Another trip to Tyneside. Another decent performance. Another blank in front of goal. And another 1-0 defeat.
Whilst Chris Hughton will again be keen to stress the positives – and there were some – his team’s continuing failure to turn a decent chunk of possession into goals has started to become a concern.
We’ve seen it all before. Teams that suffer from a shortage of goals – despite playing ok – see this eventually permeate into a shortage of confidence. City are not there yet as they still knock the ball around nicely, but the sooner Norwich find a cutting edge the better. The Norfolk club do not want to be sat one above the trap-door overly long.
Early on in the day the welcome afforded to the returning Hughton by the Geordie faithful was a warm one; further proof of his status as one of the game’s good guys.
However it did not take him long to remind the Yellow Army of his lesser-seen steely side with the team sheet revealing two changes from the West Ham starting XI. Out went Grant Holt – replaced by Steve Morison – and also out was Simeon Jackson. Replaced by Wes Hoolahan.
With City lining up in a 4-3-2-1 formation – Robert Snodgrass and Hoolahan providing the support behind lone target Morison – they started brightly and enjoyed plenty of possession early on. With Alan Pardew watching from the stands – the result of a one-match FA ban – the home side struggled to get to grips with City’s neat passing.
The first hiccup of the day arrived in the form of an injury to a key player. Sebastien Bassong’s return to Tyneside was short-lived when he pulled up following a forward foray for a corner, with what looked to be hamstring pull. Such has been the Cameroonian’s impact early on in his Norwich career, Hughton will be praying it’s not a bad one. He was replaced by the experienced Michael Turner, who slotted in alongside Leon Barnett in a like-for-like swap.
Unfortunately for Turner, his first decisive contribution was to be partly culpable for the home side’s opener on 20 minutes. With the ball at the feet of Ben Arfa, and with the City back-four pushing out, Turner found himself a couple of yards off the pace and played a lurking Demba Ba onside.
A slide-rule pass from Ben Arfa later and the Senegalese international – fresh from a brace at Goodison Park on Monday night – wasted no time in taking a deft first touch before slotting it past an advanced John Ruddy.
It was harsh on City, but another reminder – if one was needed – of the unforgiving nature of the Premiership. A great finish; an even more sublime pass; but both could have been rendered void if the former Sunderland man had been more switched on.
City, typically, responded well to the set-back and continued to enjoy their fair share of possession. Clear-cut chances continued to be few and far between, but they came close when Snodgrass saw his header cleared off the line, following an excellent cross from the increasingly influential Hoolahan.
At the other end the home side still carried a threat and Cabaye was guilty of blazing over when well-placed just inside the box – but in general City coped well with the Ba/Cisse goal threat.
On the stroke of half-time, Newcastle did have a perfect opportunity to go 2-0 up. Morison was adjudged – harshly it appeared, too – to have fouled. Luckily for City, Papis Cisse – currently suffering a similar drought to the visitor’s strike-force – blazed his penalty into orbit. A piece of good fortune, but no more than City deserved.
The second-half followed a similar pattern to the first; plenty of City possession and some neat inter-play. But no goals.
The early signs looked promising and Surman saw his shot saved brilliantly by Steven Harper following yet more good work from Hoolahan.
Surman again went close – midway through the half – when his ‘Joe Jordanes-que’ far post header flashed across the face of the Newcastle goal.
Sadly for City – despite continuing to pass the ball around neatly – this was as good as it got, and despite a lot of huffing and puffing one never really had the feeling that an equaliser would arrive.
And so it proved. The fact that Pardew will undoubtedly have run up a sizeable mobile phone bill – following numerous conversations with his deputy, Steve Stone – is a testament to the questions that City asked his team. But in the cold light of day, it was another bleak day for Norwich in the North-East, and another nil points.
With the creative talents of Anthony Pilkington, Elliot Bennett and Jacob Butterfield all bursting to re-enter – or enter – the fray, all is not lost. But you can be sure there’ll be some head scratching going on at Colney this week as Team Hughton ponders the need to find some goals from the class of 2012.
The sooner the better, ideally.