City playmaker David Fox tonight offered a rare insight into the tactical thinking of Messrs Lambert and Culverhouse as the Canaries prepared to play host to bottom of the table Blackburn tomorrow.
The 27-year-old midfielder – looking ever more the total steal out of Colchester United at a reported £25,000 in the summer of 2010 – has been a key figure in Norwich’s stirring run of late.
Sat more square in that flatter midfield, it has been his ability to both pick and serve a pass that has kept the Norfolk side firmly on the front foot on their return to the top flight.
Ever willing to both give and receive the ball, Fox sets the tempo of the side from that anchor midfield role; more importantly, it is his ability to switch play to either wide right or wide left that keeps teams stretched and guessing.
Will it be Elliott Bennett driving towards the right-hand corner; or will it be Anthony Pilkington looking to come in off the left touch-line and add to his three-goal haul? Fox, invariably, is the one that decides.
“It seems to have worked so far,” said Fox this morning, quizzed as to how it was working out with Bradley Johnson to one side of him; team skipper Wes Hoolahan somewhere just in front of him.
It gives the Canaries a compelling mix of craft, graft and Irish imagination – and all with two, young athletes hugging either touchline hungry for the ball.
“It’s a completely different role to the one I played last year for the club,” said Fox, as the diamond loses something of its sparkle.
“So I’m still finding my feet myself in terms of playing a new position, but it’s one that we’re enjoying. And with Wes in there as well it makes us a lot more solid and a lot more harder to break down.”
And it gives the Canaries natural width and pace. That’s the key.
“If you’ve got wide players like that [Pilkington and Bennett] then you’ve got to try and get the ball out to them as much as you can. And that’s sort of my job in the middle – to try and get it out to Benno and Pilks as much as possible just to let them have free rein to do what they want really.”
Like lay the most inviting ball into the opposition box in search of Grant Holt’s forehead, that kind of thing.
“The pace and the trickery that they have got, they are going to cause teams problems. And if we make the game stretched and get it wide, then it makes it more space in the middle for myself, Johnno and Wes.
“So that’s what we’re trying to do,” added one of City’s brightest and best talkers.
“Trying to play an expansive game and get it out wide and get crosses in. Plus they’re ability to take the ball up the pitch is very good. So, like on Saturday, if we’re under the kosh a little bit, if you’ve got Pilks and Benno running the ball 50 or 60 yards up the pitch, it doesn’t half give your defence a bit of a breather. It’s a good outlet for us.”
All of which helps explain why Norwich are catching the eye this autumn; they have both the system and the players to make their Premiership opponents think twice about storming forward en masse.
“I think before the start of the season we would have taken the points and the position we’re now in,” said Fox, well aware of the fact that the season remains merely a quarter old.
“And we all know that it’s only a fraction of the season gone and there’s still a lot of points to play for – and a lot will happen between now and the end of the season.
“But from a starting point of view, we’ve got to be very pleased with how we’ve started.”
The key now, of course, is to take full advantage of events at Anfield last week where the world and his wife noted that 1-1 draw with Liverpool – a result that left Norwich within sight of seventh place this weekend if results were to fall their way.
“There’s no point in going to places like Anfield and getting a draw, if you’re not winning your home games and beating those teams that will be in and around you towards the end of the season,” said Fox.
For which you can read Blackburn Rovers, now stuck fast at the bottom of the table and looking all set for a long, hard winter trying to dig themselves out of the autumn mire.
“They’re fighting for their lives already,” he said. “They’re down there and they’re scrapping away.
“So we know full well that it is going to be a really tough game tomorrow. There’s a bit of flak from the fans at the minute, but the manager and the players all seem to be in it together so that siege mentality can work in their favour sometimes.”
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