; we try to be positive. And, as I say, I’m absolutely delighted with what the players have already achieved and hopefully we can go on and do it.”
In their way now stands a Watford side managed by ex-City favourite Malky Mackay – a one-time Celtic colleague of Lambert at Parkhead.
The Hornets own play-off challenge has faded of late; Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Hull City leaves them eight points shy of the top six. Time, points and games are running out on Watford. They are into that ‘Now or never…’ stage of the season.
“What is going to happen between now and the end of the season is what has happened up to now – everybody is cutting each other’s throat and I don’t see that changing,” Mackay told The Watford Observer, with the much-liked Scotsman refusing to accept that their season is all-but over whilst the mathematics suggest otherwise.
“Somebody needs to go on a little run. There are only six or seven left for teams but if you go on a run then you can be in the play-offs,” he said.
They, like Norwich, have little time to dwell on a weekend defeat – it is straight back into the nPower Championship fray for both teams.
“I am delighted we have a game on Tuesday night and it will be a real good test for us,” said Mackay.
Team-wise and Lambert’s No1 question is going to revolve around Hoolahan’s fitness. The risk is, of course, that he throws him back too soon and loses him for the rest of the season – potentially the play-offs included.
And with both the on-loan Pacheco and Arsenal starlet Lansbury able to drop into that role, discretion could yet prove the better part of valour when it comes to the involvement of ‘Wessi’ tomorrow night.