Wes Hoolahan is the one essential luxury item for Norwich City

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Wes HoolahanPA PhotosWes Hoolahan is the focal point of Norwich's attack

Wes Hoolahan is routinely the man who makes a difference to Norwich City. The magical Irishman is the free spirit in Chris Hughton’s functional approach to Premier League survival.

Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni appears to have grudgingly accepted the premise Hoolahan is one of the few craftsmen at his disposal after capping the Dubliner in the last two friendlies.

Indeed, Hoolahan opened his goal account for his country in the recent 2-0 win over Poland. It would be a major surprise if the ex-Shels' playmaker is not involved for upcoming World Cup qualifiers that could make or break the Republic’s fortunes on the road to Brazil. Before then, Hoolahan has it in his power to nudge Norwich to the precipice of Premier League safety.

City host struggling Southampton at Carrow Road this weekend before a St Patrick’s Day trip to Sunderland prior to the international shut down. Norwich, in all probability, require two wins and six points to reach a mark that would take some overhauling from three of the clubs situated below them in the current standings.

Hoolahan is the man most likely to deliver. He is the one game of chance Hughton plays with his weekly starting line up. City’s Premier League journey under Hughton to this point has been constructed on a defensive resolution embellished by hard-working defensive midfielders in Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey, supplemented by wide players in Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass who industriously funnel into a well-drilled shape that offers extra support to their full-backs.

Grant Holt has been the preferred lone front-running option – the pressure-relieving focal point when City find themselves under the cosh. But Hoolahan is the only cog in Hughton’s preferred starting machinery who you always feel has the licence to roam, a passport for freedom to probe around the fringes of opposition defences in a bid to furnish City’s defensive gameplan with a dash of attacking thrust.

When Norwich are pinned back for long spells, such as last weekend’s 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, Hoolahan effectively becomes another barrier to repel the raiders. When City did win the ball back at Old Trafford, Holt was too isolated a figure to establish an effective bridgehead.

But facing teams such as Southampton and Sunderland, the threat level dramatically recedes. Norwich see more of the ball and are afforded time and space to do something with it. That is Hoolahan’s game. Saints may be under new management but they have retained the attacking philosophy instilled by Nigel Adkins with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jason Puncheon and Gaston Ramirez all capable of inflicting damage. But therein lies reasons for optimism. Southampton’s ambition at Carrow Road this weekend may be their downfall. City beat Everton last time out to end a winless run in the Premier League that stretched back to victory over Wigan in mid-December.

Hoolahan was majestic that afternoon against the Latics. The 30-year-old celebrated news of his contract extension with a virtuoso display of game-management. Repeat that again over the coming few weeks and the Canaries’ will have further cause for celebration.

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