How do you solve a problem like Wes?
First, a confession. This blog was originally written before the Arsenal game and was, admittedly, quite a depressing read. However, the 1-0 win at home to the Gunners has changed some of that and prompted a bit of a re-write.
October 22nd, 2012
The highlight of Norwich City’s first Premier League win of the season was Wes Hoolahan starting and putting in a masterful performance just behind goalscorer Grant Holt. The Irishman has been in and out of the squad this season – not because of any poor showing on the pitch but because his main problem is managers knowing where to play him. Former city boss Paul Lambert appeared to solve that very issue by playing him at the tip of a midfield diamond. Indeed, it is Hoolahan’s niche position that has contributed to him continually being ignored by his country. Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has called up lesser players because in accommodating Wes, Traps would have to deviate from a formation he is comfortable with. Having shipped six against Germany recently, surely that’s a risk now worth taking?
Trapattoni was reportedly at Carrow Road on Saturday after being instructed by the FAI to attend more Premier League games – and he couldn’t have picked a better time to break his domestic viewing duck. After that performance I expect to see Hoolahan gaining some more international caps for the Republic of Ireland, along with Anthony Pilkington who impressed on the wing.
Along with Pilkington and Hoolahan, the performance of the rock that is Sebastien Bassong at the back was another highlight. The loss of the central defender to injury at the start of the month must not be under-estimated – he has proven to be the defensive glue in his short time here, with the otherwise steady performances of his team mates at the back having dipped during his time on the treatment table. His solid showing against the Gunners was more than deserving of the sponsor’s Man of the Match award. Another plus point is Grant Holt regularly finding the net and, after scoring three in three against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal hopefully this will be the catalyst to both the captain and the team’s season.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Saturday’s win was seeing the team click, and to finally an attacking winger on either side of the pitch for the Canaries. Manager Chris Hughton clearly knows his formation – so far only willing to stray from the traditional 4-4-2 by replacing the second striker with an extra midfielder and going one upfront. What the Norwich City boss has seemed unsure of so far is playing people in their preferred positions. Jonny Howson is an attacking midfielder, not the deep-lying defensive midfielder that his boss has seemingly instructed him to be this season. The same can also be said for Andrew Surman and Wes Hoolahan – both are at their best in a free role linking midfield and attack, not stuck out on the left wing – but that’s where they both found themselves when the latter replaced the former in the 5-2 defeat at home to Liverpool.
Here’s hoping the formation against Arsenal is a sign of things to come and that Hughton is getting to know how to get the best out of his players tactically. What is of most importance now is how the players carry that match-winning performance into the next few games – Aston Villa, Stoke and Reading is arguably a less daunting trio of fixtures than the previous three of Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. Win two out of those three and only then can we say that Norwich City’s season has turned a corner.
[image: Getty Images]