Back in the middle of March, the League Managers Association asked all of the Premier League managers to answer a few simple questions; a survey, if you will. Each manager was asked to give his opinion on a number of questions including "Who is the most impressive boss?" and "which team do you most enjoy watching?" (75% of managers, accurately identified Spurs as the most enjoyable team to watch).
Bearing in mind that this was a survey of the Premier League's most erudite minds (and Mark Hughes), it was noteworthy that the top flight's newest managers, Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert, amassed 87% of the votes for most impressive boss; Rodgers with 47% and Lambert taking 40%.
It comes as little surprise to the Swansea and Norwich faithful. We've watched these two teams build formidable reputations as tenacious competitors and who believe that you win games by playing attractive football.
A survey like this would ordinarily churn the rumour mill and cause great concern for the fans of smaller teams with revered managers. Which bigger club is going to take our manager? However, Norwich's recent run of poor results will leave many City fans feeling calm with regards to Paul Lambert's immediate future.
Although it only took him two and a half years to be inducted into the Norwich City Hall of Fame, it's possible, just possible, that the City gaffer's almost perfect record as the Canaries' boss is showing signs of weakness and the wheels could be coming off.
It was only seven games ago that Norwich were comfortably perched in eighth position with a remarkable 35 points. Just seven games later, we find ourselves 12th, out of the FA Cup (to a mid table Championship side), having earned a measly four points from a possible 18. What’s more concerning is that teams, such as Bolton, Fulham, Wigan and Stoke have all found ways to frustrate Norwich in recent weeks. Whereas, earlier in the season there was a youthful daredevil attitude that Norwich took with them into ties at home and away and a lot of that bravery seems to have faded in the last 6 weeks.
While some might say we could have taken something from the game at Fulham, we were actually well-beaten, in terms of good chances created. They hit the woodwork twice, we needed two fantastic blocks from the sensational debutant Ryan Bennett and John Ruddy had to make another top notch save to deflect Alex Kacaniklic’s rasper onto the bar. It was almost a royal spanking, reminiscent of the 6-0 defeat at the Cottage back on the last day of the 2005 season.
Here’s my concern; for two and a half years, the DNA of Norwich’s performances has been free-flowing, attack minded, creative football. I fear that as soon as we lose that attacking mentality, our threat dies. If we don’t make teams think about us, then all we can do is defend and hope for the best.
Delia’s boys will take little comfort from the run of fixtures that awaits them before the season’s completion - Everton, Tottenham, Manchester City, Blackburn, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa.
Of course, Lambert’s job is safe. He has enough collateral to face much worse than this minor slump in form. Nevertheless, if the recent praise goes his way, then the blame will inevitably have to follow. For example the 3-5-2 formation; I’m afraid it just hasn’t worked. We might have got a result against a very poor Wolves team, but not before Michael Kightly easily cut us open and set up Matt Jarvis for an easy goal through the heart of our three man defence. At times, it feels as though we play with three in the back because we have an abundance of decent centre-backs.
Here’s the solution. We work best with a flat back four. We have two standout central defenders in Zak Whitbread and Ryan Bennett, who, when they’re fit, should probably start. Part of Lambert’s genius is that he seems to be able to pick the appropriate team to match the opponent and it usually works. However, at times, you just need to know who your best defenders are and stick with them. I think we have found them in Whitbread and Bennett.
As I’ve mentioned before. Our safety in the league is no longer in question. What’s important is that we finish the league in a position that our performance throughout the season have earned (and that we get the pocket money that goes with it). We also have to our momentum through to the end of the season. That means pressuring the opposition rather than sitting back as we have done during critical portions of recent matches. It means taking the game to teams, even when we’re away from home and especially when they’re “bigger” than us.
We deserve a top 10 finish and I think we’ll have to work very hard to get that with our remaining games. While Lambert is more than capable of that, I'd like to see us putting other teams on the back foot, scoring goals and making them think about us. We're no longer the Premier League new boys.