By Matt Rowson
If there's one thing that gets on my wick, it's bloody fancy Dan "Ooooh, look at me, I play for a big Premiership club" wingers coming down to the Nationwide, fannying around for a bit, beating a player or two, woossing out of anything that threatens to be a physical confrontation and then buggering off back to their embroidered changing rooms again. Pah.
You know where I'm coming from. Thinking back, I was at Elland Road in 1996 during the European Championships for a game between Spain and France. Close to the front and near the half way line, we had a perfect view as Christian Karembeu tracked the path of a clearance from his keeper, turned his back on it as it dropped to him, killed its pace with his heel, knocking it through his own legs and flummoxing his marker before playing it on in the same movement. The broad-shouldered shaven-headed Leeds-shirt-wearing gentleman in front of us was not impressed. "Why didn't he joost fookin' kick it?" was the verdict. He knew the score.
Take that Pennant, for example. What the bloody hell's he doing in the team? He comes swanning in from Highbury, tries to beat teams all on his bloody own...you don't need me to tell you how few games we've won with him in the side this season or last. And whilst he's starting, he's denying our own young stars a chance...like Jamie Hand, for example. Oh sure, Pennant can beat a few players, pick out the odd defence-splitting pass, whip in evil low crosses...but at least when Jamie beats his man, he stays beaten.
Pennant should lose those shocking sideburns too whilst he's at it. And as for those ears...
Incidentally, Happy Twentieth Birthday for Thursday, Jermaine. Bastard.
Norwich, then, and a chance for a bit of revenge on a side that inflicted one of what have become several dodgy away days this season. It is an indictment on the ever-remarkable insistence of First Division sides to make concerted efforts to avoid promotion ("doing a Wolves") that the Canaries are still well up there in fourth despite, by the admission of their own supporters, "being shit for the last three months". With no away wins in the last seven, City's form is far from formidable going into Sunday's game.
Robert Green will be in goal for the Canaries. He has been one enduringly outstanding performer during the recent slump, although his slip did present Brighton with what turned out to be a consolation goal in the Cup Tie on Tuesday evening. Paul Crichton has been out with a knee injury but is supposedly close to a return to the bench, where he would displace youngster Arran Lee-Barrett.
At the back, Darren Kenton was the star of our hammering at Carrow Road but has recently been dropped to the bench among rumours of a move to the Premiership before the closing of the transfer window - Southampton and Newcastle have both been linked. So Darel Russell has come in at right back and is impressing in the absence of calf injury victim Steen Nedergaard, whilst former Peterborough defender Adam Drury is on the left. Ex-Darlo defender Paul Heckingbottom would be an alternative here. Craig Fleming and the off-form Malky Mackay form the central defensive partnership, although Stockport defender Keith Briggs is said to be on Nigel Worthington's shopping list as he continues to bargain-hunt in the lower divisions. Long-serving Daryl Sutch has recently been released, and has joined Southend.
In midfield, the central pairing of Phil Mulryne and player-of-the-year Gary Holt remains a fixture, providing guile and graft respectively. The inconsistent Mark Rivers, bootered out of the earlier game by Robbo, will be on the right with leading scorer Paul McVeigh, recently on the bench as contract talks continue, most likely to appear on the left. The injury-prone Chris Llewellyn, ineffective in the last league game against Rotherham, is the chief alternative since Clint Easton limped out of a reserve game with a hamstring strain on Wednesday night. With Alex Notman a long-term absentee and Neil Emblen on loan at Walsall, the Canaries look short of cover in the middle of the park.
Up front, a number of combinations have been attempted with limited recent success. The pairing on Sunday will almost certainly perm two from four, these being warhorse Iwan Roberts, off-form and benched recently but effective as a half-time sub on Tuesday, former Cambridge striker Zema Abbey, seventeen year old youth-teamer Ian Henderson and David Nielsen, whose pace has been most effective when introduced in twenty-minute bursts from the bench.
We've enjoyed decent victories in this fixture in each of the last two seasons, and have also performed well in our two Sky games at the Vic so far this term. A flush to last Saturday's monstrosity can't come soon enough, and it will be interesting to see whether Ray and Terry manage to light a rocket up the team's collective backside. I have my suspicions, and we're in for a game if I'm right. With or without that Pennant.