One defeat, one win, one draw and a goal difference of zero. Everything about City’s opening to the new season screams ‘average’ – except it’s been anything but.
Okay, so the defending at times has dipped into that category and certainly the finishing on occasions has been thus but generally it’s been a pulsating start to the season, epitomised by the thrilling finale to yesterday’s draw with the Potters.
Only the agility and stunning reflexes of Jack Butland denied City three points against a team savvy and gnarled in the ways of the top flight. There was none of the lethargy and indifference of Sunderland in Stoke’s performance and pre first-half water break they offered City a timely lesson in the art of Premier League football.
But once the heads had been cleared, probably courtesy of some unequivocal ‘wee words’, it was virtual one-way traffic; the Canaries’ only defensive problems from thereon-in being pretty much of their own making.
Wessi’s feet were dancing (it is just me, or is he only now entering his heyday?), Dorrans, Howson and Redmond were prompting and Jerome was bursting and bullying. At times it was magnificent, and all played out in conditions so sweltering Mike Dean – who was also excellent – offered Carrow Road its first-ever sight of a drinks break.
That City’s only reward was Russell Martin’s equaliser – which was a fine finish by the way – was obviously a cause of frustration and disappointment but nothing should detract from a performance level that was right up there with the best they have produced in 2015.
The post-match rumblings of the need of a new striker were predictable, and understandable I guess, but if the thinly-veiled threat of some more competition spurs Jerome on to perform in that manner, long may it continue.
Sadly his afternoon will be remembered by many for the toe-poke early in the second-half that flew wide of the post – and there’s no doubt it should have been buried – but it shouldn’t be. Instead I prefer to focus on his all-round game, which will have given Messrs Cameron and Muniesa nightmares.
For all the aforementioned talk of new strikers and missed opportunities, he only missed the one chance. And his acrobatic overhead kick in the closing stages was only denied by goal-keeping reflexes from the very top drawer.
(And please can we desist with the old ‘Ricky would have scored that’ – he wouldn’t).
But there’s no getting away from the fact chances were missed – good ones too – and for all his dazzling footwork, Wes will last night have been dwelling on what might have been if he’d been blessed with the forehead of Bradley Johnson. Ditto Nathan Redmond dreaming of what might have been if his mate Butland had not been quite so determined to deny him the bragging rights.
Yet for all of yesterday’s profligacy, I’m yet to be convinced that wastefulness is an inherent trait of the current crop. Eight days ago, City’s plundering of three goals at the Stadium of Light was largely attributed to the misgivings of those in red and white, yet Swansea failed to fully capitalise in the acrid air of Wearside.
“If Leicester and Norwich can beat them imagine what Swansea are going to do to them…” Really?
Instead, for now at least, I’m content to put it down to one of those days where we did everything except score the second goal – one that would have won the game – and marvel at the thrilling brand of football City are playing right now.
The half-glass empty barometer of success seems to be if there are three worse teams than us in the Premier League. Well, with only 35 games to go I’d say there are considerably more.
I’m not in the habit of using this column to extol the virtues of players who don’t wear the yellow and green (or grey and pink) but today’s an exception.
Jack Butland’s brilliance and his role in Stoke earning a point has already had every last drop squeezed out of it but from the vantage point of the River End it was also clear what a thoroughly decent young man he is.
From polite, slightly nervy applause toward said stand at the start of the second-half, to some mid-game ‘banter’ with those behind the goal and on to a wry ‘we got away with one’ smile and warm applause at the end, he was class personified. He will grace the England goal one day in the future.
He rounded it off with a tweet that commented on the “great atmosphere from both sets of fans”.
Well played fella.
As ever, and in true footballing tradition, there was still something that niggled yesterday, and this time it was the nonsensical booing when referee Dean called for the first-half water break; a break that was pre-determined and recommended by the Premier League.
Why? Just why?
A fellow River-Ender (one who I am 100% sure didn’t boo) sent me an interesting and telling stat last night. I quote: “We’ve had 58 attempts on goal in 3 games to 23 against. Amazingly dominant. Really deserve to have 9 points. Just think about that. 58 attempts in 3 games. Amazing in the PL.”
Nice one Greg. I’m thinking.
Great analysis, Gary, and very much the way it’s been in the first 3 games. That final quote says it all!
I take it your fingers slipped near the end with Buckland instead of Butland, but you did get it right the first time!
Kathy Blake says
As someone who had to have a water break just watching, I was amazed at the pace, effort and quality in that heat of both teams yesterday.Maybe the best 1-1er I’ve watched.
el dingo says
Good stuff Gary. Not the first drinks break I’ve seen though. The booing was ridiculous. No one ever played football? Idiots.
Chris w says
Sadly, if we ever needed confirmation, yesterday we had it – even some Norwich fans have only half a brain. What next ? Booing the watering of the pitch, or the crossbar challenge contestants? Truly embarrassing, goodness only knows what the players made of it.
Maybe someone who booed will have the graciousness to post an enlightening response. Somehow I doubt it.
Well, since it was listed on the screen as a “drinks break”, here in US I thought I needed to go get a pint at 10:30 AM….
