Tactical ability – Who has the best offence, defence and the better counter punching?
Paul Lambert – A good offence and coming on strong late in the round will always make up for a soft underbelly and slow starts.
“We are Norwich City we’ll score when we want. ”
This was an appropriate chant that I heard on many occasions at Carrow Road in the three seasons under Lambert. The Lambert regime meant you always felt the class of 2010 had a strong chance of getting something from the game. They showed strength of character by finding a way to win in the face of adversity and by never letting the heads drop even when on occasion facing an uphill battle of being two goals down.
However it always seemed that they did things the hard way because of sluggish starts and the problem of not being able to keep their error-prone centre backs fit long enough to sustain a strong partnership at the back. Even when Norwich were banging goals from all areas of the pitch I struggle to remember a Lambert side either keeping many clean sheets or seeing out a game clinically without some kind of drama.
Even though it made exciting story lines, by the time Chris Goreham had screamed “Jackson completes his hat-trick and its utter chaos at Carrow Road!” many Norwich fans had already aged by about 10 years in one season. There is the argument that who cares about clean sheets as long as you win and that Chris Hughton’s philosophy of keeping things tight ultimately lead to our demise.
Hughton, to his credit realised, that being gung-ho and showing endeavour alone will only take you so far at the top level. The warning signs were there when I commentated on Sky Sports Fanzone. It was the match versus WBA. I watched a very simple ball over the top split the two centre-backs in half creating a very simple one-on-one for Peter Odemwinge. By the end of Norwich’s first season in the Premier League they were beginning to lose momentum. They had been found out, and this was something that carried over into their very nervy second season.
Alex Neil – The best way not to get knocked out is not to stick your chin out to get hit in the first place.
In the film The Karate Kid (1984) Mr Miyagi’s student Daniel asks him if he has any last words of advice for him before he enters the first bout of his martial arts competition, to which he replies “Hai (yes) Daniel San, don’t get hit!”
Some of the history’s best boxers such as Floyd Mayweather and Joe Calzage look in such good health because they just never got hit that often. Russell Martin said in his interview at the end of the playoff final that Alex Neil’s new Norwich had the best defensive record in the league within his spell in charge. Alex Neil’s pre-match interviews sound like a broken record, never giving too much away and always stating the obvious.
“We just need to sort of make sure that we are solid at the back but still carrying that threat up top.” Sounds all rather easy doesn’t it?
Yet Alex Neil’s win percentage of 68% and an unbeaten away record speak for itself. This was no fluke; instead down to the fact his team rarely ever had to spend too much time trying to claw back rounds from losing positions despite on the odd occasion falling foul to a lucky punch. Fixtures that looked like that they were going to be tricky such as a two-legged playoff semi final against some team that won something many years ago and a Wembley playoff final, were, as quoted from Sky Sports, “negotiated with such composure that they belied the magnitude of the occasion.”
Verdict – Both used substitutions to great effect but Alex Neil wins the second round due to a tight defence, excellent counter punching and the ability to follow up with crippling body blows at crucial times.