Another away-day, another disaster.
City’s season on the road reached a new low this afternoon with a late flurry doing nothing to disguise 85 of the most woeful minutes. In a nutshell, one team played with purpose, vision, tempo and verve, and passed the ball with fluency and precision. The other was Norwich City.
Trailing 3-0 with little over five minutes remaining, City did – through Johan Elmander and Robert Snodgrass – give the Saints a late fright but, in keeping with the whole afternoon, any chance of a late equaliser was scuppered by yet more slapdash defending in the final seconds.
Alas it was an all too familiar story with Saints keeper, Artur Boruc – until that crazy ending – having little to do except shout at his defenders and kick the ball into touch.
And to think it all began with such hope…
Chris Hughton made five changes to the side that laboured to last week’s 1-1 draw with Stoke City; Steven Whittaker and Ryan Bennett earning recalls to the back line in place of Russell Martin and Seb Bassong respectively.
In midfield Anthony Pilkington was handed the wide-left berth ahead of Nathan Redmond and, in a move guaranteed to divide opinion, Wes Hoolahan was dropped to the bench at the expense of Jonny Howson; the first start for the ex-Leeds man since returning from his back injury.
Up front the lone striker role was handed to Gary Hooper; Ricky van Wolfswinkel dropping back to the substitutes bench.
In the absence of Martin and Bassong, City were led out by John Ruddy; a sun-bathed St Mary’s and a 2,000+ strong Yellow Army providing an ideal platform for City’s latest quest for away-day points.
Alas the first-half was to prove all too familiar for the travelling faithful with the cacophony of boos that greeted Kevin Friend’s half-time whistle telling the story. The Yellow Army had been typically magnificent throughout the opening forty-five but few could blame them for venting their spleen having witnessed probably for poorest half of a season that has been littered with them.
The ease with which Morgan Schneiderlin gave Saints their fifth minute lead was a sign of things to come, with the home side breathing new life into the ‘hot knife through butter’ cliche. The one-touch passing that led to the goal was Arsenal-like in its simplicity and execution but was done under little pressure. Too easy.
What followed was total footballing domination. City struggled in possession. Saints knocked it around at ease. City looked slow and ponderous. Saints played with zip and pace.
Every time Southampton pushed numbers forward City’s defence and midfield creaked and, even more alarmingly, Saints were sharper, faster and more determined in the tackle. A midfield that includes Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey is designed to be be strong, to not take a backward step and to win the 50/50s. It was was therefore more than a little worrying that it failed on every count.
The quality of passing from central midfield has long been questioned. Today’s first-half did nothing to allay those fears. Simply not good enough.
Hooper and Pilkington were both – from sporadic City attacks – to see the whites of Boruc’s eyes but neither able to test him. The last few minutes of the half were City’s but having witnessed the thirty-five that had gone before it offered only the slightest sliver of hope.
If there were one positive to be gleamed it was that City went in at the interval only one goal in arrears, but any hope of a second-half improvement was to soon prove unfounded.
On 56 minutes Adam Lallana was replaced by Ricky Lambert and it took the England international precisely one minute to make his mark on the game. Again the defending was of the flimsy variety with Joseph Yobo and Ryan Bennett both despatched with far too much ease before the ball was calmly slotted past a hopelessly exposed Ruddy.
Hughton’s triple substitution on 64 minutes – Johnson, Pilkington and Hooper off, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Nathan Redmond and Johan Elmander on – was clearly designed to add some attacking thrust but initially had little effect.
Instead it was Saints who prospered when, on 72 minutes, they breezed into a 3-0 lead. And again City’s defenders were left red-faced. Despite a fine close-range block by Ruddy the ball was kept alive and worked to Jay Rodriguez, who calmly picked his spot under no pressure.
It nearly got even worse. Rodriguez was to go just the width of a crossbar away from making it 4-0 before City’s attempted late late show.
Elmander – the subject of derision from much of the travelling support – was to make his point with an 85th minutes effort; his toe poke under the body of Boruc coming after he had pounced on some overly casual Saints defending.
A minute later it was 3-2, Elmander again involved. More careless Saints passing was seized upon by the Swede who cleverly fed van Wolfswinkel in the inside left channel. While his well-struck effort was initially saved by Boruc the rebound was hammered in – right-footed – by Snodgrass.
