Even if City manage to do the impossible and win at Selhurst Park the Christmas of 2013 has not been a particularly kind one to the Canaries.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. For as long as I can remember – at least while in the top flight – we don’t really ‘do’ tough festive programmes where the games come thick and fast.
Despite every year bracing ourselves for said programme while at the same time mulling over the importance of gaining a decent return from the three or four games we invariably end up disappointed.
I’m sure there’ll be a statistician out there who’ll prove me wrong but that is certainly how it feels.
Same again this year.
With a run of fixtures that read Sunderland (a), Fulham (h), Manchester Utd (h) and Crystal Palace (a) those who predicted two wins and a draw had logic on their side. Didn’t seem unreasonable.
But, even a win at City’s bogiest of bogey grounds on New Year’s Day will see them come up short… again.
So why do we continually fail to deliver when the trimmings are up and Cliff is crooning of Mistletoe and Wine?
The only obvious answer – although a tad simplistic – is a lack of depth in the squad.
The ‘haves’ (as Mr Waghorn describes them) have squads laden with internationals who can happily rotate to keep the minds and bodies fresh while the ‘have-nots’ invariably have a core of quality that has to be spread more thinly.
David Moyes was able to rest Wayne Rooney completely and give Danny Welbeck forty-five minutes lounging on the bench before unleashing him on some tiring Canary limbs. A luxury not afforded to Chris Hughton.
But while that may be part of the issue, others of a similar ilk seem to cope rather better than City. Again, stats may prove otherwise but that’s how it feels.
And before some start gathering the pitchforks it’s not a Hughton failing per se; it’s a Norwich City one.
So… having concluded there’s no logic whatsoever in City’s continual under-achieving this time of year, it is worth noting the level of performance that Hughton’s men found yesterday.
If minds and limbs were sapped of energy following the Boxing Day bruising at the hands of mighty Fulham it didn’t show – at least not once they had cleared their heads after a lethargic opening ten minutes.
Once they had established that United’s eye-catching display of keep-ball came with a blunted cutting edge – the omission of Rooney, Welbeck and Robin van Persie helping in that regard – City played with a tempo and verve seldom seen this season.
Wes Hoolahan – back in his customary position betwixt loan striker and midfield – rolled back the years and for thirty-five minutes gave a virtuoso performance of old. The dropped shoulder, the dancing feet, the twists and turns; the full gamut was on display as a procession of Vidic, Evans, Carrick were left trailing in his wake.
And it was great to watch. With my Metro hat on I last night wrote of half-expecting one Grant Holt to burst through, all arms and legs, on to one of Wes’ eye-of-a-needle ‘dinks’ – such was the feeling of nostalgia it engendered.
Of course reality was there to slap us all in the face and despite piling on the pressure – probably one of the most sustained spells of pressure we’ve enjoyed against United – the scoreboard still read ‘0’.
Gary Hooper, Russell Martin and Sebastien Bassong all warmed the hands of De Gea in the United goal and for once the half-time whistle was not music to the ears of the Yellow Army – quite the opposite in fact.
Alas, as the players disappeared down the tunnel so too did City’s best chance of doing to Moyes what we did so successfully to Sir Alex in his early days.
Such had been the Canaries domination it was clear the second half would see a different United emerge and so it proved – literally – with Giggs’ 40-year old creaking limbs making way for the speed and power of Welbeck.
And that was ultimately the difference. By throwing the England striker into the fray Moyes stemmed the tide of City pressure, primarily by ensuring our back-four were required to defend rather than attack – Martin unable to provide such an attacking thrust down the right in the second half.
And the goal – while being created virtue of a fortuitous double-deflection – was expertly finished.
One chance, one goal. Clinical.
But still, without reaching the heights of the opening forty-five, City continued to ask questions of United in the second period and the sight of them attempting to hold the ball in the corners in the closing stages told a story of its own.
So too the arrival of Darren Fletcher replacing Javier Hernandez. But held on they did.
So… pride restored, but still defeat for Hughton’s men; one that leaves them just three points shy of the drop zone and Wednesday’s opponents, Crystal Palace.
As disappointing as it was to lose, the crescendo of boos that greeted the arrival of Ricky van Wolfswinkel – or more pertinently the withdrawal of Hooper – was equally troubling and was another reminder that many are merely waiting to pounce on even the slightest perceived misjudgment of the manager.
As it happened, Hooper had been withdrawn as an injury precaution.
Typically, Hughton dealt with it in his usual unflappable and gentlemanly manner, telling the EDP: “I understand the fans’ frustration at that point because he had scored in four of last home games. They weren’t aware of the whole story and I am quite sure if they were the reaction would have been different, but I had no problem with that.”
