Source: The Guardian
Seven miles and nine divisions separate Bolton Wanderers from Atherton Collieries but on Saturday, after scoring his first Premier League goal, the Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington had the North West Counties League on his mind. He has served his time at football's coal face, a hat-trick for Atherton against FC United precipitating his dramatic ascent of the divisions. In 12 days' time he faces their parent club, Manchester United.
"I was on United's books when I was 12 or 13. Then I went to Blackburn and got released from there too," the 23-year-old said. "I like to think I've worked really hard to get here. It was all part of my process of learning the game. Now I've got the chance to play in the Premier League and I'm going to take it with both hands."
Such sentiments are shared at Carrow Road. Pilkington is Norwich's story in microcosm, and an extreme example. No one else has risen as far and as fast, but plenty of others have a grounding in less-glamorous surroundings.
Russell Martin, normally a right‑back but excellent as a stand-in central defender, first played under Paul Lambert for Wycombe Wanderers in League Two. A division higher, the left-back Marc Tierney, the recipient of the rather gentle head-butt that got Ivan Klasnic dismissed, and the midfielder David Fox, whose set-pieces led to both goals, were Lambert players at Colchester.
As Norwich won for the first time this season, a top-flight victory was a novel experience for all of them.
It is a source of pride to Lambert that they are the unlikely lads. "I just think if they are good enough, I'll bring them in," he said. The Scot has also proved unwilling to pigeonhole. "You need somebody to give you an opportunity. If somebody's going to keep tarring them with the same brush and saying they're not good enough, then you tend to find that everybody thinks that."
Popular opinion is of little interest to a manager, who revels in his unpredictability. While Steve Bruce was an onlooker, it is debatable what conclusions the Sunderland manager, whose side visit Carrow Road next Monday, can draw. Lambert, the Premier League's new tinkerman, is likely to alter both personnel and tactics. His 4-2-3-1, deployed for the first time, worked perfectly, with Bolton outnumbered in midfield, stretched on the flanks and kept busy at the back by the effervescent Steve Morison.
While it is all change for Norwich, there is an unwanted continuity to Bolton, beaten for a fourth successive game. "We conceded goals from corners and free-kicks and that's not for the first time," said their scorer, Martin Petrov. "We have to concentrate more."
"I am disappointed and frustrated," said the manager, Owen Coyle. Norwich's visit had offered a rare chance of respite. Their previous opponents were Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, while it is Arsenal and then Chelsea next.
Instead, Bolton's slump continued. In a bid to arrest it, Coyle is tempted to emulate Lambert. "Whether that means we have to change one or two things or people, I don't know," he said.
The second-half substitute David Ngog, who provided a spark, is an option. But while he has Liverpool on his cv, Pilkington has shown that spending time at Atherton Collieries can be more beneficial.