There is little point in sugar coating it. That was every bit as horrible as Southampton or Villa or… I could go on.
While yesterday’s defeat at Swansea was merely the latest in a long line of abject away-days, where once there was a scent of victory (or even a draw) there now appears an acceptance of defeat. And that is a problem.
The hard fought draw at Selhurst Park on New Year’s Day now seems an age away and the away form guide since makes awful reading. Six straight defeats. Goals for: 4. Goals against: 17.
If we wind the clock back a few weeks the losses at Cardiff and West Ham were devastating, but in both games we could, possibly should, have won. Not any more. The last three, at Aston Villa, Southampton and now Swansea, were all dreaded no-shows. Not even a sniff of a point.
As ever, it is impossible to isolate what went wrong yesterday. The problems were many-fold with errors aplenty on either side of the white line.
Fingers will of course continue to be pointed in the direction of the dugout; the decision to persist with those who performed so well against Sunderland in a 4-4-2 being one that back-fired – big time.
We have long debated the merits of a five-man midfield and how, at least for Norwich, it enables them to make use of the extra man from a ball retention perspective. We don’t keep the ball very well, but with five in there we keep it just a little bit better.
Against the Swans ball retention is king. If you let them have it they will keep it all day if they feel like it. That’s how they play – their schtick. To go four v five from the word go was, even without the benefit of hindsight, suicidal.
Chris Hughton’s thinking was clear. He opted for ‘as you were’ in the hope – and I suspect that’s all it was – that the team would carry on where they left off last week. Logical enough in theory – and in truth if he’d changed a winning side and lost he’d have been castigated – but last week worked because Wes Hoolahan had freedom to float and Martin Olsson was able to bomb on and join in; making it a five-man midfield of sorts.
With Swansea’s penchant for keep-ball that was never going to happen yesterday. Wes found himself having to play as a traditional left-sided midfielder and Olsson’s forays forward were limited in the extreme.
The result was an extra white shirt in the middle of the pitch which they used to perfection. If we’re honest, such was the movement and fluidity, there looked to be more white shirts than yellow all over the pitch.
To cede the midfield in such a way strikes me as a mis-judgement on the part of Team Hughton.
And let’s remember, this was a Swansea team who, prior to yesterday, had not won in nine. Good old Norwich.
As ever when on the road, few players covered themselves in glory either. I’m no body language expert but given the importance of the occasion in City’s fight for survival I saw little to suggest the players recognised it.
I saw a lot of flailing arms, moaning and petulance but little to suggest they were really up for the battle. Instead I saw a team who, before a ball had been kicked, had already decided it was going to be a tough afternoon. I’m loathe to say it but, one or two exceptions aside, I had a sinking feeling that it mattered more to those of us who bleed green and yellow than it did to those who were wearing it.
Perhaps that’s a tad unfair. Generally they come over as a bunch of decent pros who do care, but then the alternative is that some of them are just not good enough. At least away from the comfort of Carrow Road where technical deficiencies can sometimes be overcome by the momentum afforded by a home crowd and a few thousand clappers. Maybe that’s it.
Either way it was not good enough.
As hard as I try to resist, while sitting through yesterday’s array of under-hit, over-hit, misplaced and aimless passes, I could not help but think back to the much-lampooned bloke who would phone Canarycall and and quiz poor old Neil Adams on what the players do in training. Admittedly it’s a cheap shot, but after yesterday…
But, it’s done now. We’re not going to see off-field changes between now and the end of the season so it feels as if we have no option but to ‘bunker down’ and gear ourselves up for seeing the job through in the Fine City. Pull the coaches in close and rely on ourselves and the clappers to ‘push’ them over the line.
I’m tired of saying it, but what else can we do but dust ourselves down and move on? This has to change. The cycle has to be broken. The travelling Yellow Army deserve better.