City proceeded to huff and puff and, thanks mainly to the long throws of Bennett, did ask one or two questions of the home defence late on but it was the home side who typically – and appropriately – had the final say.
A mistake by Alex Tettey – with City pushing numbers forward in search of a leveller – gave possession to Southampton. Two passes later and the ball was worked to Sam Gallagher who bundled the ball past Ruddy. Game over.
A 4-2 scoreline may look almost respectable but it shouldn’t disguise another dismal away-day. And there have been far too many of those.
Phil of herts says
Everything is the same. Clueless tatics and approach. No attacking intent, no desire and appaling definding. Need to get rid now as it can’t be any worse. The board have just watched our demise and done nothing about it!
Matt Wenn says
I struggle to see how it started with hope! A saints team who have not won at home since October I think… The writing was on the wall as today they had Norwich City who are usless away from home. Yet again subs were made far too late by Hughton. Next four games I see a max return of 4 points. We are going down.
With huge sadness I have to agree we are looking ever more certainties for the drop. Yes, we are better at home, but I get a little sad when I contemplate away from home we play for a draw. We do not even attempt to win. Hughton feels any away point is a bonus – he says so on the occasions we have actually achieved it.
At home to stay up we have to get three points from at least two matches, and from elsewhere we may very likely need at least another two points. That would give 37 points and might be enough.
The simple fact is Norwich have been poor throughout most of the season. By this stage of the season the table doesn’t lie, the best teams are at the top and the worst at the bottom. However, all is not over yet, we are still a few points clear of the drop and goodness knows strange results do happen in those funny last matches (like beating Man City away). But I fear staying up will take a slice of luck and three others being even more chronically bad than us. I reckon Cardiff and Fulham are two, meaning the game against Sunderland at Carrow Road could really be something of a big one.
Stewart Lewis says
Matt (2): no need to exaggerate. Southampton have won plenty at home this season, including three times in January (1 league, 2 cup). Only went 3 games without winning at home, inc against Arsenal and Liverpool.
Abject and unacceptable. No tactics, no fight, no passion.
There aren’t 3 worse teams than us in the PL so we deserve to go down. We are appalling.
It is completely down to the management team because the players are good enough – they are just being stifled. Russell Martin admitted in an interview this week that he is not allowed to go in front of the ball; our wingers are instructed to cut back inside and lay the ball off; we pay £14m for two penalty box poachers and play them as lone strikers.
7 or 8 of our players would walk into most sides in the bottom half (Ruddy, Olsson, Redmond, Snodgrass, Fer, Hoolahan, Tettey, Howson etc)
Get rid of Hughton now and we can still pick up the 6 or 7 points we need to stay up. If he stays we have no chance – in fact I can see us finishing bottom. Give Neil Adams the job as caretaker and let the players play without fear.
Fulham are 5 points behind but have us at home so that is a guaranteed 3. Sunderland have 3 games in hand. Palace, West Brom and Cardiff are fighting. Swansea have us at home which will take them clear too.
What I don’t get is why our Board can’t see what is happening. Talk about sleepwalking into disaster – I hope McNally is sacked too at the end of the season when we go down.
Mike Reynolds says
sgncfc: Why should McNally be sacked, it is the Board that takes decisions not the CEO (who is of course on the Board)and this Board has seen the Club move from near administration to free of external debt. Next season = new manager and new team = time to go again whichever League, probably Championship.
Stewart Lewis says
sgncfc (5): Though I disagree with much of what you say, I’m writing to praise you for being prepared to make a specific prediction of how we’ll finish. I call on others to do the same. Hopefully we can compile them somewhere accessible, so that in May we can recognise those who got it right and hold to account those who got it wrong.
To practise what I preach, here’s my prediction: we’ll win three more games and survive. Cheers
sgncfc would not have been saying sack McNally 2 seasons ago. He has helped clear the club of debt and appointed the manager who gave us 3 (well 2 at least) glorious seasons. Last season we finished higher in the table than under Lambert. I don’t think Hughton has had much luck, but I know that visiting Carrow Road this season has not given me as much pleasure as the previous four. I only saw the highlights yesterday and heard the first half commentary, but by all accounts it was pretty grim. The issue is partly confidence and when a team is on such a losing streak it’s hard to come by. I can’t get so worked up about Hughton and dislike the venom directed towards him. Whatever happens it seems unlikely we’ll keep him at the end of the season, if only to try and unite the so called Canary nation. And yet I can see a scenario of us starting next season well, if we stay up and he stays. Remember that we apparently nearly appointed Paul Jewell (https://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com/2009/01/06/for-me-replacing-glenn-now-with-any-tom-dick-or-paul-would-be-insane/) and how we laughed at his efforts for Ipswich.
