For a 2-0 defeat at Everton to cause such undiluted hysteria speaks volumes about where Norwich City is as a football club at the moment.
As disappointing as it to lose *any* game – and as one commentator pointed out, Goodison is hardly the Camp Nou – there are plenty of others who have suffered a similar fate at the blue end of Stanley Park. The Toffees have only lost twice all season and so the task facing Hughton’s men was always going to be of the uphill variety.
So why the furore? Why is there now much debate in some quarters of not renewing season tickets?
While yesterday’s performance was hardly a capitulation on the scale of an Etihad or an Anfield it did frustrate for long spells, especially in the 37 per cent of time that City had possession of the football.
I write regularly of those in yellow adopting ‘hot potato’ mode when they have the ball – usually borne of a dearth of quality possession – and it happened again yesterday; at least it did for the first 75 minutes. Only when the game was out of reach, and the home side had gone with three at the back, did City have any real joy in possession.
Prior to that it was mainly feeding off scraps as the ball was given away cheaply time and time again. As always, work-rate and willingness to chase and harry were evident across City’s midfield. Quality and composure on the ball when under pressure were not.
Of course when you’re matched up four versus five it’s always likely to be a struggle and, on this occasion, perhaps Chris Hughton’s desire to play two up was too ambitious. But, given the increasing volume of calls for Ricky van Wolfswinkel to be paired with Gary Hooper the City boss opted to sacrifice control of the midfield for the extra striker.
It didn’t work – Everton’s midfield quintet dominated the ball almost throughout – but City did see the whites of Tim Howard’s eyes on several occasions.
It’s a trade-off that isn’t working; City currently unable to perm a midfield four good enough to perform the task asked of them. The return to fitness of Jonny Howson and Alex Tettey should help in this regard and can’t come soon enough.
That City did create a few chances was one of the few positives; that we fired yet more blanks was not.
Ricky’s encouraging performance last Saturday – when he was denied only by the brilliance of David Stockdale – was worthy of a start and again the Dutchman went close twice. The first saw a long range effort clawed away by Howard, the second was a shanked left-foot effort from a ball that dropped invitingly over his shoulder. It was arguably City’s best chance of the afternoon.
Alas I’m writing about near-misses rather than goals and that in itself tells a story.
The life of a Premier League goalscorer is a curious one. Unless you’re of a Suarez or Aguero ilk, you’re largely in the hands of those around you and their ability to create opportunities. It’s stating the obvious (a trait of mine) but the better the players, the more chances created.
Ricky and Hooper had a couple of chances each yesterday. None went in. Negredo at Man City – for example – misses plenty of chances, but always in the knowledge that more will come along.
Also when your weekly ration is thirtysomething per cent of possession, the maths tells you chances are not going to be plentiful. So when they do arrive they have to be taken. They’re not going to be like double-decker busses.
All of which makes Ricky’s barren run a concern. We need the clinical striker we’d been promised to step up… and quickly.
Alas, for City to haul themselves clear of the mother of all relegation scraps is going to require one monumental effort from everyone – fans included (the travelling Yellow Army were magnificent yesterday, as always).
And we are going to have to pick up an *unexpected* win or two. Last season the home wins against Arsenal and Manchester United were instrumental in survival – not only for the six points but also for the belief they instilled. To date we’ve only beaten those below or around us.
All well and good, but that theory relies on wins and draws to be picked up consistently within that mini-league. Defeats against Villa, Fulham and Hull have to be remedied.
The days of targeting wins against only our peers have passed I’m afraid. If we’re to survive one or two of the big boys are going to have to be taken down. City went close against Manchester United, but not close enough.
Games like Hull at home have to be won, but not at the expense of away-days at Stamford Bridge and the like. From here on in they have to be tackled head-on too. No more ‘bonus’ games.
A big ask, naturally, but the alternative is unpalatable in the extreme.
Already this season Villa have won at the Emirates, West Ham have won at White Hart Lane and Cardiff and Sunderland have used home advantage to trump Manchester City. If they can do it…
Whether Hughton and David McNally will be able to boost City’s chances of doing so by bringing in some new faces in the next nineteen days remains to be seen, but it does at least appear that one of City’s reported targets is on his way out of Tyneside.
Jonas Gutierrez yesterday tweeted: “… It was an honor and a pleasure to play with the Newcastle shirt and to have the support of the Geordie. Thanks for the messages. I enjoy my 5 years at the club, I hope the club finish the highest this season and the best to my team mates.”
Only time will tell if that has any bearing on City’s hopes of mid-table comfort, but from somewhere the City board need to conjure up a spark; something that will lift the spirits and re-ignite a season that is threatening to drift away from us.
The form of that spark is their call… and it’s a big one.