I didn’t take long for the doom–mongers to resurface following Boxing Day’s narrow defeat by Chelsea. Two defeats in the space of five days – even after an unbeaten run of ten Premier League games – appears to have been the cue for some of our number to vent.
I’m guessing it’s those same individuals who have made barely a peep since 6 October 2012 who have now chosen two consecutive defeats as an opportunity to unleash their pent up venom. The frustration of that long unbeaten run must have been unbearable.
Twitter, the message-boards (and I’m guessing Canary Call) were certainly awash with negativity, despite Hughton’s men taking the European Champions to the wire. I can’t help but wonder if the same would have been true if Sebastien Bassong’s late downward header had nestled in the back of Petr Cech’s net instead of bouncing over the bar. Such are the thin margins by which top-level football matches are decided.
The ride we’ve been on had to end at some stage and – as Hughton has reminded us on numerous occasions – we will lose several times this season. It’s always disappointing when it happens and – I can guarantee – doesn’t get any easier to take with age. The success, or otherwise, of those boys in Yellow does have a nasty ability to make or break most of our weekends.
But for a single goal defeat to the expensively assembled runners-up in the World Club Championship to cause such an outcry does seem a little disproportionate, particularly when this same crop of Canaries have sent Arsenal and Manchester Utd packing in the last couple of months.
It does seem that perspective is a rare commodity in some quarters.
What really struck were the names that cropped up. Yes, we fully expected the anti-Morison brigade to be mobilised when he failed to find the net in a late 12 minute cameo (and I’m sure he expected it too), but a 1-0 defeat by Chelsea and no-one was sparred. Even Wes Hoolahan’s apparent propensity to give the ball away came under scrutiny – some still suggesting that he is a ‘luxury’ player.
That he loses the ball occasionally is not in doubt (although he was hardly alone in yesterday’s first half) but with a player of his kind it’s a risk worth accommodating. If he was asked, I’m sure Wes could spend 90 minutes keeping the ball by making short passes, sideways and backwards – but that’s not why he’s in the team. He’s in there to create, and to do that he needs to be given licence to ‘scamper’; that mode when he has the ability to leave top level defender trailing in his wake.
In doing that he’ll obviously lose the ball sometimes… but so be it. The reward far outweighs the risk.
Even Grant Holt wasn’t exempt; with his goal-scoring ratio still coming under scrutiny – even though his all-round team contribution remains at a high level. I’m fairly sure that Gary Cahill returned to the Smoke knowing he’d been in a game.
There is of course a danger that being too accepting of defeat – even by the likes of Chelsea – smacks of that well-known affliction, ‘little old Norwich syndrome’. It’s true that we shouldn’t – in any circumstances – be in awe of our more illustrious opponents; even those who have just smashed eight past a recently fallen Midland giant. But equally, there needs to be a sense of realism about where we currently stand – and where we’ve come from.
For the record, I don’t perceive us to be ‘little Norwich’ any more – and see the likes of Stoke, West Brom and Fulham as our current contemporaries.
However, that still needs to be balanced with caution when faced with quality opposition. We‘re not a side that’s flush with highly valued individuals who have the ability to change the course of a game with moments of individual brilliance. We have one or two gems – Hoolahan being the obvious one – but we don’t have that ability across the pitch. Ours is a team that is just that; one that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a cliché; but teamwork really is the key to our success.
We’re never likely to match the big boys ‘blow for blow’ – that approach can come at a huge cost (see paragraph 11) – but the pragmatic approach instilled by Chris Hughton has ensured that those boys in Yellow always believe they have a chance.
And I agree.
Let’s just hope this whole column doesn’t come back to haunt me at 16:50 on Saturday…