City boss Paul Lambert this weekend paid glowing tribute to a player that didn’t even kick a ball this weekend – his little ‘Wessi’, Wes Hoolahan.
The talismanic Dubliner found himself left on the bench for the home clash against big-spending Chelsea as Lambert threw both Steve Morison and Grant Holt up against John Terry and Co, ensuring there was little or no room for Hoolahan as David Fox partnered Bradley Johnson and the in-form Andrew Surman and Anthony Pilkington offered the width and the physicality needed against the athletic Blues.
In the event, of course, the manager’s decision bore fruit in the shape of a first clean sheet and another huge point en route towards Premiership survival.
But as the Canary chief ponders whether or not to add again player-wise whilst the January transfer window remains open, it is abundantly clear that he is in possession of some seriously special dressing room chemistry – personalities that can work as well for you off the field as they can off it.
Tinker with that at your peril. The manner in which Hoolahan dealt with his place on the bench was evidence of just what togetherness there was in the Colney camp.
“I left Wes Hoolahan out today for a tactical reason and he’s been brilliant,” said Lambert afterwards, as the Canaries left Chelsea with little more than a Champions League place to chase as the two Manchester clubs strode away from the chasing London pack.
“You have to have good people in the dressing room – it’s paramount,” said Lambert, citing Hoolahan as a prime example.
“Wes Hoolahan was brilliant against West Brom last week. There’s no justification for leaving him out other than the system of the team, but he took it great.
“Yes, he maybe was disappointed not to play but he’s another one that has been colossal for us here.”
In the event, Hoolahan remain an unused substitute as the Canaries dug deep right across the pitch to dig out a great result in front of an ever-willing home crowd.
There was, Lambert revealed, at least one new face sat somewhere in the stands as he moved ever closer to bringing in at least one fresh reinforcement before the window snaps shut again.
Jonny Howson, 23, was in the building.
“Jonny was at the game today,” Lambert revealed afterwards, with the reported £2 million deal for the Leeds United skipper looking all-but complete now. “I think everything went OK with the medical and it’s just about getting over the line.”
‘Over the line’ will, of course, refer to the player’s own personal terms; they, too, didn’t appear to be a major stumbling block. “I think that’s basically it – yes,” was Lambert’s final word on the Howson move.
Whether he would add again, is another matter. There was, clearly, an element of ‘If it ain’t bust, don’t try and fix it…’ to the manager’s thinking. Ninth, by right, with their first clean sheet of the season under their belt, there isn’t too much wrong with the Class of 2011-12.
The Class of 2012-13 can wait till the summer.
“I don’t know – I really don’t know,” was Lambert’s reaction on BBC Radio Norfolk, quizzed as to whether a further fresh face could arrive before the FA Cup return to The Hawthorns.
“I don’t want to disturb the group that we’ve already got because they’re doing really well,” he added, clearly hoping that Howson’s arrival will give another dimension to the City midfield. The lad has an eye for goal for a kick-off.
“Jonny will come in and – give him a couple of weeks to get up to speed – and I think he’ll be another massive asset for us. I think he’ll thrive on the crowd and I think he’ll thrive on the team that he’s going to play for.”
The expectation remains that Howson will be officially unveiled early this week. Back in Yorkshire, Leeds have had some explaining to do. Their position was made that much weaker by the knowledge that the skipper could walk on a Bosman free this summer.
The £2 million Norwich offered for the final six months of his contract was money they could ill-afford to turn down, explained Whites boss Simon Grayson.
“I can understand everyone’s frustration and I am as frustrated as everyone else,” Grayson told The Yorkshire Post this week.
“Jonny has done very well for us but, ultimately, when the offer came in, I spoke to Jonny and he confirmed his desire to play in the Premier League. He felt it was too good an opportunity to turn down and we thought it was a good opportunity in a business sense. We can utilise the money to bring players in during this window.
“If the bid had been half as much then we wouldn’t even have considered it but we decided it was in the best interests of everyone to sell Jonny.”