While the goals remain elusive and the finishing line in the distance there is still every reason for the Canary Nation to keep the faith…Thu 14 Mar 13 by Mick Dennis
TWO shots on target in two games. It’s not great, is it?
Even for someone like me, whose definition of “support” is literal, it is difficult to maintain my relentlessly positive outlook as Norwich chisel their way, point by point, towards safety.
But, as I have said before, my day job helps by exposing me to what other fans think about their clubs.
For instance, Chelsea “supporters” who abused Rafa Benitez in the first half at Manchester United did not chant their thanks when he made match-saving tactical and personnel changes in the second period.
Even Benitez’s puerile spat with Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t win over the Blues brothers. Could Rafa the gaffer become the first manager in the history of the game to win the FA Cup and not even get a begrudging round of applause?
In other news of ingrates, Stoke “fans” have turned against Tony Pulis. The Oatcake Fanzine website (which used to swear about me for saying much the same) has message board threads deploring the way his team plays.
Stoke spent very nearly a quarter of a century out of the top division. They sank as low as 15th in the third tier while 14 managers came and went. Pulis was one of them, but returned for a second attempt and won promotion to the Premier League. Five seasons among some of the richest clubs on the planet have included an FA Cup Final appearance and a barnstorming European campaign.
Yet now “fans” call Pullis “the rude word in the cap”. You can insert almost any expletive. All of them are being used.
How about the Reading “supporter” whose response to the near universal condemnation of the sacking of Brian McDermott was to tell 5-Live: “None of you understand. We’ve been really terrible in the last five games”? Barmy, or what?
Finally, in this round-up of thanklessness, I cite the Everton “supporter” who emailed talkSPORT’s Saturday night show after the Merseysiders had lost in the FA Cup quarter-final. “Moyes: no trophies in ten years.” In six words, proof that football’s near universal appeal is also its weakness, because it engages people incapable of sane understanding.
And so, let’s ensure our own appraisal of City’s second season in the Premier League remains sensible.
That doesn’t mean being overjoyed by the absence of goals. But it does entail remembering that it was the last three seasons which were the aberration. Mostly, following Norwich has been grim hard work for decades.
In the Rioch epoch, for instance, my wife and I used to make our way home from yet another desperate away performance and seek solace by saying: “Well, we don’t want to go up, because with a team that bad, we’d be cannon fodder in the Prem.”
I think of games under Glenn Roeder when Darel Russell was pressed into service as a striker. I shudder at the recollection of the string of genuine(ish) forwards upon who we invested our hopes: men like Elvis Hammond, Chris Brown and Paul Dalglish. I think of players in other positions – Julien Brellier, Steve Walsh and Simon Whaley among them – who stretched my determined optimism to breaking point.
Then I begin to be a lot more sanguine about the class of 2012-13. And the truth is that if, at any time in the last 17 seasons (since City fell out of the Premier League in 1995), you had said to us that we’d approach the climax to this campaign in 14th place in the top division, we’d have been absolutely overjoyed.
There are also some easily identified plusses to be gleaned from the last few games. For starters, what a good job Chris Hughton identified the need for a quality second string goalkeeper.
When Mark Bunn arrived, three days before the August transfer window slammed shut, it seemed a bit belt and braces. Why did we need him when he was hardly likely to displace John Ruddy?
But, although either Jed Steer or Declan Rudd might provide our last line of defence one day, when Ruddy suffered his bad injury, didn’t our minds go back to what happened when Bryan Gunn was crocked in that 94-95 season? Bunn’s form has sent that fear packing.
Michael Turner has been another hero. There was a moment against Everton which characterised his approach. He’d blocked a goal-bound shot and, when play swept away up field, he gave himself a moment. He stood, briefly, with hands on hips and head bowed. The block had hurt him. But he wasn’t going to ask for treatment. Once he had composed himself, got on with the job.
It is time to stop singing that song which ends… “but now he’s all right.” He’s more than all right, and he deserves praise that is a lot less patronising.
It’s further forward where the problems occur. And they have proved that simplistic, glib answers don’t work.
There were plenty of Yellow Army troupers who kept saying that we needed to play two up front. But at Old Trafford it was when Hughton “went for it” with his substitutions that the defiance unravelled. And in the home game against Southampton, even using Wes Hoolahan in a fairly free role behind two strikers didn’t give City any more punch than when it had been only Holty in front Wessi.
Holty did not MISS that penalty, by the way. He had it saved. There’s a big difference.
Yet there is no point in pretending that the current City squad has enough goals in it for the tough, unforgiving division that we intend to grace for several seasons to come.
The delivery into the box is often not good enough and the attitude and ability of those in the box are not predatory enough.
My positive thought about those flaws, though, is that Hughton, chief scout Ewan Chester and chief executive David McNally will have identified them as clearly as those of us who can only cheer.
So I will keep cheering, until City get over that finishing line. Then I’ll watch the squad restructured again this summer. And then I shall watch my team in the Premier League next season.
See, finding positives isn’t so hard at all.