Lambert must love returning to Carrow Road. It seems that whatever happens on the pitch, whether it be good, bad or indifferent, the outcome is the same.
And to make it worse, it’s become the norm to such an extent we just accept it. Lambert turns up at his old hunting ground and wins… that’s just how it is… or at least how it seems.
Worse still, despite our fears around facing up to the pace and power of Agbonlahor and Benteke, it was City’s lack of invention and sharpness in the final third that was to be their undoing. On this particular occasion there was no specific issue with their share of possession – the BBC think we had 64 per cent – and the passing, while not perfect, was infinitely better than seven days ago.
But same result.
The attacking intention was made clear with Chris Hughton’s line-up – Bradley Johnson’s defensive capabilities making way for the more attacking intentions of Jonny Howson – and, but for a fraught opening five minutes, few could argue City didn’t play the game on the front.
That City emerged from those frantic opening exchanges with no goals conceded was thanks largely to a couple of inspired stops by John Ruddy and the intervention of an upright, but having survived them they then spurned the a perfect opportunity to get their noses ahead.
We’ll allow the Match of the Day boys to unpick whether or not Chris Foy was right to penalise Ciaran Clark for handball, but what followed was neither big nor clever. Gift horses don’t come much bigger than a penalty award on 6 minutes, in front of the Barclay, against ‘Lambert’s lot’, but for it to pass in such profligate fashion was crushing in the extreme.
We’ve all missed penalties – happens all the time – but when it’s missed by someone who you’ve never seen take a penalty before, and followed a ‘squabble’ with a proficient and costly penalty taker who clearly wanted to take it, it irks a little.
With Hughton’s current iteration clearly struggling to create chances in open play, penalties simply have to be buried. Yes, Guzan excelled himself, but having guessed right it was the perfect height to be saved.
Little did we realise however that we’d have to wait another 82 minutes to see the American make another save in anger – his tip over the bar from Gary Hooper’s effort out of the very top drawer – with the intervening hour and 22 minutes seeing him largely employed as a catcher of mis-hit or lame, hopeful crosses.
Naturally the anti-brigade have been mobilised again, Canary Call affording them a mouthpiece that was grabbed with gusto, but – on this occasion at least – it wasn’t the negative approach that came under scrutiny. Instead, his ability to get the most out of what most agree to be a decent squad has now come into the spotlight; his decision to replace Nathan Redmond with Anthony Pilkington while ignoring an out-of-sorts afternoon for Snodgrass of particular interest.
Certainly the boos that accompanied the withdrawal of Redmond told a story of their own; the City boss defending his decision afterwards in conversation with BBC Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham, citing that the greater threat – in his view – as coming down City’s right flank.
What is certain is that the manager is currently struggling to get the best out of Ricky van Wolfswinkel; the Dutchman joining Snodgrass in the ‘out of sorts’ camp. No lack of effort, no lack of desire, but an inability at the moment to be in the right place at the right time and to be able to live with the power and intensity of the Premier League.
Early days still of course – at least it is the overall scheme of things – and nothing that a goal won’t put right, but our most expensive signing looks to be finding life a little tough right now. He just needs a tap-in to fall his way… or a penalty. And he also needs some quality service.
Despite City enjoying the majority of possession clear cut chances were still few and far between and I lost count of the number of times City worked the ball around to create a decent crossing position only for the final ball to be either over-hit or failing to beat the first defender. Even the excellent Leroy Fer wasn’t exempt from this affliction with his superb second half interception and charge through the inside-left channel ending with a cross into open space.
A little unfair perhaps to single our Fer who was colossal from minute one and – Guzan aside – was the best player on the pitch; for him to end on the losing side was an injustice. After last week’s poor show at the Lane, Fer – above all others – showed just what he is capable of and provided Hughton with one huge positive to build on.
Alas, however hard I try and dress it up we’ve drawn a blank for the third time in our five league games and afforded Villa their first clean sheet in 26 attempts. For good measure it’s worth throwing into the mix that, despite all the promises and bluster, the Villains actually looked a fairly ordinary side today.
And that’s the bit that hurts; even more than the sight of you-know-who striding across the pitch at the end with a smug grin and a clenched fist.