City boss Glenn Roeder caught a mighty dose of those what-might-have-been blues at the Ricoh Stadium, Coventry, yesterday as his rebuilt Canary side slipped to an opening day 2-0 defeat.
What might have been had referee Colin Webster not been “conned” by Scott Dann's 47th minute penalty appeal; what might have been had Messrs Lupoli, Croft and Koroma taken any one of the clutch of chances that fell there way; what might have been had referee Webster seen sense when Wes Hoolahan was sent tumbling by Danny Fox deep in the Sky Blues box – and all long before ex-Canary striker Leon McKenzie bagged the 100th goal of his professional career five minutes from the end to make the points certain.
Above all, what might have been had Roeder's summer-long quest to bolt a proven, physical goal-scorer onto the front of his side borne fruit… if nothing else, yesterday's performance now looks to have doubled the manager's determination to dig his prized target out of his current club. “Within seven days,” was the manager's latest timetable.
The one word not to use within his hearing was 'unlucky' – Norwich's first-day undoing was all their own work. Particularly – as ever – in the final third of the pitch where chance after presentable chance went missing. At the other end and Canary keeper David Marshall barely had a save to make other than to pick the ball out of the net twice – once for Elliott Ward's penalty; again for Leon Mckenzie's late stab home.
“I don't like the word 'unlucky' because we created enough easy chances to score – and that's not bad luck when you miss those,” said Roeder.
For while City's approach play was bright and inventive enough – and, indeed, belied the fact that his team boasted six players making their full, competitive debuts – once Norwich got to within sight of Keiren Westwood's goal, they were hesitant and unsure; all too often taking two touches when one touch in the form of a shot would have been what both the watching manager and the 2,400 travelling Canary supporters would have ordered.
'Just twat it…' in short.
“We have to be responsible as people – me, as a manager. My coaching staff. And the players have to be resposible for the positions that they play.
“Especially if you're a forward. Part of your duties and responsibilities are to make goals – or to score goals. And we have one or two players who, consistently, when they're put in to score an easy goal, miss.”
Hence the depth of Roeder's frustrations. That having worked so hard to rebuild his team, it was the same old failings in front of goal that were coming back to haunt him.
“We've got a much better squad this year and if players don't produce what they're expected to produce, they'll come out of the team. It's as simple as that. We were by far the better team; I thought we were more like the home team than the away team.
“And we will continue to play like that – and get better. But players have to accept their responsibilities to the team – and produce when they're expected to produce.”
Reviewing the action on his ProZone equipment had not lifted Roeder's mood. “We've looked at all the key incidents and we have six, seven glorious chances to score. Before they score, after they score…. We mustn't have what happened last year where we played well, created chances and players consistently missed them.”
Cue his determined promise to bolt that missing big man into his thinking; it promises to be another week in the transfer trenches for all concerned after Roeder revealed on Friday that he thought he had a deal done 24-hours earlier only for the club concerned to go back on its word to the player at the centre of all Norwich's attention.
Newcastle's 2-1 defeat of Valencia yesterday and the return of Obefami Martins to Kevin Keegan's starting line-up might have helped if, indeed, it is Shola Ameobi on whom so many thoughts turn.
“There'll be another striker in here – hopefully within seven days,” said Roeder, laying an early gauntlet at the feet of Jamie Cureton, Arturo Lupoli and Omar Koroma.
“I know who I want. I'm hopeful we'll get him. He's a recognised goal-scorer and there's three strikers that want to play with the guy that I want to bring in. And only one of the three is obviously going to play, so they are fighting for their places.”
Lupoli was bright and eager enough on the ball; could slip beyond his marker with ease. Twice, however, he hesitated – took a touch when he should have shot and sent a free header floating over the bar with an empty net gaping. Koroma did everything Roeder expected when he slipped in behind Ward only to lift his shot too high and too near Westwood – a low tuck either side of the keeper's ankles and the 18-year-old Gambian would have made an instant impact just two minutes after his arrival.
Croft, too, appeared caught in four minds let alone two as the ball was fed his way out on the right; he did, at least, force Westwood into a fine, one-handed tip over after Hoolahan's loud appeal for a penalty went unanswered. What if, what if, what if…
At the back and Roeder had no complaints. John Kennedy, in particular, barely put a foot wrong; at times Dejan Stefanovic was playing the game in cruise control. He was, however, lucky not to see red when he sent Jay Tabb tumbling as the livewire Coventry winger pounced on a rare error between the two new City centre-halves and left the Serb looking for all the world like the last defender.
“I thought we were excellent overall – David Marshall had little to do. And I think in Kennedy and Stefanovic there is the making of an excellent partnership and Omosuzi is a Premiership player – make no mistake about that. A very, very good performance against an experienced player [Julian Gray]. I thought he had him in his pocket.
“And Shackell didn't let anyone down – a central defender playing left-back.”
As for the middle four, they too escaped Roeder's frustration. “I thought we were very dogged and hard-working in midfield and we played some good football.
“But we have to play good football – and score goals and win matches. Which I'm sure we'll do plenty of times this year.”
It was a passing comment from Sky Blues boss Chris Coleman that raised a wry smile from the City chief. He was back to those what-might-have-beens…
“The big man is an honest man,” said Roeder, with clear respect for Lee Clark's long-time Fulham pal. “Someone's just asked him whether they were a tad lucky. And he's just said: 'A tad? I think it was a bit more than a tad…' So, fair play to the big man.”