When we’re good we’re good, but when we’re bad… It’s been either black or white with precious little greyWed 22 Feb 17 by Andy Head
You would have thought I’d have learned my lesson by now. I went to Rotherham after all.
But no, there was I, pleased as punch to get my Burton ticket, my 1100 travelling points bestowing upon me a three-and-a-half hour journey to stand on some concrete for two hours watching… well, something that resembled football I guess.
The closest approximation I can get to what I saw was many years ago when I was in Year 8 at high school and we occasionally played my mates older brother and his classmates from Year 11.
We were a mixed ability group for our age but the Year 11’s were terrible. They were the chubby, the sickly, the geeky and the strange of Year 11 all packed into a ragtag bunch who’d invariably forget to bring a ball, hence their regular need to join us.
But inevitably, they beat us. They were 16, nearly men, and we were 13, timid, and mostly still singing like a pre-Snowman Aled Jones.
The matches would be punctuated by the occasional moment of quality from our lads. A cheeky nutmeg, a subtle through-ball, just keeping the ball on the deck and not hoofing it was a technical level above the giants we were playing against. But then we’d get trampled, and they’d bludgeon through us.
And that was Burton. ‘The big boys bullied us, Miss’.
But were we surprised? Of course not. This is the hallmark of the 2016, and now 2017, Canaries. When we’re good we’re very good, but when we’re bad…. jeez.
The night and day contrast of the team from last Tuesday’s vibrant, battling against Newcastle to Saturday’s mousey capitulation was best summed up by the performance of Alex Tettey.
Against Newcastle he was everything you want to see from our combative midfielder. He fought, he picked up the pieces, he broke up attacks, he played simple balls that helped us maintain possession. One of his best games in ages.
Fast forward four days and I wouldn’t have been shocked to learn post-match that every one of the intervening hours had seen him repeatedly dropped on his head as part of a scientific experiment into just how different a performance you can produce with repeated percussive trauma.
He did jump up and win some headers. Granted. They never went near a Norwich player. He did occasionally kick the ball. And it was to a yellow shirt. But we were wearing white.
However, I’m not looking to scapegoat Tettey because that would be incredibly wrong given the levels of Trumpian ineptitude all-around him – it’s just that his performance swing was so ridiculously polarised.
The fact is the whole season has been ridiculously polarised. Some will argue that it’s the fans fault; the instant gratification society, the give-us-what-we-want-or-we’ll-scream mentality. And that our expectations are too high, full of the unjust newly relegated arrogance and a belief they can march over inferior Championship teams. Also that we think too much of our squad, and put faith in players who, for all their supposed ability, got us relegated.
Perhaps that’s true.
But on the other hand, have you seen how well we can play? On occasions this season, especially at Carrow Road, we have battered the living hell out of some teams. Despite all the issues we are the fifth highest league scorers in all of the top leagues in Europe. But then, on the other hand, only Rotherham and Forest in our division have conceded more away from home.
And you can go back and forth with arguments like this all day. “But look at how good we were against…”, “But look at how bad we were against…”
But a couple of things should not be overlooked. On Saturday Cameron Jerome had a quietly excellent game. Whilst his supporting cast stuttered and failed to come to terms with a team of clumpy golems content to bobble the ball up a lumpy pitch, Jerome, at times isolated, ploughed on.
He accepted the ugly side of the game and owned it, whilst doing his best to bring others into it. Much maligned for his finishing last season, I think he’s become one of the few players we can rely on to put in a shift whatever the opposition or conditions.
Ditto Howson, who, although nowhere near the level of Jerome, produced the vast majority of whatever good moments we had in the middle of the park.
And add Wes to the list as well. Exhausted from Tuesday’s exertions he was dragged onto the bench at Burton with the hope that he wouldn’t be needed, but the inability of our starters to keep the ball led to the Wes-shaped ‘Bat signal’ going up at half-time. And good little soldier that he is, Wes trooped on for another stint on the front-lines of the Staffordshire Maginot.
It was far from his best outing in a City shirt – he looked short of his usual spark – but what he did do, which others apparently could not, was get the ball down and allow us to play it on the deck.
We looked far more effective once Wes was prompting the attacks. Unfortunately, once in front, Burton proved defensively well-drilled enough to get behind the ball and make blocks; displaying the simple solidity that has proved all too elusive for us.
So there is hope. If we can keep Jerome, Howson and Wes healthy, add in a fit again Naismith (another solid scrapper), and Pinto, who’s always a ray of sunshine, we can still light up the darkest of days going forward.
But with all the positive attacking potential we know the negative defensive potential that undermines it and cancels it out.
And so our bizarre season continues.