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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 13/09/05, 7.45pm
Watford
versus
Norwich City
 
Don't mention the...
By Mike Peter

Cricket, then.

Not often in September has the sporting media's attention not been entirely focused on football, but this year it is the case. As we reach the end of what has been a thrilling Ashes series, England look close to victory, only needing a draw to win.

For Australia, you imagine, it's all a bit of a shock. Glenn McGrath, Australia's premier fast bowler, predicted a 5-0 whitewash. Instead, they have been outplayed throughout the series. Whilst one doesn't want to do England an injustice, you have to look at Australia's situation. They have been unchallenged for fifteen years and were entirely unprepared for the English onslaught.

It's not an uncommon occurrence. Every year a relegated team comes into Division Two expecting easy wins and a multitude of goals without actually putting in the work in. They face teams desperate to beat them, with an energetic work rate and huge enthusiasm and just can't cope. It was Leicester last year. Wolves too, before Hoddle came along.

Didn't think it'd be Norwich, though. Southampton were the obvious candidates: after years in the Premiership and with a squad full of Scandinavian mercenaries, you could see the potential for complacency and arrogance. Norwich, however, have come down with a squad that has plenty of experience at this level and looks dangerous as well.

They drew their first three games, before falling to Southampton, Leeds and Stoke. In the League Cup, they squeezed past Franchise in extra time. Nigel Worthington, not the sort of man who would stand for this sort of play, seemed genuinely perplexed. They recorded their first victory of the season against an extremely shaky Plymouth side on Saturday.

Rob Green will be in goal for the Canaries. Green made his debut for England during the summer tour of the USA and many Norwich fans feared they would lose him in the pre-season. However, no offers were forthcoming, thus he remains in East Anglia, safe in the knowledge there are no English keepers in the Premiership that could conceivably replace him. Darren Ward (not that one) has been the reserve since signing from Forest last summer but was replaced on the bench at Plymouth by Paul Gallacher with no mention of any injury.

Former PSV man Jurgen Colin was signed for the bizarre sum of 263,000 in the summer and looks to be filling the right-back berth. Another recent acquisition, Mathieu Louis-Jean, is his competition but hasn't featured since early August. Adam Drury and Simon Charlton vie for the left-back position. Charlton has held it by default whilst Drury has been injured but has conveniently acquired an achilles strain just as Drury recovered.

In the centre, skipper Craig Fleming and Jason Shackell form a strong defensive pairing. Shackell, a product of Norwich's academy, broke into the team in the midst of the Premiership campaign and didn't look out of place. Nigel Worthington is said to be looking for another centre-back on loan but until then defender cum striker Gary Doherty is the only cover.

Dean Marney will play on the right. Regarded by Spurs fans as a big talent, opportunities have been limited at White Hart Lane and Marney has gone out on a series of loans, this being the most high profile. Darren Huckerby usually plays on the right, but is suspended for this game after having a petulant little rant at the referee at Stoke for which he saw red.

On the left, Jim Brennan seems unchallenged. Brennan is a left back but finds himself more in midfield nowadays. In the centre, Andy Hughes has returned from injury to cover Marney's move to the right. Hughes was signed in the summer from Reading as a replacement for Damien Francis, but is more of a workman than the free-scoring Francis. His likely partner, Youssef Safri is also defensively minded, meaning the Norwich midfield is likely to be compromising, if not particularly creative. The other midfield option, Jason Jarrett, moved the opposite way to Francis in the summer but was barely involved in Wigan's promotion last season and hasn't inspired Norwich fans thus far.

Up front, Norwich have striker troubles. Dean Ashton is present; the former Crewe man has scored four goals already this season and is an obvious threat. But both Peter Thorne and Leon McKenzie are injured and with the aforementioned Huckerby also out, Paul McVeigh - a key player in Norwich's ascent two years ago but increasingly a peripheral figure nowadays - made his first start of the season against Plymouth. Kevin Lisbie has been brought in on loan from Charlton to fill the gaps and is likely to take McVeigh's place. Lisbie has talent, but has held onto his "young prospect, just waiting to become a star" tag well into his twenties and probably will for the rest of his career. Youngster Ian Henderson may also feature.

This game should be interesting. Whilst Norwich have been in a poor run of form, they have a talented squad and may be buoyed from their victory against Plymouth. It should provide a good test of our invigorated team. Although hopefully not as much of a test as Australia are providing as I write....