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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 18/09/01
Norwich City
What matters
By Matt Rowson

It doesn't matter, obviously. In the light of last Tuesday's awful events, the game at Carrow Road doesn't matter at all. Nothing as insignificant as a sporting encounter registers in the grand scheme of things right now. I almost wrote "at a time like this"... but not many reading this will be able to relate to anything approaching "a time like this".

Immediately, many, many people are directly affected. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. Tsega and I, on our honeymoon, were at the World Trade Center barely a fortnight ago. Into the future, who knows what's going to happen, how the World will change, or how quickly.

So it's impossible to disagree with the dismissive statements above, or those similarly uttered by many in the football world this week. It just doesn't matter at all.

But football's irrelevance is half of its attraction, especially at the moment. Because let's face it, football results matter not a jot in the grand scheme of things anyway, even during weeks far less turbulent than that which has just passed. Compared to a wedding (for example!) or an argument with a friend or relative, or finding a new job, or moving home, or just spending time with people you care about, Watford's result on Tuesday would matter not at all.

The fact that it often so desperately seems to matter is its beauty. Football is for so many of us the most natural and effective form of escapism. Whatever else is going on in our world is shut outside the bubble of a football stadium for two hours or so. It's an essential break.

And right now I, like many others I'd imagine, need a break like I've never needed one. The terrifying enormity of it all is just far, far too much. It's not that I'm bored of it, boredom doesn't even come close to coming into it. It's just that all of what's happened leaves me feeling on the verge of insanity. A distraction, however transient, is badly needed. So if you'll forgive me I'll leave the bigger picture there and focus on the trivial, in the hope that it provides us with the distraction that is the only motivation in writing it.

To say that City have been treading water since they were relegated from the top flight in 1995 would be something of an understatement. The six campaigns since have seen neither a finish above ninth, nor below sixteenth.

So sitting as high as fourth after five games has to represent a decent start for the Norfolk side. The sight of Grimsby Town two places higher, let alone history offering cautionary tales (of a side that went unbeaten for fifteen before stalling to a ninth place finish, for example) should act as a restraining bolt on early ambitions. Certainly, it's interesting to note one website correspondent, evidently getting used to City's elevated status, dismissively anticipating Saturday's trip to Rotherham as providing "an easy three points".

But since the worst of starts, a four-nil hammering at Millwall that eclipsed even our own embarrassment, City's league results couldn't have been much better, four wins and no goals conceded prior to Saturday's tie at Millmoor. Whilst the quality of performances doesn't appear to have always been consistently high, that Forest were afforded plenty of possession last weekend without being able to penetrate does not bode well in the light of our away showing so far this term.

In goal for City will be 21-year-old Robert Green, who has ascended to first choice following Andy Marshall's defection to Ipswich Town (and apparently to their sub's bench). Green's competition is provided by the much-travelled Paul Crichton, a summer signing from Burnley. City are Crichton's twelfth league club.

Left-back will be Adam Drury, who has impressed since arriving from Peterborough for a six-figure fee towards the end of last season. Regular right-back is Darren Kenton who has also made a decent start to the campaign, but the injury-prone defender was doubtful for the weekend tie with a toe injury. His replacement would either be young Irishman Brian McGovern or the long-serving Daryl Sutch, whose best days are thought to be some way behind him.

In the centre, Malky Mackay has been paired effectively with Craig Fleming. Mackay's Carrow Road career has been revitalised by Nigel Worthington's arrival, whilst Fleming has had top flight experience with Oldham, although his occasional indecisiveness can be a problem. Former captain Matt Jackson is confined to the reserves following a contract dispute, a move to old club Luton appearing to be on the cards during the summer. The most immediate threat to the current pairing will be the return of new captain and summer arrival Neil Emblen from a hamstring problem.

In the middle of the park Gary Holt has made his presence felt since his arrival from Kilmarnock last season, adding some much needed bite to the City midfield with some fine showings already. Alongside him, Northern Ireland's Phil Mulryne is a more creative player, now recovered from an injury that sidelined him for much of the last campaign. On the right the versatile Steen Niedergaard, whose introduction proved so pivotal in this tie last season, has taken advantage of a knee injury to another summer arrival Mark Rivers to hold down a place. On the left, striker Paul McVeigh seems to be adapting well to an unfamiliar role, although his defensive capabilities in the face of a tricky right winger might be wanting....

Clint Easton has only managed a single sub appearance since his arrival from Vicarage Road, in the early nightmare at the New Den. That an injury to regular left-midfielder Chris Llewellyn has not seen Easton gain a start cannot be encouraging. The inconsistent Darel Russell is another option on the left.

Up front, City have plenty of options. Another former Hornet Iwan Roberts is still knocking around (often literally), alongside last season's recruit Zema Abbey who opened his account for the season with the winner against Forest last weekend. Pacy Frenchman Marc Libbra, who has made quite an impact from the bench already, seems to be a rapid favourite and Swiss striker Gaetano Giallanza, injured nearly a year ago, has a return tentatively pencilled in for Christmas. With McVeigh and Rivers both able to fill in up front the likes of Northern Ireland international Adrian Coote, former Man.United reserve Alex Notman and Paul "son of Kenny" Dalglish will need to work hard to make an impact.

The trip to Carrow Road gives us the chance to erase the memory of a vapid performance and a forgettable end to this tie last season. The behaviour of both players and fans left a bit to be desired on that occasion. Not as much as the wormlike behaviour of PSV Eindhoven's chairman this week, mind. But we said we wouldn't go there...

See you Tuesday.