A point gained or two dropped?
While we all desperately hoped – prayed even – for three points, few could argue the Swans were good value for a point. Indeed if Michu had buried that late chance instead of blazing it into row Z of the River End, the march back over Carrow Bridge would have been accompanied by an altogether different level of moans and groans.
As it was, while the whinge-o-meter was still whizzing round at a fair rate of knots, there was at least a draw to chew over.
To be honest – on that particular subject – the moaning actually started earlier than normal, at around 14:05, upon the release of the teamsheets; Chris Hughton raising more than a few eyebrows with his decision to name an unchanged side, Mark Bunn’s return aside.
After the game, City’s manager attempted to justify this decision by citing the stats from the Wigan game; Prozone apparently informing him that City spent more time in the final third at the DW than at any other away game.
While I’m not about to question the Premier League’s IT wizardry, I’m not sure the stats tell the full story – City’s delivery and invention in the attacking areas at Wigan about as woeful as it gets – but on that basis the gaffer decided ‘as you were’ to be the order of the day.
Quite how the decision to play Kei Kamara on his lonesome up top was received by Grant Holt one can only imagine, but the skipper’s twelve minute cameo bore the same hallmarks of frustration so evident in the closing stages at the DW.
In fairness to Kamara his performance – along with Bradley Johnson’s – was probably pick of the bunch; his willingness to run the channels, hold the ball up back-to-goal and link up with the midfield one of the bright spots of an otherwise turgid afternoon.
Alas the role of a lone striker is a lonely one – especially in this current City side – and so often the Sierra Leonean’s good work was done in areas that caused few problems for Ashley Williams and Chico Flores. Intriguingly the exact same problem has befallen Grant Holt when he’s ploughed that lone furrow – the desire to put in the hard yards and get on the ball often taking them into the wide areas.
The Prozone stats aside, Hughton gave little indication that he even considered playing two up-front, Swansea’s keep-ball style perhaps being the deciding factor in opting for a four plus Wes Hoolahan in midfield.
That the Swans are pleasing on the eye is not in doubt, and in terms of controlled possession their performance was up there with anything we’ve seen at Carrow Road this season, including the big boys. Where they differ from said top six is their ability to defend under pressure and, all afternoon, it felt as if there was a goal or two in it for City.
As it happened, the two Norwich goals – themselves something of a Carrow Road rarity – were not enough, and it was seldom-seen defensive frailties at the other end that were to cost City dearly; both Swansea goals coming off the back of prolonged spells of pass and move football.
Unfortunately, when you concede as much possession as City did today – the five man midfield making little impact on Swansea’s comfort on the ball – even the most solid-looking defence can find itself stretched, and so it proved.
With Michu strolling through the game in a Berbatov-style – playing in the ‘Hoolahan’ position just behind Luke Moore – his ability to pick up space betwixt City’s back-four and midfield proved a constant source of danger. Indeed, ten minutes before his opening goal he found the back of the City net only for it to be ruled out for an infringement.
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.
After two horrible miscues, Elliott Bennett found his crossing boots and Robert Snodgrass’ far-post header was one that his compatriot, Joe Jordan would have been proud of. Like I said… against the run of play, unexpected even, but most welcome.
The second half was a little more even in terms of possession, even if quality on the ball remained the preserve of the Swans, but having got their noses ahead – through Michael Turner’s neat finish – City must have fancied seeing it through.
When the equaliser came – while not totally unexpected – it felt like a dagger through the collective heart of the Yellow Army. Hughton spoke afterwards of the ‘soft’ element to both Swansea goals, but when the ball is popped around so comfortably and fluidly chances will be created.
In the end we were all grateful for Michu’s late, glaring miss and yet were left wondering why the City midfield – however workmanlike – finds it so difficult to pass the ball fluently and accurately.
With the remainder of our season now a fully-fledged relegation battle, every point is precious and right now we can’t afford to be too precious over how they are acquired. However, if –and it seems a big if as we speak – safety is assured then Hughton will hopefully have identified the need to improve the quality of passing as one of his top priorities.
If not, I fear we could end up with a very disgruntled young Dutchman leading our attack next season.
So… a point’s a point – and while it was turgid for long periods we still edge a little closer to the nirvana of 40 points. Let’s just be thankful we’re not relying on points for artistic impression.
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