Typically, the resulting inquest has pretty much laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Chris Hughton; his pragmatic approach – especially away from home – again coming under intense scrutiny. But, while it’s normal for those at the top of the pyramid to take the wrap when things go belly-up, it seems a little bizarre that the players have been almost absolved of any responsibility.
All in all a little bit of a mess for a young man who, on Saturday, turned in a tremendous Man-of-the-Match performance that included notching the all-important first goal; such is the life of a professional footballer. From hero to zero in the space of four days.
The Club, in their own attempt to fire up the atmosphere, were handed a trump card in the form of the Under-18s, and even minus the clappers their pre-match ovation would have been of the rousing variety. As it happened the lads played their part in proceedings perfectly and were ably by a trio of legends – Messrs Eadie, Dublin and Huckerby all still proving capable of playing a Carrow Road blinder.
One hopes their call for the #Yellarmy to create a cauldron will have the desired effect – although it would be good to think that unequivocal backing of the Yellow Army would be a given on such occasions regardless. It’d certainly be helpful if the dissenters could find it in themselves to ‘button it’ from 2:45 to 5:00 on Saturday afternoon.
The sense of injustice we all felt post-Stadium of Light was certainly back, and back with a vengeance. Whether that feeling of being shafted is as justified now as it felt at 17:00 on Saturday – with the adrenalin still pumping – remains to be seen, but to watch those three points slip through the fingers in such agonising fashion was painful either way.
The simmering discontent over Chris Hughton’s management style has taken on a life of its own of late – Twitter and the message-boards affording the dissenters a disproportionately loud voice – but the depth of feeling of some was brought home to me over me pre-match drink last Saturday.
If there was a positive to be gleamed from the game – other than the fact they didn’t lose – it was the way the City players responded to adversity. After being horribly outplayed for half an hour, and with the faithful getting increasingly restless, they somehow managed – completely out of the blue (apologies for using the word) – to conjure up the unlikeliest of equalisers.
When presented with his first Norwich City fixture list, back in June 2012, Hughton will have looked at the final few home games of the season – Swansea, Reading, Aston Villa, West Brom – and considered each to be winnable. Nothing has changed.
Thanks to a fruitful autumn – that ten game unbeaten run now taking on the form of a lifeline – they still find themselves with a small but eroding cushion. Quite how much longer I’ll be able to say that I’m not sure, although Aston Villa’s ‘charge’ being halted by Liverpool yesterday certainly helped.
Such is the current life of the travelling faithful, last season’s expectancy – borne of the Lambert-inspired gung-ho spirit – now replaced with hope; a hope that just around the corner is that second away win of the season. For flamboyance read pragmatism; for flair read grit.
If just knowing that we were ‘going for it’ with real intent wasn’t exciting enough, to hear that the deal had been concluded was positively thrilling. In terms of the excitement generated this is certainly right up there with Boxing Day 2003 when one Darren Huckerby made his official Carrow Road bow following the loan spell to end all loan spells.
For his part in proceedings, Chris Foy now finds himself added to that ever growing list of those deemed to have ‘wronged’ the yellow and green. Step forward Eddie Ilderton, Andy D’Urso, Michael Oliver and Mark Clattenburg.
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.
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.
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.