Expectations were perhaps ridiculously high at the beginning of the season and we’re there or thereabouts with about 10 other clubs in terms of ability. Am I seeing the Lambert season in the premier league with rose tinted spectacles or have I just become jaded with the EPL? But I do find myself in general agreement with the people who find many of our performances tedious and certainly away from home negative. It’s a feeling and I’m not sure about the evidence. Others have provided the so-called stats that make the case one way or another. Confidence, attitude and nous seem to be lacking.
Paul Rankin says
Well done Chris Hughton continuing with the formation that gave away our lead against Stoke and persisting with three holding midfielders.
The completely isolated Gary Hooper barely got a touch.
With Southampton playing a high tempo pressing game, targeting Bradley Johnson in possession, he finished with a miserable 55% pass completion rate. Yes, BJ passed the ball to Southampton half the time.
With Hooper isolated up front, on the rare occassions Pilkington and Snodgrass got forward there were no options.
Far be it for me to suggest that we might have performed better with a more balanced and technically proficient midfield three of Tettey, Howson and Hoolahan midfield.
But then, I am not the well paid manager, who last week had three strikers on the bench….
What a FARCE.
The players should just make a pact to disregard hughton’s tactics and play it their way. Hughton’s aren’t working and it’s not like he’ll be with us long. Let him go home and get a good kip for the remaining fixtures
Andy W says
I feel a mid week Mick Dennis article coming on, praising Hughton’s tactical ability (which us mere mortals are unable to appreciate), whilst also reminding us that we should feel very fortunate to even be in the Premiership(why should we expect the team to entertain us and look like they care as well?)
500 words should do it Mick, thanks.
McNally is the CEO. The CEO is paid to take responsibility for the performance of a business. Relegation is failure and the CEO therefore has to be in the frame. I was very happy for him to take his £1m plus bonuses for promotion and survival – I will be delighted if he can do so again.
But he is not immune just because in the past he did something right. If we go down with this team, that represents monumental failure. It’s not death Mr McNally, but it should be your job.
Gary Gowers says
Thanks for your comments folks. Appreciated as always.
Not sure about the sarcasm though. You know what they say about that particular form of wit…
And to suggest the players should ignore Hughton’s instructions suggests they’re completely blameless. Ridiculous in my book.
Stewart Lewis says
sgncfc (12): half agree, half disagree. There’s no doubt that McNally has been the driving force and dominant voice on our Board since he arrived. His intervention got rid of Gunn and appointed Lambert promptly enough to turn things around in 2009 (hand on heart, I wasn’t sure Lambert was the right choice – thank goodness McNally knew more than I did). He’s led us from disarray and League 1 to three seasons in the Prem. He takes credit for that, and will – as he’s said – take blame if his judgement leads to relegation this year.
Where I disagree is the scale of failure if we go down. Would it be ‘monumental’? Yes, we have a better squad than before. So does everyone else. As pointed out before, our average-level spending last summer simply kept us where we were: one of the thinnest and lowest-paid squads in the Premiership. I know some of the reaction I’ll get to this, but staying up again this year would be a significant achievement.
Of course I’m disappointed we haven’t done better, especially that we haven’t created and scored more. And hurting because we didn’t play well yesterday. But we have critical games coming up, to keep the place we’ve established outside the bottom three. The team have to give us something to cheer about, as they did against Spurs, Man City and more. We have our part to play too.
Dave B says
While @sgncfc’s views are a bit more extreme either than mine, I feel McNally has failed us this season. While he’s done fantastic work for the club, it has begun to come unravelled.
They clearly hired Hughton as a polar opposite to Lambert. He says the right things, he doesn’t cause problems, players like him. He’s a calming figure.
The trouble is you need results to go with that. One win in 18 last season and terrible performances and results throughout this one have proven he’s not up to task, even when the bar is lowered (anyone remember McNally’s expectations going into this season).
