As City walk the fine line of Prem safety, it comes down to that balance between defence and attackSat 26 Mar 16 by Russell Saunders
Just about every pundit I’ve heard give their opinion on the relegation fight seems to come up with the same old chestnut for Norwich – “they don’t score enough goals.”
Therefore by logical extension they are their favourites to go down.
It’s a stick that our side is getting repeatedly beaten with. Fair enough, but…
It’s true that the net hasn’t bulged at the right end as much as we all wished. However, as important and great as goals for may be, they’re not the be all and end all of staying in the Premier League.
After all, we have scored more than Watford whose season has been universally praised, more than West Brom who are safe as houses and only two less than Stoke who have an outside sniff of a top six finish.
Of course, the art of goal scoring at the top level is to be admired but it’s far from the whole story of surviving and thriving.
To possess a striker who can consistently stick it away 15 to 20 times a season at the top level is a fortunate thing to possess. Very few clubs have that luxury.
Our current combination of Jerome, Mbokani and Bamford don’t muster even half of that total.
It’s a painful fact but nevertheless it’s all about getting the balance right between scoring and conceding. You only have to win 1-0 to get the points as last Saturday showed.
The win over the Baggies was not a sight for sore eyes for the purists. It was ugly and attritional. City have played much better and fluid football this season and got spanked.
Leicester look like they are heading for the title by a series of 1-0ers which would have made George Graham’s ‘boring’ Arsenal champions proud.
Come the end of the season, no one will give a stuff if we survive with the ugly, scrappy variety of the beautiful game.
Our current goal difference is testimony to what’s gone awry and why we find ourselves heading for a tense old finish up to, and most likely including, the last game.
Alex Neil has learnt a painful lesson under the spotlight of 24-hour, global attention that comes with competing in the richest (certainly), most physically demanding (probably) and best (no way) European league.
However bruised and battered he may be by the experience of the past few months, I suspect that he’ll be a much better manager for it.
“What doesn’t kill you…” etc.
He was a defensive midfielder after all in his not too distant playing days. That side of the game must come more naturally to him coaching wise than the attacking side – I’m guessing. Therefore perhaps he must feel more natural empathy towards defenders than strikers?
If my assertions are true, then it makes our 50+ conceded even more of a slight against his proud if early managerial record.
That probably naive early season desire to play as we had in the Championship with emphasis on the forward foot has been cruelly exposed.
It was a painful lesson for a club of our present playing resources but that’s history for now. The lesson seems to have been learnt just in time to salvage a tricky situation.
Whatever physiological scars Alex is carrying from this season, we’ve all seen signs over the past two games that finally the side is looking more balanced than before and the balance between attack and defence is tipping more to the latter with points coming as a result.
We’ve looked rock solid and the addition and ‘coming up to speed’ over the past month of Timm Klose seems to have galvanised the back four. They look a unit with more confidence and belief in each other.
Klose looks a leader – something sorely missing before his arrival in January.
I’m not expecting our strikers to suddenly find their shooting boots. However, as long as the new belief gained from keeping it tight can be maintained, all we have to do is nick it and walk away with the points.
If our boys can do that and survive, then we’ll all be proud and can enjoy the summer with the promise of better Premier times to come.
And screw the pundits.