Lambert is getting close to right mix
PUBLISHED: 11:14 21 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:07 06 July 2010
Norwich City 2, Charlton Athletic 2: Here's an experiment: get a piece of chalk and a piece of cheese, put them in front of a Norwich City fan and ask him which is Walsall and which is Charlton.
Here's an experiment: get a piece of chalk and a piece of cheese, put them in front of a Norwich City fan and ask him which is Walsall and which is Charlton.
The fan will point to the chalk and say Walsall because it was without taste; Charlton had flavour and a bit of bite and tickled the taste buds, leaving the cheese lovers of Norwich wanting more.
Who could complain after 90 minutes of honest battle with the morning leaders that was peppered with controversy and high drama, and left City and their fans believing that the season has a lot more upward turns left in it?
A fortnight earlier, City had waded through treacle against Walsall, unable to break down an average team who parked their double decker bus in front of the yellow shirts and challenged them to get through. City failed.
So why is it that when Charlton, unbeaten in their previous seven games and keeping the same starting line-up that had played in each of them, come to the same ground, City suddenly up their game?
Had it not been for two poor pieces of defending for Charlton's goals, we might be celebrating a quality victory.
As it is, the performance behind the point is just about acceptable compensation.
If anything, it proves that this City side has something about it, which, if Paul Lambert can extract it in time, will be enough to send City up the table and within striking distance of Charlton come the end of the season.
Lambert has insisted the first job was to create some shape and solidity - once that was done the rest would come.
Like putting up a Christmas tree: first the tree, then the decorations.
In this case, Wes Hoolahan might be regarded as decorative, perhaps not fireproof enough and therefore to be used carefully.
But put him in the right place and he might just do a job, might just light up the place if you like.
Lambert, his hands perhaps tied by the absence of the injured Stephen Hughes, kept it fairly steady across the middle, Korey Smith and Darel Russell - who put in a quality shift despite his fitness problems - providing some steel, Simon Lappin more solidity out left and young Luke Daley the pace - perhaps the only genuine pace - on the right to keep Charlton honest.
Lambert needed not just a partner for Grant Holt up front, but some guile as well - so Hoolahan was pulled in from the left and tucked in behind the big man.
There he could wander - not too much - and prod and probe with that fast brain of his.
Everyone knows what you get with Hoolahan - great moments of skill interspersed with frustrating losses of possession. But take him out of that side on Saturday and the creative juices begin to dry up.
The problem with Hoolahan is where to play him - but Saturday's evidence suggests he and Holt can do some damage to League One defences.
That was fortunate for City because they gifted Charlton their goals: a Jonjo Shelvey corner fell bang into a hole in the middle of the City area - created in part to Miguel Llera dragging defenders the wrong way - and Jon Otsemobor couldn't get in front of Deon Burton, who dived in to head home.
The second came from the same side, the right, this time Adam Drury unable to prevent Sam getting in a cross and Otsemobor easily outjumped by Shelvey.
Otsemobor could actually have put City ahead on nine minutes, but his header was beaten away as City took control, while Holt should have levelled on 25 minutes after excellent work by Korey Smith but somehow put his shot wide of the target.
Still, City didn't deserve to be two down, and a minute before the break the minds of Holt and Hoolahan worked in tandem to get them back into the game. Christian Dailly put the ball out for a throw on City's right, midway into the Charlton half.
It took a fortunate rebound off an advertising hoarding, Holt ran, caught it, hardly broke stride and threw it to Hoolahan, making strides down the left channel.
Llera was slow to read the danger, but by the time he'd got anywhere near the little man, the ball was in the back of the net, cracked home with a certainty that said “I'm back”.
That - as well as referee Steve Tanner's decision not to punish Charlton skipper Nicky Bailey for a kick-out at Holt soon after - got fans and players stoked up for a second half City would largely dominate.
Smith - who will surely make a Norwich City skipper one day if he continues his current rate of progress - struck a long-ranger just over the bar and then saw Elliott tip away an effort that just wouldn't sit kindly for him.
City endured a sticky spell when they panicked, but settled down and Smith then saw a better effort superbly tipped over by the keeper.
But it looked for all the world that it wasn't going to be their day - until Holt's refusal to give up on anything paid off in time added on. Chris Martin's cross from the left took a deflection off one of the players trying to prevent it.
It looped up, Holt jumped with Elliot, got a touch with his head and the ball crept over the line - leaving Charlton claiming a foul.
They had every right to, but only because referees up and down the country give them every week. It doesn't make them right.
Cody McDonald had time to go close with a bicycle kick, but City will be happy with the draw. Happier, perhaps, than Charlton boss Phil Parkinson.
His post-match comments about the equaliser were expected, perhaps even the jibe at Holt for “making a meal of challenges”.
But what of the assertion that “it was always going to be difficult because Norwich have big resources” and “brought in 10 players over the summer”.
The first statement is untrue, the second is surely one of the reasons for their stuttering start to the season.
Never mind, his comments will be forgotten in a day or two.
What won't be forgotten is this match. You can keep your Premier League; there's still life - and real life too - in the lower leagues, where livelihoods are at stake, not where the next Bentley or the next Dubai condominium is coming from.
Fraser Forster 6
Couple of good saves, but his kicking wasn't always the best and one or two throw-outs also went astray.
Jon Otsemobor 5
Started well, with some good defending, but culpable for both Charlton goals when he was beaten to headers.
Michael Spillane 6
Competent enough, but that's about as far as it goes. Didn't pull up any trees - needs a run of games to bed in.
J Berthel Askou 6
Charlton's different style perhaps contributed to a difficult afternoon for the centre-backs - Burton was a handful at times.
Adam Drury 7
Up against a skilled performer in Sam but did well - although will be unhappy that Sam got in the cross for the second.
Luke Daley 6
Young lad finding his feet and did better this time. Close with a diving header. A little more confidence still needed.
Korey Smith 8
This boy is growing in stature: calm, assured, and very combatant. Great shot too - deserved a goal for his efforts.
Darel Russell 7
Really came into his own after the break, quite an achievement considering lack of matches and a recent calf injury.
Simon Lappin 6
Had a very strange spell in the second half when Charlton unnerved City, but regained his composure. Put in some great corners.
Wes Hoolahan 7
Scored one and almost made another, for Smith. Tricky as ever, frustrating too, but knows how to bamboozle the best.
Grant Holt 7
Never gave up on a single cause and was justly rewarded with City's equaliser. Great example - to everyone.
Chris Martin (for Daley, 71 mins) 6
Set up Holt's equaliser.
Norwich: Hoolahan (44), Holt (90)
Charlton: Burton (18), Shelvey (40)
Norwich: Askou (foul on Shelvey, 26)
Charlton: Elliot (time wasting, 44), Semedo (foul on Lappin, 52), Llera (foul on Holt, 56), McLeod (time wasting, 90), Wagstaff (foul on Drury, 90)
t MAN OF THE MATCH
Steve Tanner (Somerset) 5
t TIME ADDED
2 mins / 4 mins
t MATCH STATS
Norwich 7, Charlton 6
Norwich 6, Charlton 5
Norwich 11, Charlton 10
Norwich 9, Charlton 2
Norwich 4, Charlton 4