Since the Fulham game – not one for the purist for those who have erased it from the memory – debate has raged over whether the majority go to Carrow Road to be entertained or to see City win.
The obvious answer is both. In a perfect world we’d turn up once a fortnight – every week for the travelling Yellow Army – and watch the boys in yellow sweep aside all before them by playing ‘Barcelona’ football.
In truth – while the Catalan analogy is pushing it a bit far – we were given a taster of this strange phenomenon during the Lambert years. Granted, it is a little easier to achieve when faced with the likes Leeds, Peterborough, Millwall and Ipswich (just random examples), but wins were part of our staple and were invariably achieved with a bit of a swagger.
Now that we’re squaring up to the big boys the swagger has been replaced by a bit of a limp or maybe a stumble. Either way you get my gist… as we’re all now all too aware the football is no longer of the gung-ho variety but instead more pragmatic in nature.
In fairness to Chris Hughton – who has taken more than his fair share of brickbats since the weekend – last season was not without disappoints and frustrations, but amid the heartache and acrimony that accompanied those fraught few weeks in May, most were forgotten. Typically, when hearts get broken the wronged party can only recall the good times. That was us…
If my memory serves me correctly, one of the many statistical reports produced at the end of last season deduced that City played more long balls than anyone else. While I can recall being more than a little sceptical of its accuracy – how could City have hit more long balls than Stoke for example? – for this purpose at least, it doesn’t portray a team with a penchant for the beautiful game.
Yes, we played some decent stuff at times, but Barcelona (or even Swanseaola) we were not. But even on those bad days the moans and groans failed to reach the crescendo levels of this term.
So why is this season so different?
Whether we like it or not the spectre of Lambert still hovers ominously over Carrow Road. Every match, every passage of play and nigh on every pass is compared to how differently it would have been achieved under him. However hard we try (this piece being a classic example I guess) we all seem incapable of moving on, even although we constantly remind ourselves that he is the past and Hughton is the future.
And therein lies part of the problem.
A nicer, more honest, more genuine guy than Hughton you’re unlikely to meet. The courteous way he comes across is in stark contrast to some of the prickly operators we’ve had of late – and yes, that includes you know who – but still there remains this underlying feeling that he’s yet to be accepted into the hearts of the Canary nation.
While we can be a feisty old bunch at times, we do judge our own far more gently than those we perceive as ‘outsiders’. Those who have embedded themselves in the Norwich way – Darren Huckerby being a classic example – have always been afforded that little more slack. While he had the small advantage of being a fantastic player, Hucks too had his off days but they were invariably, and quite rightly, overlooked.
Unfortunately for Hughton – and through no fault of his own – he is still some way from being granted any kind of leeway and so finds his every move, every decision scrutinised to ridiculous levels..
All of which leads me back to my original question which – via a few cul-de-sacs – is do we expect Hughton’s City to entertain us or just simply win?
That the fare currently on offer is on the dour side is not in doubt – I defy anyone to say they enjoyed their last Saturday afternoon – but is it simply a means to an end? If City manage to survive in this league, which – as many have pointed out – is still far from a formality, there are riches on offer beyond our wildest dreams. Given that giant pot of money should enable us to purchase some ‘quality’ – I’m thinking players blessed with the creativity gene – then the thought of a few more turgid afternoons between now and May is just about bearable.
If the current genre of football is Hughton’s vision of the future then perhaps it would be the time to make our feelings known. For now I’m happy to accept that he is using the current group in its most efficient and effective way with the end goal of Premier League survival. If that means not being entertained for the next few games, then so be it.
Having said all of that, with Norwich City firmly engrained in our DNA, there’s little doubt that going forward we would all accept a less-than-beautiful brand of football if it meant winning games. As much as we’d all love to see an expansive, free-flowing brand – who wouldn’t – I guarantee we’d find something to like, and defend, if we were winning more than we were losing. The majority of us will make the fortnightly pilgrimage to Carrow Road whatever the circumstances.
Typically, when having this conversation, you can’t ignore our friends from the Potteries who successfully ply their trade in top half of the league to full-houses. While Stoke fans probably, deep down, would prefer Pulis to provide them with a more attractive brand, while they retain their current status I suspect there are few complaints.
So while football is not a fully-paid up member of the entertainment industry – some prefer it described as a culture – we do go along in the hope of being entertained. Whether that buzz comes from an attractive display of passing football or a thumping win courtesy of some route-one stuff the end result for me is pretty much the same… a walk back across Carrow Bridge with a spring in my step and loads to dissect.
Let’s all just hope and pray that if, over the next couple of months, City are able to grind out two or three ugly wins then the end result will be a prosperous and exciting future… in the top tier.
If West Brom and Swansea can do it…