Stewart Lewis says
Booing the drinks break was a new low point.
But so much else yesterday was encouraging. How on earth did we sustain that tempo and energy? Stoke certainly couldn’t.
Butland was an obvious call for Stoke’s man of the match. But it’s less clear-cut on our side – always a good sign. I’ve heard nominations for Brady, Wes and Redmond. For me, it was between Howson and Dorrans.
With one other to mention. After all the criticism he’s received, I specially watched Russell Martin yesterday – not just when the ball was in his area, but his positioning, anticipation, organisation. I couldn’t find fault.
I agree that Wes is now at his peak but that’s because Alex Neil is the first City manager in the whole time Wes has been at the club (Lambert included) to genuinely build the team around him. Wes has repaid that faith by working harder off the ball than ever before. It has noticeable how often Stoke had misplaced passes go out of play as a result of our press. Wes will never win many tackles, but when he’s working as hard off the ball as Jerome, Howson & Dorrans it makes very difficult to beat.
Premier League Pedant says
A game we should’ve won, from chances created. They couldn’t even fit them all into MOTD. Very encouraging but there’s a lot we need to work on too, most notably set pieces. We can’t seem to defend them properly, and Brady’s first two or three were fluffed, while Shaquiri’s first was bang on the money. Harsh to compare them, but these are the levels we need to aim for.
There was the horrendous mix-up between Ruddy and Tettey which almost led to a 2-0 deficit, Bassong dwelling on it and almost giving it away on the halfway line, and three defenders having to take a yellow for professional fouls when we were caught on the break.
But a great attacking performance, an entertaining game, and we’re above Chelsea and Arsenal in the table!
Bob in Diss says
Considering the opposition, that was probably the best performance seen at Carrow Road since the days of Lambert. Their keeper aside, we dominated the opposition.
They created next to nothing in our half – Mark Hughes claimed that the heat took the edge of their creativity! I believe the heat was the same for both sides Hughsie so more than a tad disingenuous not to give us some credit.
It was a testament to the fitness of our boys to have battered them up to the final whistle. Frustrating not to have won but as long as they keep playing like that, the goals will come. 50+ goal efforts in 3 games (19 of which were on target) at this level is impressive by any standards.
Watford can’t hit a barn door with a banjo at the moment and Bournemouth won’t come up against such a generous defensive display as given by West Ham. Can’t wait to see the Neil vs Howe clash next month.
Gary Field says
Probably a case of “if only”, however, if we continue to play like that, I don’t think the two dropped points will come back to haunt us come next May.
All very encouraging.
Ben K says
We played em off the park, bor!
I’m taking the view that the booing of the drinks break was in ironic fashion (I wasn’t at this match myself so I don’t know for sure, but I did watch it). I thought it was meant light heartedly, though, in the sense that everyone was enjoying the football and didn’t want it to stop.
This match also proves beyond any doubt that the bonus points system in Fantasy Football is complete tosh. Diouf got three bonus points and Butland got nothing (both were on my bench). Craziness in the extreme.
Agreed re Wes. I got mildly excited (without ever believing) by the talk of a bid for Quintero and watched a couple of his show reels on YouTube during the summer. Given the evidence of the last couple of games, we already have a player with that kind of touch and vision.
Jim Davies says
Good solid start to the season, and if we can keep up an average of four points from every three games, we’ll be well clear of the magic “40 points for survival”” total, with 52 points.
Couldn’t understand the idiots booing the drinks break, it certainly wasn’t ironic, I don’t think they understand the concept of irony. The break didn’t last more than about a minute, and it did at least give Sir Alex the chance to have a “wee word” – significantly, it was just after the drinks break that we scored.
Sam B says
From the upper echelons of the Barclay there were more than few groans at the first half drinks interval. For me, the timing was spot on as Stoke were a goal up and seemed in control. I whispered to my neighbour that I believed there would be a goal in the next 5 minutes… Curse the lack of internet signal for hunched based in-play betting exploitations!
As for the second half stoppage, it surprised me that sections of the fans didn’t see it coming! Did nobody watch the 2014 World Cup?!?! One irate ‘gentleman’ in front of me did not take my pointing out of the Norwich goal in the first half too well, stating: “They’re professional athletes, they shouldn’t need a break!”
The team performances seem to be getting better and better each week, and I think a slightly threadbare and exhausted looking Southampton side are there for the taking next week. Would be nice if Brady didn’t need a few set-pieces to get his eye in but there are very few areas of concern on the pitch at the moment. Looking forward to seeing what he is capable of when Olsson returns to the fray.
Premier League Pedant says
Makes me laugh when fans berrate players for their supposed lack of athleticism. Fans who probably couldn’t run one length of the pitch without coughing up blood. Even Ruddy was taking regular drinks, and he hardly moved all game.
The drinks break is there to help the players to compete right up to the final whistle, and it worked, for one team at least. It’s not just physical ability that’s impaired in hot weather. Who wants to see a great game of football decided by a silly mistake from a dehydrated player losing concentration? Well, depends on the player I suppose.