Swansea was an opportunity missed, but more chances lie around the corner for Hughton’s menFri 20 Dec 13 by James Kent
A lot of us will have differing opinions on why Norwich City weren’t able to turn home advantage into all three points against Swansea City. Obviously, it was hardly ideal when the Swans took the lead after errors from both Sebastien Bassong and John Ruddy. However, there was plenty of time left in the game to turn around the deficit.
The Canaries were perhaps a little lacklustre for the majority of the first half, but it was great to see Gary Hooper again demonstrating his ability at this level with a stunning equalising goal just prior to half time. From that point, most fans would have expected Norwich to go on and score a second goal, and to be fair there were enough signs that Swansea were happy to a take appoint; Michel Vorm’s timewasting for which he eventually received a yellow card being the most obvious.
There were some suggestions that Chris Hughton played for a draw in the match, and this is certainly a view that I would not agree with. Any team that includes Johan Elmander, Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper is clearly designed to win a game of football. It’s also worth noting that there were one or two incidents that could be put down to misfortune. Interventions from Vorm and the crossbar were all that stood in the way of Norwich grabbing that all-important second goal.
The stats from the match provided by Who Scored certainly was very much a mixed report. Some people may point to the fact that we had 37% of possession compared with Swansea’s impressive 63%. However, I would argue you have to expect to give away possession against one of the most sides in the league at keeping the ball. The Swans actually top the league of terms of keeping the ball with 59.9% per game.
It’s also worth remembering that it’s about doing something useful with the ball, rather than just knocking it around. The match report notes that the Canaries were very good in terms of having quality possession in the opponents half, and were eager to take shots. Things that are generally encouraging for us as we think about the team evolving.
From watching the match, I felt at times we used the ball very well and it’s encouraging to see us looking to use the ball in the most intelligent way possible. The most worrying stat from the match was our inability to put the ball on target with just three shots that the goalkeeper had to deal with, but the 16 shots in total does at least show a reasonable amount of attacking intent.
The big thing for Hughton to think about is why his team weren’t able to find two goals from the 16 shots that his team had. Of course, it may be a case of taking shots from areas where the percentages just aren’t in your favour. This is a difficult issue for me, because we clearly have players that are capable of scoring superb goals from range.
Jonny Howson is the best example of this, and I’m not sure how much I would want to do in order to restrict his eagerness to take shots on from range. Redmond is perhaps guilty of taking shots from difficult angles when there are often better options available to him, but again he is a young player that is doing some great things. I have watched Norwich sides for many years that have had players that were simply too scared to shoot.
Now we have a team with players like Howson and Redmond, it’s hard to say to them that we don’t want them to shoot. I think we just have to let Redmond do what he does, since generally speaking he had another superb match against Swansea.
The same goes for Hooper; he showed his ability to score nearly any type of goal with that strike. However, he had another effort where he has stolen the ball off the defender, rounded the goalkeeper and then failed to hit the target. Again, do we criticise him for that? It’s hard to do so, since that effort was largely his own work.
So, what do we say about Hughton tactically for the game? Well, I felt he went backwards to be honest. Against West Brom, I think he was spot on when he introduced Josh Murphy that give us that little bit of extra emphasis that I’m sure played its part in helping us to get that second goal.
I would have liked to have seen a similar level of positive thinking in the latter stages against Swansea; nothing wrong with introducing the likes of Murphy and Luciano Becchio late in the game as they could well have had the desired influence in terms of finding the winning goal. The disappointing thing is that they were for like for like changes, rather than in addition to other players that were performing well.
For instance, Redmond was giving us a nice little bit of momentum – but when he was replaced with Murphy we lost that and possibly our chance of winning the match. The thing that really surprised me though was that we didn’t see Wes Hoolahan at any point.
Now, this really goes back to the initial selection, I know Bradley Johnson had a solid game in the previous match against West Brom. So, I don’t in anyway want to say that he didn’t deserve to be in the team on merit. However, I am a traditional kind of guy when it comes to tactics and roles within a team. I just prefer to see wingers in the wide positions, rather than central midfielders.
That being said, I think that tactic is more understandable away from home when you feel the greater need to stifle the midfield. Leroy Fer has certainly played well enough in that role, but it’s not a totally natural one for the Dutch midfielder.
There is an argument that Johnson was partly included in order to deal with the threat of Michu. But first of all, Hughton could have changed matters when the Spaniard was taken off, and secondly it’s fair to say that Michu isn’t making anywhere near the sort of impact he was able to make last season.
The other thing I would say about Johnson is the thought that his inclusion is in part due to a lack confidence in the partnership between Howson and Fer. Clearly, two players enjoy getting forward – but they also have great energy and Fer is certainly a very good tackler. I honestly don’t believe that we need Johnson in there for that added stability.
The bottom line is that I think we should be able to accommodate Hoolahan more often, and it’s a pity he isn’t enjoying too many opportunities at the moment. Now, let’s move the conversation on to thinking about the next two games against Sunderland and Fulham. They are two excellent opportunities to pick up three points; points that will allow us to rise the table and away from the relegation zone.
After all, the most disappointing thing about failing to beat Swansea was the fact that we couldn’t pull clear. It’s great news that Robert Snodgrass and Ricky van Wolfswinkel are back fit and ready to be included in the squad again. The news that Howson has signed a new deal is also very welcome as he has been playing very well recently.
I know that there is some talk certainly amongst Norwich fans for him to be given a chance with England, but I think that is premature and should instead focus on things at club level. In terms of Snodgrass and van Wolfswinkel, I see them both as players that would be in our strongest team.
I don’t think any of us really need convincing on Snodgrass and I personally believe he is the perfect complement player for Redmond. RvW is obviously more tricky as I know there are fans and writers that believe him to be a flop. However, I remain fully behind him, and feel the fact that we have picked up our form and Hooper has now got amongst the goals will be vital.
There is certainly an argument that Johan Elmander might offer more support and assists for Hooper. However, the way I see it – our best two strikers are van Wolfswinkel and Hooper. There is simply something about having goalscorers in your team. I just feel we need to see them both in the team and see how it goes.
The likes of Elmander, Hoolahan and Becchio are certainly useful options from the bench. Now, let’s remember we have two away wins already this season – so a third against Sunderland would send Hughton uncharted ground in terms of the comparison with last season.
These are certainly very interesting times.