Paul Lambert - A Genius!
It's time for another Fan Focus, the ever-popular feature where we take the views of a writer, blogger, journalist, whatever who covers the opposition to give us some insight into what's going on at their club.
This week return to an old favourite of ours, the superb Norwich City blog "Holtamania" who since we last spoke were nominated for "Best New Blog" at the prestigious 2011 NOPA Awards. You can have a read of their site when you click here, and you can also catch up with them on Twitter @Holtamania for top Norwich musings.
That't that out the way, now lets find out more on what's been a superb season for the Canaries to far...
Can you fill us in on Norwich's season since we last spoke; at that time you said things were "Terrific, daunting, anxious, exciting" is it still that way?
Holtamania: Terrific, daunting, anxious, exciting. Paul Lambert is a genius. I don't think any Norwich fan expected to start February in 9th position and in the 5th round of the FA Cup. I think I'm getting a nosebleed. At this stage we've lost just 1 of our last 10 games and are unbeaten in 2012. Our last three defeats were Arsenal, Man City and Tottenham, so we're getting points off all the teams around and below us, and sit 11 points above the relegation zone. If you'd have offered this to us the last time we spoke, I'd have snatched your hand off. A brilliant platform for us to build on and make sure we consolidate from; nothings final until the maths say so.
Things seemed relatively quiet (thus far) in January, but the signing of Jonny Howson seems to be a good one. Happy with Lambert's work in the window?
Holtamania: Yep, I think most are. At the start of the window there was a bit of worry about the defence and some wanted to get a new centre back, including me, but the form of Daniel Ayala since his return has pretty much removed that necessity. Howson is a cracking bit of business and fits in with the Lambert ethos; no ego, young, lots to prove and eager to learn. He'll fit in well. If we can add Kyle Naughton on a permanent deal then it'll be very successful, but I don't think it'll happen until the summer if at all. As Lambert has said, there's no point adding for the sake of it. We've got a good, tight knit group who are playing well, and buying for the sake of it could just upset. If the character is right, and the price is right, then fine, but you often don't find both things in January.
Now you're more settled in the Premier League, is there anyone form the Norwich side whom has stepped up who you really didn't expect to?
Holtamania: I think Morison and Holt have both played better than people expected. Holt is getting less chances than he probably would have hoped for but when he does play he makes a good impact and is firing in the goals, while Morison is proving to be a different sort of player and his work rate is underrated by a lot of fans. Both cause defences problems - especially if they don't like being pushed around. Aside from them, Andrew Surman has taken his chance with both hands. He was more of a squad player for large parts but got a couple of starts, got a couple of goals and never let his place go. He's not flashy but he gets through a lot of work, protects the defence and has a great left foot.
Whilst you've maintained your consistency, we've had quite a turbulent time, and a change of manager since then. Under Martin O'Neill, do you think this will be a tougher game than last time?
Holtamania: Oh, absolutely. Last time it was clear that Bruce was in his last days and the team wasn't really happy. It's a different story under the gaffer, as Lambert refers to him, and he now has you lot superbly drilled, confident and playing like the fans expect. I would be happy to get out of Sunderland with a point but it's going to be very tough. He's a top manager.
O'Neill was at Carrow Road for a while too. Any stand-out memories form that time?
Holtamania: As a player, he was before my time, but as a manager he was hampered by off field problems with the chairman and lack of funds. He'll always go down with Norwich as one of the biggest missed opportunities when you look at how his career has gone since, but for the brief time he was in charge he did to us what he does to everyone - gave confidence and had us getting results.
Under our recent resurgence, have you managed to see any of it, and is there anyone who you think can cause some problems for Norwich?
Holtamania: Stephane Sessegnon seems to be developing into the player many said he would be. The finish for his goal against Swansea was sublime, and he looks far more capable of tearing teams apart than earlier in the season. Maybe it's the manager but he looks dangerous. The rest of the team looks unflashy but solid. Well organised. Much like ours. McLean looks good too, I have to say.
Conversely, is there anyone form Norwich in top form at the moment who we really should be on guard for?
Holtamania: Oddly, no. It sounds odd despite our recent good form, but there's no individual who's really gone into good form lately, it's more that the team has been excellent. In one game it might be Pilkington, the next it could be Hoolahan, the next Holt. Lambert has been incredibly flexible in his approach all season and has made team selection and tactics unpredictable. None of us know these days what XI is going to start but you know the players that do go out will give everything. The ones capable of causing most danger, I guess, are the ones people are beginning to know about - Holt and Hoolahan. Holt is more than the battering ram people think and his pace for the goal against WBA a couple of weeks ago took a lot by surprise. He's got intelligence to go with his, shall we say, big frame. As for Hoolahan, he's a conductor in the middle and most of our best stuff comes when he's arranging it. Give him time and he'll go to work. But you'd imagine O'Neill is very aware of this.
And finally, can you give us a prediction for the game and how you think it will go?
Holtamania: Oooh. The optimist in me is going for a backs to the wall draw. I think Sunderland's new found belief under O'Neill will have them control most of the game and we might threaten on the counter, like we did against WBA or Chelsea, but both teams might struggle to score. I'll say 0-0 or 1-1. This is going to be tough for us and any points will be good ones.