One step forward…
In true Norwich fashion when faced with, in Premier League terms, as close as you get to a home banker they implode and hand the opposition victory on a plate.
And it hurts.
Most of us will have woken this morning with a “did that really happen” feeling in the pit of the stomach, such was the manner of defeat. That City were architects of their own downfall is not in doubt and makes the defeat that little bit harder to take.
Credit of course to Fulham. They are scrapping for their lives, as befits a side that sits in the drop zone, and made a good fist of it yesterday. But to put it in some of perspective here is a side that has lost 12 games already this season – a run that precipitated a change of manager.
Top six material they’re not and it goes without saying that if City are to progress these type of games have to be meat and drink – bogey side or not.
There were no excuses either. The ‘bad luck’ we have bemoaned for much of the season was the Cottagers’ for the day and when Gary Hooper’s speculative long-range effort cannoned off the ground – via a deflection from Aaron Hughes – and over David Stockdale’s head everything looked rosy.
And, in fairness, for a spell after the goal City made hay. The tempo was good, the game was played on the front foot and they had an element of control. Indeed if Hooper had continued his excellent goalscoring run by steering his instinctive right-foot strike – following a series of defensive blunders by the visitors – inside Stockdale’s right hand post instead of inches past it I could now be writing about a win.
But he didn’t and I’m not.
Instead the pendulum slowly started to swing in favour of the west Londoners and with every passing minute Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell’s control of the centre of the pitch increased.
Fulham’s five-man midfield – with cavalier extraordinaire Adel Taarabt operating as a lone striker – gradually gained a stranglehold and, with City having to feed off scraps for long periods, everything started to appear a bit of a struggle.
With the confidence visibly draining away and the Carrow Road crowd growing understandably edgy the equaliser when it came was a surprise to few. The warnings signs were there for all to see and the tippy-tappy football that preceded Parker ‘goal’ that was correctly ruled out for handball a few minutes earlier was sadly a sign of things to come.
Even before Pajtim Kasami pulled Fulham level the same player had whistled a shot just wide of John Ruddy’s left-hand post, but still the warnings were not heeded.
The equaliser was carelessness personified from start to finish and began with Bradley Johnson’s clumsy attempt to stop Parker in his tracks. The disintegration of the defensive wall as Kasami drilled his free-kick was another one to be mulled over at Colney this morning, but few could argue the goal wasn’t a deserved one.
Of equal concern was the last-ditch and desperate nature of the defending that followed, with a fairly sterile Fulham attack always looking capable of nicking a goal.
The winner when it arrived – despite Parker leaving it until three minutes from time – was as gut-wrenching as it was predictable, although the quality of the strike was unquestionable. But far too much of what had gone before from a City perspective was shoddy and disjointed.
It’s easy to make judgement from afar of course, but the apparent lack of cohesion and organisation between keeper and back-four is a worry. For a Fulham to have caused the level of concern we witnessed yesterday doesn’t bode for when a Manchester United comes to town.
But Saturday will be a different game with a different feel.
What will be required however is for a few to take a good hard look at themselves. At the moment one suspects their hard-earned reputations are keeping them afloat and we’ve long known that they alone don’t earn Premier League points.
To ask them to stand up and be counted is a little too simplistic, but one or two need to get back to basics and start doing the things that made them such good players in the first place – the reason they came to Norwich City.
Whether a return to a five-man midfield with one up top is required is one for Team Hughton, but while many have yearned for a two-pronged attack – and it does give the manager a chance to perm two of his three summer signings – a return to a five-man midfield will assist us in taking greater care of the ball. Something we’re not particularly good at right now.
But now’s not the time to panic. Ironically we have a better record against Manchester United than we do Fulham so let’s hope Hughton, behind closed doors, reminds one or two of their responsibilities and we see a reaction tomorrow – a positive one.