I confessed last week that I had got it wrong about Bradley Johnson. And I was not alone. In the last couple of months humble pie has overtaken roast turkey and the trimmings as Norfolk’s favourite dish.
But even I was taken aback at the furore that surrounded Johno’s tenth yellow card of the season. Yes it was a daft yellow to collect; yes, referee Carl Boyeson came across as a’over-officious jobsworth’ (even if he was following the letter of the law); and yes, we will miss his goals from midfield.
Yet the outcry and panic that overshadowed what was a terrific win over Sheffield Wednesday went way beyond what I had anticipated.
City’s march from seventh to second has been built on a Neil-structured team ethic with every individual playing a role of equal importance. No Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez syndrome here. And therefore the thought of Johnson’s loss causing such a fuss hadn’t even occurred to me.
So, a lesson learned on my part.
But now the tears have dried it’s time to focus on Saturday’s clash at the Macron Stadium (I trust Alex Neil to not have been similarly distracted) and what really matters – three points.
Neil Lennon – once the darling of this parish – has done a decent job in preserving Bolton’s Championship status. When they arrived at Carrow Road in October they were in the bottom three but following a productive mid-season they now find themselves thirteen points clear of the relegation scrap. For this season at least that’s job done for the Ulsterman.
Back then it was a Cameron Jerome brace that did for the Trotters and gave City’s then manager, Neil Adams, a morale boosting victory over his counterpart, who had been linked with the Norwich job throughout the summer. It was also a win that left City joint top of the league with Derby, Watford and Wolves.
Little did we know at the time what was to follow.
Those in the know have since suggested that Lennon was at no point a serious contender, although one suspects the Norwich job was of great interest to him. Whether that will add an extra edge to the game is an unknown but as one with fire and passion he’ll be straining every sinew to put one over the new incumbent of City’s dugout.
Upon his arrival in the north-west, and armed with a limited budget, he headed down the Roeder/McCarthy loan route and along the way acquired a couple of household names. Among others, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Emile Heskey were offered short-term deals to add some much needed now-how to the Trotters’ relegation battle and both have, in the eyes of Lennon at least, been a success.
In the aftermath of Monday’s impressive 3-0 win at the Cardiff City Stadium the Trotters’ manager was bullish in his defence of the two, and cited “a few sniggers behind our backs” when both were initially deployed. Their obvious lack of ‘legs’ have been compensated for by him surrounding them with others who can run, and we take them lightly at our peril.
While I’m unsure neither will have the impact alluded to by one ‘canarycaller’ on Monday, and neither will look to run the channels, there is enough collective experience to make life uncomfortable for Messrs Bassong and Martin if they are afforded a half-decent supply line. The trick, as ever, is to ensure their service is non-existent.
And it’s not about the damage Gudjohnsen, Heskey et al can do to the Canaries. If City operate with verve and energy within the structure deployed by Team Neil they will win the game. In terms of quality there is more than enough in the tank to see off a Bolton side that will be guaranteed to work its socks off, but only if the quality is afforded a platform on which to flourish.
At the Amex the style and swagger of the last two home games was only on show in flashes and, courtesy of Hughton’s well-briefed Seagulls, the win was of the ‘ground out’ variety. When that is the case it is not the aesthetic qualities of flair, creativity and inventiveness that are needed, but those of grit, determination and doggedness.
Of late City have married the ugly and the beautiful together to good effect and it’s that, above all else, that convinces me games like Saturday’s will be tackled head on. If it needs rolled-up sleeves then they dig in; if it needs a killer pass or two we have individuals ready to deliver.
In addition there is a certain run of games away from the Fine City that I barely dare mention, but more of the above and I envisage it continuing.
In terms of who should come in for Sir Bradley, my own feeling is that a re-jigged midfield will see a return to the starting XI for Gary O’Neil. With no obvious candidate for the left-hand berth I trust Mr Alex implicitly to tweak it so any transition is seamless.
The more obvious alternative of course would be to move Wes to the left side and hand the right-wing role to Nathan Redmond, but I’m unsure if both will see be spotted in the same midfield in the next five games if, as looks likely, our fate is to go to the wire. (Now watch him prove me wrong). Besides, we know what happens when the Irishman plays wide and is allocated too many ‘tracking’ duties.
But either way, almost regardless of which midfield combination he chooses, I expect a performance to make the travelling Yellow Army proud. Three points would be perfect, a point I’d take, but lets avoid one of those nasty defeat things that leave a sour taste.
“Never mind the danger…”
Jon Dunn says
Having paid a decent sum for Vadis-O-O as a Fer replacement, ostensibly, I’d prefer to see him start as opposed to O’Neil, as Vadis is an unknown quantity to the yellow army – never mind Neil Lennon and co!
Gary Field says
An interesting puzzle as to who will play “wide” left, although, to be honest, Bradley hasn’t really been deployed that wide.
Wes going there is one option, if defensive duties aren’t too onerous. I think it may be Dorrans, with Howson going central and Redmond wide right.
Time will tell, but, whoever is selected, it will be a tough test.
Couldn’t agree more with your comments regarding the reaction to Johnson’s suspension. Canary Call on Monday was hysterical nonsense – and for once it had more to do with the presenters!
I’ve been critical of Johnson in the past – and that’s because his performances have often warranted it. So I’ll pass on the humble pie, and just take my hat off to one of the most determined and inspired pieces of midfield form I’ve seen in 30 years of following the club.
I don’t believe his suspension on its own undermines our bid for promotion. The biggest threat is the whole team itself. Whether, in Alex Neil’s words after the Wednesday game, we ‘turn up’ – and avoid another Wigan (h) and Huddersfield (a). The onus is on everyone, and I find the attention on who replaces our number 4 as disconcerting as it is understandable.
Douglas Millar says
A major part of the hysteria about Bradley’s booking was whipped up by the bbc’s local presenter. The referee gave Johnson every chance to get off the field and had little alternative with the booking as Darren Eadie pointed out. Alex Neil’s understated reaction showed what a good man manager he is.
That said, Johnson has been a major factor in the success this season. Let’s hope his enforced absence will galvanise the team and set him up for a a grandstand finish to the season.
I see little to be gained at this stage of the season by taking a point. We are pretty much guaranteed a play off slot unless there is a Devon Loch type collapse. If scores are level after 70 mins we need to throw a bit of caution to the wind and bring on attacking options, settling for a point would serve no purpose at this stage. Neil doesn’t strike me as being the conservative (small c) type of manager and his instinct will be to take that risk for the greater reward.
Jon B says
Excellent point Mark @ 5. For the record I turned off Monday’s Canary Call after ten minutes of going on and on about the Johnson yellow. I also turned off Thursday’s The Scrimmage which was going on and on about the types of job Johnson could undertake during his break! I do have a sense of humour but for the latter really was a waste of air time.