Football being what it is, the magnificent Yellow Army will still head north firmly of the belief that just around the corner is that elusive away win; that their heroes are on the cusp of bucking the recent trend of blanks and the odd scrappy goal; that it’s only a matter of time before one of Bradley Johnson’s wayward long range efforts pings arrow-like into the top corner and that Grant Holt will yet again prove the doubters wrong.
Newcastle’s win over the purists from the Potteries has certainly made life interesting, with Stoke now firmly ensconced in the mid-table ‘pack’ – and with a very similar record to Norwich. Alas where it all starts to unfurl a little for City is when the goal difference column comes into view.
Perhaps it was the surprise of being awarded the first penalty of the season, or maybe it was the shock of being on the positive end of some Clattenburg showmanship but, whatever the reason, the penalty chance was spurned in anti-climactic fashion by an off-colour Holt. Not the end of the world – the gap between City and the bottom three now nine pints, albeit with Wigan having played a game less – and, given the overall performance, very much a point gained.
That Southampton have trodden a similar recent path to City also endears them to me with their two consecutive promotions also coming off the back of an ignominious spell in the third tier. They too have kept faith with some key players along the way; for Grant Holt read Rickie Lambert, for Wes Hoolahan read Adam Lallana.
As painful as it was – and there’s no doubt it was infuriating at times – yesterday was a perfect snapshot of reality. A gulf in class and quality that was evident from the second minute when some typically neat City inter-play worked Bradley Johnson into that exquisite crossing position. What followed was neither pretty nor clever, and I’m not expecting the Johnson Sky+ box to have been in action last night.
For City’s part they refused to lie down and in terms of effort and work-rate, Hughton would have few complaints. Where they came up short – well short – was in terms of quality, the Champions-elect showing a comfort in possession that eluded those in yellow for the whole afternoon. The four bookings picked up by City – Snodgrass, Garrido, Johnson and Turner – at least demonstrated a fully committed performance.
Turn up, marvel at the surroundings, be grateful to be there and enjoy the occasion by all means, but turn up with a game plan that may involve defending in numbers at times? Not a great idea unless you’re prepared to risk the famous wrath of Sir Alex.
In many ways those final fifteen minutes put the ‘winning v entertainment’ debate to bed once and for all. While for 75 minutes the general standard of fare on offer was of the average variety, I don’t suppose any of the 25,000 city fans present would swap them given the 19 minutes of drama and pure sporting theatre that followed.
As much as I’d love to frequent a stadium with four sides of a similar stature – the current lop-sided look reminds me of the old Filbert Street – and one that’s tad more aesthetically pleasing, if we had 32,000 seats to fill I’m not sure we’d be able to fill them as regularly as we’d like.
Given that the plan was to play two ‘up top’ against Fulham I expect the skipper to have some help at close quarters on Saturday. If, come 16:50, Messrs Jagielka and Distin fall into the ‘known they’ve been in a game’ bracket, it will go a long way to being job done.
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.
Credit again is due the Match of the Day production team who – not for the first time – excelled themselves in finding five minutes worth of highlights, although showing a Luciano Becchio that flew ten yards wide from four different angles is cheating bit.
With Harry Kane having been returned to sender – his first-half appearance against Luton being a rather inglorious way to bring his Canary career to a close – Chris Hughton finds himself back to ‘as you were’ in terms of striker numbers, but with a different looking mix to his striking pool.
The similarities between the Premier League and the Championship (and the SPL for that matter) are few and far between; even taking aside the riches on offer. The intensity and tempo of your average EPL game is what sets this league apart from all others, and is precisely what makes it such an unforgiving environment.
If the first half was pretty much a case of honours even, the second was a more open affair and was dominated for long periods by the home team. Buoyed – one assumes – by some typical Harry Redknapp ‘rabble-rousing’, the home side carried more of a goal threat in the second period and forced the Canaries into some desperate defending.
The next few hours – as absurd as the January scrum is – promise to be interesting ones. So interesting in fact City have been assigned their very own Sky Sports News reporter at the gates of Colney. We have indeed arrived, but let’s pray that Hughton isn’t cunningly lured into a roadside interview through the wound-down window of his 4×4 in an ‘Arry Redknapp-style.
With TalkSport reporting a third unsuccessful bid for Celtic’s Gary Hooper , ‘believed to be around £6 Million’, it’s worth reminding ourselves that even if successful in our pursuit of the former Scunthorpe man – or any other striker – the hovering clouds of doubt remain.
We’re used to lows and horror shows – part and parcel of being a Norwich supporter – but since the unveiling of Messrs Bowkett and McNally, days of that ilk have been thankfully few and far between. In fact since ‘that’ game against Colchester, they have been virtually non-existent.
When all is said and done, it appears Hooper is top of the City list and anyone else will be perceived by many as either second-best or a compromise offering. Wholly unfair on anyone who does arrive late in the window and who doesn’t answer to the name Gary (I do still have some boots in my garage), but such is the risk of doing business so publicly – however unintentional that may have been.
A confirmed member of the ‘Plymouth Brethren’ – a group of players ‘black-marked’ by Roeder following that 3-0 defeat – he found himself well and truly out of the first-team picture, and was consigned to train and play with the reserves and youth-team.