We’re now in the business end of the season and rather than increasing the gap over relegation, we sit precariously above it hoping teams don’t win games in hand, with a goal difference that could see us relegated.
I don’t think Cardiff of Fulham will pass us, but are we worse than Sunderland, Palace, and West Brom? I fear so. At least we do have chance to prove ourselves and if we can’t beat Sunderland and West Brom then we deserve to go down.
@7 Stewart Lewis You ask for some accountability on ‘who got it right’ and ‘who got it wrong’. While we may yet stay up, ‘outers’ have predicted all season long (and some of last season) that Hughton isn’t good enough for Norwich City, that he would lead us towards relegation, that he can’t get the best out of players, and that change is needed.
If you see Hughton leading the team out at the start of next season in the Prem, then you can consider us wrong. I think that’s highly unlikely.
Many of those who were backing Hughton earlier this season now believe we must change the manager, they just say ‘at the end of the season’. That’s a watered down way of saying ‘we must sack Hughton’.
After yesterday’s match I have little faith that Hughton knows what our best team is, or our best formation, or how to set up a defence, or to consistently score goals, or to change a game, or how to win one. I don’t see how a change of manager could make matters worse.
Stewart Lewis says
Two years ago Wolves, in a similar situation to ours now, sacked Mick McCarthy because they didn’t see how a change of manager could make things worse. They soon learned.
I don’t think McNally should be fired but I do think he should have insisted some time ago that Hughton brought in an attacking coach. If I had given someone £15m to spend on strikers I’d be expecting the person spending it to at least work out a plan how to give them the ball.
In 25 years of going to CR I have never experienced a season where I’ve seen the strikers have so little of the ball. And this with our most expensive strike force ever. It’s criminal.
Stewart Lewis says
Dave B (15): I appreciate there are ‘outers’ who think we’ll survive but it isn’t enough. I understand that to a degree; it may well be the view that the Board takes after the season.
But there are three views I have to challenge: (i) Hughton being clueless/a clown; (ii) our squad being so good that our natural place is much higher than we are; (iii) we won’t win another game and will finish bottom.
There are reasonable people on both sides of the debate. Most of the unreasonable ones, I think, are among the outers.
Dave H says
Stewart (7), I’m happy to state my position. I’ve long been an ‘inner’ with a belief that Hughton will keep us up. This is based on gut instinct as much as anything else (no stats required thanks Dave B et al!) The temptation for rolling the dice and bringing someone new in is great but for me is still probably too risky. I may of course be wrong but I’m a fan, not a decision maker so unfortunately can’t and won’t be held accountable.
Stewart Lewis says
Dave H (19): Fair enough!
Morris C. says
I blame the coach driver – I’m not sure how far up the motorway it is they get when all the confidence and resilience shown at home recently evaporates but it must be due to his driving. Maybe it’s Hughton doing the driving.
First half was poor – Hughton made changes – we scored twice (Elmander finally putting that subs stat to bed) – pressing for an equaliser before the sucker punch. To me that sounds like Hughton’s actions did affect the game (many claim they don’t). Some have said they would rather see us go down 4-2/4-3 than 1-0..well you got what you asked for.
Bit of credit should go the Saints.
Russell S. says
13 – Gary. You may be right on the sarcasm but then Oscar Wilde wasn’t a fan of the beautiful game I don’t think..although I believe he did spend time in goal at Reading.
One more defeat and the outers will be mobilising at the gates of Carrow Road to annex the pitch and put the manager’s job to a referendum vote. I think we both know who would be at the front holding the flaming torch?
Andy W says
Not sure about your aversion to sarcasm, but you must realise that some of us are tired of the line that Hughton is a great coach and that we should just be grateful for being in the Premiership. I have been watching Norwich for 42 years and I don’t think I have ever seen such drab fare on offer. There is little passion and no evidence of a coherent tactical plan. Yes, the modern game has changed, but I am not sure Norwich fans are ready to do a Bolton or Stoke and sell their soul for short term Premiership survival.
Gary Gowers says
Andy (23) – Fair point mate. Have resorted to it plenty of times on here. A classic case of pot / kettle / black I guess…
And your point around turning into a Bolton or a Stoke is a good one. Would be interesting to see if there are any out there who would be prepared to head down that route in the hope of PL survival. Very few I suspect.
Here’s to an *entertaining* win on Saturday…