It’s a shame those who choose to hurl abuse in his direction don’t possess even a fraction of his courtesy. The best football manager in the world he may not be – a gentleman he is.
And whatever our perception of his footballing acumen some would be well advised to remember that.
David Bowen says
Yet another first class summary Gary, no surprise there, unlike our players, you never seem to have an off day!
Your appraisal of CH is excellent, I yearn for things to go right for him, I really fear for his continuity if things don’t dramatically improve soon, and that would be a great shame!
Here’s hoping for the start of a run of good luck kicking off on New Year’s day! OTBC
Russell S. says
With all the hysterical griping going on, a measured and sensible appraisal of things such as this piece are invaluable.
The Fulham loss was a poor one but for those blinded by personal prejudice against Hughton, to use yesterday’s unlucky and narrow defeat as further evidence of the manager’s failings is pathetic. The boys worked their socks off, created chances and only fell short in the sticking it in the back of the net department (a failing common to all of teams outside of the top 10). Booing Hooper’s withdrawal with ignorance of the facts says it all about the mentality of some.
For those to claim that Hull’s hammering of Fulham and Man City’s narrow defeat of Palace shows how poor we are compared with Hull/Palace is plain stupid. Fulham made 6 changes after playing us losing key players such as Parker, Duff, Taraabt. Man City were missing Aguero, Zabaleta and Toure/Negredo/Nasri (bench) who all started against us.
We’re in the part of the table we were always going to be (below the top 10) despite the lofty but deluded ambitions of those calling for change pretty much from the first match of the season.
West Brom and Cardiff have both made big errors by getting rid of experienced managers – let’s not make the same mistake.
Saying that, the Palace game is huge but the boys have bounced back before after disappointment and I back them to do it again.
Great article and sensible comments. I took the following from the match yesterday:
1/ CH started with the best team he could for almost the first time (taking injuries into account)
2/ Wes is still the best player at the club by a distance and CH’s biggest mistake is and has been not playing him enough. Any chance of an equaliser disappeared when he was substituted.
3/ Norwich are capable of staying in the Premier League BUT ONLY if they show the energy, determination and willingness to tackle that they showed against Man Utd against the teams like Palace and Fulham who are down there with them. So far this has been somewhat lacking in most cases….nervous about the Palace game!
Russell Supports Mediocrity says
Nice to see Russell keeping to his tired script, lets just all accept mediocrity and be thankful for what we’ve got! Heaven forbid anyone who dares to want more, know your place “little” Norwich! Great message Russell!
Russell S. says
comment 4 – have the guts to put your patronising jibes under your real name and state your own views and opinions with some factual evidence.
Gary Gowers says
The silence is deafening Russ…
Your Real Name says
My view (which you conveniently chose to ignore) is that accepting mediocrity leads to the very issues that Gary raises. If we accept that our rightful place is in “the part of the table we were always going to be” e.g. 3 points above the drop and we deny our “deluded ambitions” e.g. top half like Southampton, Hull & Swansea (occasionally) then guess what, we become what we accept! I want to see ambition, determination to get that 2nd killer goal and to free the shackles on our creative, attacking players. To be fair to CH he has changed his style on occasions, he has adapted and when he does it has been better, yesterday being a case in point. Lets hope he continues to take this view at Palace, rather than accept that “we always lose at Palace” and accept our place in football’s hierarchy!
Dear no. 4 and 7 – I’m afraid that it is a “deluded ambition” to expect to finish in he top half of the table or even close to it. Uniquely around the world seven of the top eight clubs have been exactly the same since 2009 and this trend is not going to change any time soon. This concentration of resources in effect means there are 3 spots available for a top half finish. The other statistical fact is that the Premier League table at the end of the season almost exactly reflects the amount spent on players (crucially this includes wages as well as transfers) and this is something that won’t change either. There are exceptions of course, including ourselves last season and possibly Hull and Southampton this season (we will see) but overall the statistic remains true. We will always finish in the bottom half and we should have the courage to accept this because expecting too much will lead to poor decision making and damage the club (ask Portsmouth, Leeds and even Ipswich) This is not a lack of ambition but a realistic assessment of the facts at hand – I have always had an ambition to play for Norwich but sadly at 49 I fear my best days are behind me. Perhaps a lesson that ambitions should be rooted in reality rather than wishful thinking.
Russell S. says
comment 7(&4) – we both want the same thing for the club but ambition comes in two forms; realistic and unrealistic. The 3 clubs who you put forward as role models have been in the top half of the PL for a season or less (Hull for about a day!). Let’s see if they can maintain it over 2,3.. seasons. Swansea already look a shadow of last season.
You may find my script “tired” but equally tiring is the constant moaning at every opportunity from the ‘experts’ sat at home or in the stands. Both views/opinions are valid and I don’t get why you don’t want to put your name on yours.