By Jay Jaffa
Norwich City and England goalkeeper John Ruddy believes that the Canaries have too much quality to lose their relegation battle and says that he and his team-mates must take responsibility for their position.
Sitting 14th in the Premier League and four points clear of the relegation zone, Norwich head to Villa Park on Sunday for a crunch game against former manager Paul Lambert's Aston Villa.
An upturn in form that has seen the Canaries take four points from their previous three games has eased the pressure on manager Chris Hughton, especially after club director David McNally openly suggested that the club were considering alternatives to the 55-year-old.
And Ruddy sympathises with Hughton, pointedly pinning responsibility on the players rather than the former Newcastle boss.
Norwich's form at Carrow Road
||1-1 v Fulham
||1-0 v Hull City
||0-0 v Newcastle|
||0-0 v Manchester City
||1-0 v Tottenham
"Obviously the gaffer sets us up in a way to win the game in the best way possible and then it's up to us to implement that. Recently the performances have warranted more points than we've got from them. We all collectively got together and said: 'Look, we need to raise our standards and maintain the standards we set ourselves.'
"The Manchester City game and away at West Ham, even though we lost that game, we played very well, and [last] Sunday [when we beat Tottenham 1-0] as well. If you look at those three performances it's certainly looking bright. If we can keep that up we can take it into the rest of the season."
Ruddy has yet to concede a Premier League goal at Carrow Road in 2014 - a four-game run including fixtures against City and Spurs - and feels that his side could draw plenty of momentum from their triumph over Spurs.
"It gives us a massive confidence boost," he says. "Not many people expected us to get points from the game but the standard and performance we put in fully warranted the result.
"I love keeping clean sheets so that's an important stepping stone for us to maintain that momentum so hopefully we will carry that on to away games as well. If we keep it solid at the back hopefully we can nick a goal with the quality we have up front and win some games."
There was no time for celebrations, though, as Norwich prepare for the archetypal six-pointer against Villa on Sunday.
|NORWICH CITY LATEST
|9/2||Norwich are 9/2 with William Hill to beat Aston Villa to nil|
So what changed? Norwich have picked up eight points from the last six games - a run that has seen them open up a mini-gap of four points from 18th. While they have lost their last three away games, Carrow Road remains a fortress - only four teams have gone to that part of east Anglia and emerged victorious.
Ruddy puts the upturn in form down to understanding the gravity of the situation in which the club find themselves. It is their third season in the top flight since Lambert led them to back-to-back promotions from League One and it is evidently a place in which the goalkeeper and his team-mates want to remain.
"There are a number of factors, really," the 27-year-old says. "The realisation of the situation we were in and then looking at the last four fixtures [Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal] we've got - we don't really want to be going into those games needing points. The other factor is knowing we've got it all in our own hands. We've got teams around us to play in the next month or so and it's something we need to take advantage of.
"It's been a collective effort as a group of players and the management - we are too good to be in this situation. We've got a lot of quality. It's coming to terms with how good we can be as a group and pull in the same direction. It's shown in our last few performances. The results perhaps haven't gone with us or reflected how well we’'ve played in certain games but we're confident we can maintain that sort of standard and be fine come the end of the season."
While Ruddy has conceded just four goals in his previous six games, it is at the other end of the pitch where Norwich have greater concerns. The £14 million lavished on Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfwinkel in the summer has not produced the goals for which the club hoped but it is not for the want of trying.
|RUDDY'S NORWICH CAREER
"We know he has the quality to put the ball into the back of the net when it comes. We, as a group, ask that he puts in a shift to help us out and then the rest will follow. He had a niggling injury at the start of the season that kept him out longer than expected but he worked hard to get back to full fitness. If he keeps getting out there I'm confident he'll score more goals."
Goals and ambitions; something about which Ruddy speaks with passion as we discuss his personal aims. He has been called into Roy Hodgson's England squad for the friendly with Denmark on March 5 - the last fixture on home soil before the provisional World Cup squad is named - and Brazil is clearly the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
"I'm hopeful of forcing my way into the World Cup squad," he declares. "I know that only comes from my performances for Norwich. I play in the top league, arguably, in the world and it's a platform for me to press on not only for Norwich but to open doors for England.
"I've had the opportunity in the last couple of years to be in the squad and I'm hoping to be involved for many years to come as well.
"It's a lifetime ambition to be in the England squad and I've got one cap to my name at the moment. I'm hopeful of more but to be involved and work with the type of players I can work with is great.
"I'm not just there to make up the numbers, it's to make sure Joe [Hart] is on top of his game. I think it's shown with his performances in the last year or so with England that he's been top-drawer. It helps as well that he's a great guy, great to work with. When you have that camaraderie between the group of goalkeepers, it's important to make sure you get on as a group and want the best for each other."
Hart, England's No.1, is of course playing for Manchester City but understudies at the likes of Norwich and West Brom suggest that a club's standing is immaterial when making an impression as a goalkeeper. Ruddy sees both sides of the debate, though.
"Arguably you get more action with a club in the bottom half of the table but, if you're playing for a bigger club, your concentration levels have to be such that you might only have one thing to do in the 89th minute and, if you can't do it, it could cost your team," he observes.
"Being at Norwich has been a fantastic step for me and I'm very grateful to all at the club, I thoroughly enjoy working at the club and with the players. If we can maintain our Premier League status, it doesn't matter what sort of club you play for - as long as you're in that Premier League that's the extra edge you need."
Ruddy is in his fourth season at Norwich, having signed a deal in October taking him to the summer of 2017, and one cannot help but feel that he is perfectly happy where he is.
"At the moment I'm very, very happy at Norwich," he signs off. "I signed a new deal at the back end of last year, showing a commitment to the club that they showed to me."
John Ruddy took on Asmir Begovic in the Plants vs. GOALIES Pea-nalty shootout. To see who won, visit ea.vg/plantsvsgoalies. Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare is OUT NOW on Xbox One and Xbox 360