The darkest of dark days for City as Luton make light of the 85 league places that separate themSun 27 Jan 13 by Gary Gowers
For most of us the performance of those clad in yellow and green has the ability to make or break the weekend. I therefore defy anyone to go into work, school, college or uni tomorrow morning and declare your weekend as having been a good one… impossible.
Equally, I’m sure I can’t have been alone in waking up in the early hours with a knot in the pit of the stomach, thinking ‘did that really happen?’
We’re used to lows and horror shows – part and parcel of being a Norwich supporter – but since the unveiling of Messrs Bowkett and McNally, days of that ilk have been thankfully few and far between. In fact since ‘that’ game against Colchester, they have been virtually non-existent.
All of which made yesterday even harder to take.
It’s not like we saw it coming. Yes, the league form has been abject of late, but the professional way in which Peterborough were sent packing in the last round gave not even the slightest hint of a shock on the scale of yesterday.
It’s important to take nothing away from Luton; they – and their magnificent supporters – deserved the win, and their place in the fifth round. No fluke; no backs to the wall defending; no Alamo; no Jim Montgomery-type goalkeeping heroics, but instead a mature, calculated performance that ‘did a job’ on City.
The goal – when it arrived – had a horrible inevitability about it. The longer the visitors kept it at 0-0, the greater their belief, and with them matching City player-for-player throughout, they were always going to create at least one good chance. When it arrived, Scott Rendell tucked it away in a manner that belied the 85 places that separate the sides in the league pyramid; the mayhem that ensued being just reward for a club that – due only to the financial shenanigans of a previous regime – has seen some very dark days.
City were awful – there’s no point in pretending otherwise – and while some sensibly argue that we’re paying the price for having no Reserve team, we were able to comfortably overcome the ‘rustiness’ it inevitably brings in the victory at London Road. Those same fringe players who so excelled in the last round were mere shadows yesterday; unable to make an impact or stamp any form of authority on the game.
As is often the case, it was those who didn’t play a part that emerged the stronger. I’m not expecting too many calls for the Alex Tettey/Bradley Johnson central-midfield combo to be dismantled ahead of Tottenham’s visit on Wednesday, similarly the call for Simeon Jackson to line-up alongside Grant Holt in a 4-4-2. Even Michael Turner – the subject of renewed angst following the Liverpool defeat – emerged with reputation intact; his partnership with Sebastien Bassong being the one that Chris Hughton must surely revert to – a healed calf muscle permitting.
Most City supporters – many more qualified than I – will attempt to dissect exactly what went wrong yesterday, but one thing we’re all likely to agree on is the apparent lack of desire. From a tactical perspective there are 101 things that Hughton could have done differently, and most look obvious given the benefit of hindsight, but what seemed a given is that on a basic level they were going to have to match our visitors in terms of hunger and enthusiasm. City didn’t.
All over the pitch, from the way that János Kovács dealt with Grant Holt (as well as any defender has done all season) to the way that Andre Grey ran Ryan Bennett and Leon Barnett completely ragged, the Luton players won their personal battles. And with no solid base to work from, City were unable to impose their supposed technical superiority on the game. It’s a phrase I’ve grown to detest (blame a certain Ulsterman) but in a game of football you really do have to ‘earn the right to play’. City didn’t.
In his post-match interview with BBC Radio Norfok’s Chris Goreham, Hughton citied an inability to pass the ball well as being a significant factor in City’s recent slump; never was it more evident than yesterday. The failure to move the ball quickly and accurately enabled Luton’s two banks of four to filter across the pitch, plugging all gaps as they did so. Similarly with the visitors happy to permit City’s central defenders time and space on the ball – content in the knowledge that neither can hit a ‘killer’ pass – at no time were we able to stretch the visitors. In short, they needed to ping the ball around precisely and at pace. City didn’t.
With the Tottenham game only a few days away we can only but hope for one heck of a reaction. We’re frequently told that it’s not the defeat itself but how the team reacts to it that’s important – although I’m a little unsure how that translates when you’ve lost seven out of your last eight games – so we should expect one of colossal proportions on Wednesday evening. The same Tottenham remember that we could – and probably should – have beaten back in early September.
Finally, some of the bile that has been directed in the direction of David McNally has been truly appalling – in respect of both yesterday’s game and our inability, to date, to land a new signing. That the CEO of a Premier League club even finds the time to engage with fans via Twitter is to be applauded, but must make him wonder why he even bothers.
For all that is wrong with our fine club at the moment, one thing we can guarantee is that behind the scenes work is frantically ongoing in an attempt to strengthen and freshen-up the squad. If it doesn’t happens it will be because McNally and his fellow directors refuse to jeopardise the long-term future of Norwich City; no other reason.
Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
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