A tale not of two cities, rather two managers and two strikers.
There was a thesis doing the rounds in the Midlands a few weeks back that Paul Lambert ‘got lucky’ in his time at Norwich City.
He got lucky, they argument runs, in the sense that he walked into a dressing room that already had Grant Holt at its heart.
A player whose goals over the course of the next three seasons would do more than anything else to propel the Scot’s managerial reputation into orbit. And see him installed as the Villa supporters’ No1 choice to succeed the luckless Alex McLeish this summer.
The argument extends further re Holt. And the influence that the Canary hero has had on Lambert’s rise to fame and Premier League managerial fortune.
That in the former Carlisle tyre-fitter, Lambert landed on one of those all-too rare ‘characters’; a true leader of dressing room men; someone around who the rest of the boys would rally; someone who would lead by example; would never know when he was beaten; would never give up.
Would prove all the doubters wrong when he first grabbed all the goals that he did at Championship level – and then, more remarkably still, proved the doubters wrong again in the top flight of English football.
It is – I stress – an argument held by ‘outsiders’ looking in; who are looking for reasons as to why Lambert got where he has. They are not – for now – looking to give him much credit for his shrewdness in the lower league transfer market, the class of his coaching side-kick Ian Culverhouse or the tactical nous both bring to certain game situations.
They see it more simply; that he ‘got lucky’; he stumbled into a dressing room with a legend in its midst; one about to deliver the goods, time and time again.
Amongst all the other – mostly legal – sub-plots that are going to surround that trip to Villa Park in ten days time, the relationships the two managers ‘enjoy’ with their key centre-forwards is fascinating.
That Lambert and Villa’s highest-paid player Darren Bent aren’t seeing eye-to-eye isn’t exactly a state secret.
Bent has already been stripped of the captaincy; he came off the bench to score the leveller in the derby with West Brom – and then proceeded to make his feelings known towards the manager on the touchline.
His reward? A place back on the bench for the trip to Spurs and a 2-0 defeat for Villa – one that included a horror miss by £7 million new-boy Christian Benteke, the 21-year-old now keeping Bent out of the first team. Ron Vlaar has the skipper’s armband.
Closer to home, Chris Hughton’s relationship with Holt is equally fascinating to watch unfold. It is not rocket science to suggest that the manager’s fortunes rest – as they came to with Lambert – on the 31-year-old scoring him goals.
He got him his third year on his contract; there has never been an issue with the captaincy. Not whilst Holt has started.
And, of course, he hasn’t started every game.
But, for me, that Chelsea team selection was a big one. Hughton is smart enough to realise that – sat in the bottom three and without a win – he’s in the trenches right now. He needs big characters on the pitch to pull the club out of this early mire.
Holt had scored against Liverpool; as had Steve Morison.
But Hughton went with Holt. Who responded with a great opening strike and a typically committed overall individual display.
He will go into this weekend’s home clash with Arsenal with two goals in two games – against Liverpool and Chelsea, to boot.
And, one would suspect, knowing that he remains centre stage; The Man that the manager needs to help him put Norwich back on the road to mid-table safety again this season.
Back in the Midlands, Lambert must be sorely hoping that Benteke’s goal for Belgium will keep the youngster’s confidence high for the Premier League tests to come; that he doesn’t have to go back, cap in hand, to Bent.
Who might not be in the mood to do the Villa boss too many favours. Or maybe he might – if only to get himself away when the transfer window opens in January.
But the whole story of two managers and two strikers is fascinating to behold. Upon their success in front of goal do so many hopes and fears rest this autumn.