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Michael Bailey: Alex Neil finds the art of rotation – just as Norwich City’s injury list threatens to hamper their Championship recovery

Cameron Jerome looked like a man on a mission after getting his chance against Newcastle United. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Cameron Jerome looked like a man on a mission after getting his chance against Newcastle United. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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It was a random fixture change. An exciting fixture too. The prospect of Norwich City taking on Huddersfield under floodlights and in front of the live Sky Sports cameras will be one of the key evenings this season.

Norwich City's return trip to high-flying Hudderfield will be among a frenetic run of games to kick-off April. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesNorwich City's return trip to high-flying Hudderfield will be among a frenetic run of games to kick-off April. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

It was a random fixture change. An exciting fixture too. The prospect of Norwich City taking on Huddersfield under floodlights and in front of the live Sky Sports cameras will be one of the key evenings this season.

The simple switch from Tuesday to Wednesday night in early April is, in reality, neither here nor there. But it did draw attention to one of the quirks of City’s remaining campaign – the fact they will end March with just one game in the space of 20 days, and yet start April with five in 17.

That Easter challenge will shape much of what the Canaries can achieve this term, bearing in mind as things stand right now Alex Neil’s men cannot afford to take on any more damage.

It will also be interesting to see if the Norwich boss continues to develop what he showed this past week he may well have learned this season.

MORE: Read Michael’s take on John Ruddy’s Norwich City renaissance

I suspect if you asked the City boss for his chief regret when taking on Huddersfield in their initial fixture at Carrow Road, he would lament the lack of squad rotation. The fact he had banked on his in-form players delivering the same levels for one more December fixture – and them falling short.

Therefore it was noticeable when speaking after City’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle on Tuesday, that Neil was happy to point out his decision to rest a few players against Nottingham Forest paid off in midweek.

The performances of Cameron Jerome especially but also Jacob Murphy, and then Alex Pritchard against Nottingham Forest, backed the manager’s judgment with four points and two hugely encouraging days’ work.

Certainly the performance against Newcastle was full of energy – until the batteries ran out late on.

The irony of course is that just as Neil seems more inclined to rotate his playing squad, injuries could seriously hamper his intentions.

Kyle Lafferty is going to have to do a lot better than he managed in midweek, if City are going to have striker success while Nelson Oliveira recovers from what could yet prove to be a serious fitness blow to the Canaries’ promotion prospects.

And yet whoever is available for Saturday, the expectations will state there can only be one winner at the Pirelli Stadium this weekend.

For now, City are going to have to dig in and ride the wave – because there’s a very long way to go before their March break arrives.

I’ve seen Newcastle United live twice this season. Both games were absolute crackers played at a pace I have never seen in a Championship fixture before.

Maybe the defending was short of Premier League levels, but there’s no doubt the side Rafa Benitez has at his disposal this season should be miles clear at the top of the division. They really are that good.

Alex Neil was asked on Monday at Colney whether the Newcastle boss deserved credit for adapting to life in the Championship, given his more illustrious previous surroundings?

The City boss raised a customary eyebrow and gave a reasonably straight bat to the question – but his answer could have quite easily been ‘Michael Bailey could probably get that side promoted’.

If they don’t finish the job come May, I’ll get Dwight Gayle tattooed on my leg.

Once again, the Norwich City Fans Social Club delivered a cracking night at Carrow Road.

Their annual quiz earlier this month was a roaring success with packed tables, 35 teams – including a group of spirited Ipswich fans – and most importantly more than £2,600 raised for the Community Sports Foundation.

They even paved the way for more fantastic events with the club in future. As least, I assume that’s how they allowed the Norwich City team headed by interim chief executive Steve Stone to win the quiz on a tie-breaker. Again.

You can find information on future events by visiting ncfsc.co.uk

There’s a bit of me that was looking forward to seeing Tom Lawrence play at Carrow Road in little more than a week.

The way he has been tearing up the Championship has been far beyond eye-catching. He’s a chief tormenter with a wonderful delivery into the box and a canny knack of dribbling away from people – all alongside more than a handful of special goals that have single-handedly kept Ipswich out of relegation trouble.

He looks like someone who really could make it all the way to the top. Still, his two-game ban certainly helps City ahead of next weekend’s derby. Let’s just hope there is a positive result for Norwich in the preceding fixture.

Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey and Facebook @mbjourno

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7 comments

  • I understand Olsson posted it via his mobile and I was talking to a Burnley supporter on Tuesday who was down here on holiday. I have to say that other supporters have raised similar questions this season as so many of our players seem to run out of steam late in the game resulting in far too many goals conceded. I was well aware that CJ, Wes and Jacob Murphy looked wacked for the 20 minutes of so on Tuesday evening. Two were ultimately replaced but Murphy was left to struggle on. I became aware of the so called Olsson tweet on Wednesday when I met up with another NCFC supporter, I do not use the Tweet facility myself but trust my source.

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    TrevorKeith

    Friday, February 17, 2017

  • If Jerome should be injured or suspended while Lafferty retains his Pariah status, then it's a case of needs must. A change of formation to accommodate Josh or Jacob as a "striker"? It could be the only other realistic option. Or we could try getting into a comfortable lead vs The Brewers and give CamJam a half-hour rest. Give Laffers some real game time. Then try to repeat that process in games vs the likes of 1p5wich, Bristol City, Blackburn & even Barnsley(?). See what KL can do, given a fair chance. If CamJam can avoid mishaps and continue his current form, he may confound many of us by being a genuine candidate for PotS. Nobody else consistently puts in so much unselfish work for the team. Puzzled to read what TK said about Olsson\Brady's fitness issues, but Trevor is most certainly not given to talking squit. Are you at liberty to reveal your sources of info, Trev?

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    Mad Brewer

    Friday, February 17, 2017

  • I find your final comment difficult to believe, TK, if for no other reason that both players went straight into their respective teams for Prem fixtures. No PL manager would risk half-fit players for League fixtures at that level . Obviously, having only been playing Champ football, neither would be up to PL sharpness, but that's not the same as saying they are unfit . I must say that I DO like the idea of unleashing one of the Murphys as a down the middle out and out striker, but doubt if they could perform the same role as Jerome is being asked to (and in the main doing really well).

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    Rick

    Friday, February 17, 2017

  • Given that both of the Murphy boys have a cracking shot in them, perhaps one answer is to use one or both as strikers if and when CJ needs a rest. One thing is for sure, few central defenders like skillful players with pace running straight at them. The reference to Newcastle playing a high tempo game is interesting and once again raises the question, are our players fit enough. I was told on Wednesday that when Olsson and Brady arrived at their new clubs, both were ordered to improve their fitness as neither were up to the expectations of the clubs.

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    TrevorKeith

    Friday, February 17, 2017

  • I would think that, given the attitude he showed v Newcastle Lafferty has no chance whatsoever of being a successful replacement for anybody.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    PaulWho

    Friday, February 17, 2017

  • Oliveira's absence through injury is concerning given that it puts more pressure on Jerome. It would be a lot to ask of Lafferty being a successful replacement for Nelson, partly because he has had so little game time. To this end the choice seems to be to either bring on Morris or rely on midfield players to add to their goal tallies. Despite his recent improvement to his game Naismith needs to up his goal ratio. For a player with his pedigree he has yet to deliver anything like his potential. In the right games Wes and Pritchard are likely to score but in some of the more physical games it is hard for them to dominate the ball. Djilks is the one player who may come up trumps here because he has the physique to resist and brush off challenges and the pace to run at and worry defenders. Whether or not we manage to squeeze into the playoffs will depend on two obvious factors: scoring goals and improving what remains a suspect defence. If nothing else the latter part of the season promises to be exciting and eventful.

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    malaga flier

    Friday, February 17, 2017

  • Looking at the fixture list there are three games that will probably define our season. They are all away in Yorkshire - specifically to three clubs currently above us Sheff Weds, Leeds & Huddersfield. The remainder of our fixtures this season all look fairly winnable. If we can collect 4, 5 or 6 points from these three games we should be in the Play Offs again ! OK, no easy home and away Semi Final against 1p5wich this time, but who would bet against a resurgent Norwich City doing it the hard way ? Keep Monday 29th May free - you never know - there may be a load of those old Van Wolfswinkle shirts seen again up in HA9 0WS !!

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    Dubai Canary

    Friday, February 17, 2017

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