In front of the cameras, Alex Neil remained unflustered. Behind the scenes he must be tearing his hair out – well, you know what I mean.
Although the initial exchange with Match of the Day’s Jonathan Pearce was a little frosty and awkward – Pearce assuming that Neil would have automatically disagreed with the penalty decision when he hadn’t seen it back – as always, Alex dissected his team’s shortcomings against Leicester with the nerve of a sharp-eyed surgeon.
Despite meticulous pre-match planning and debriefing of the troops, too many of his boys just didn’t find their B-game, let alone the A one, which had been on show at West Ham.
After heralding Jonny Howson last week, I’m left with egg on my face after a poor 5/10 from him on Saturday – no sickly pigeons to deflect from a curiously ponderous and inaccurate individual performance.
In truth, no-one on our side merited even a 7/10. For an hour, it was Southampton all over again minus the sending off. In front of a packed Carrow Road, that really is pretty indefensible – just like their second goal.
Is it something about an upcoming international that makes Russell Martin, Steven Whittaker, Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan and Alex Tettey switch off in the preceding league match?
Although a late Mbokani/Redmond-inspired charge almost salvaged a point, and the award of the penalty can be debated until the cows come home (not by Lineker and pals though ironically), the Tinkerman and his pacey Foxes deserved their win.
It reminded me of that no-show against Middlesbrough last season at home when Karanka outwitted Neil’s plans and Boro outplayed and outfought us in the first half.
I’m already looking forward to the rematch in the Midlands though. The King Power is a rowdy and passionate arena these days but so far no-one has got the better of Alex Neil twice.
Fair play to Leicester though – they are on a roll. Some of their fans seem to be getting ahead of themselves in predicting a top six finish. In the patronising words of our pig-friendly PM, “calm down dear, calm down.”
They got battered by Arsenal and have yet to face most of the better teams in the division, including Palace and Southampton who inflicted our other defeats in a still very infant season. In fact, those are their next fixtures – perhaps a reality check in store for the currently chirpy Claudio.
It’s been a contrasting season start for the three newly promoted sides.
While we’ve found the back of the net consistently with eight players getting on the score-sheet, Watford have struggled up front with half of our number of goals and total reliance on one striker.
Injury or loss of form for Ighalo could threaten the Hornets season as the long-term loss of Wilson looks like it might for Bournemouth, who otherwise have more than held their own with the exception of their trip to Norfolk.
They are now reliant largely on one-time Canary target Glenn Murray for their goals and it could be a sticky period ahead for the Cherries as a golden summer turns to grey winter.
Watford’s defence take the early season ‘meanest’ award but despite leading the trio of new boys in the table, with just one goal for their fans to cheer from four home games, the mid-year love-in for Senor Flores could crumble quickly.
Our defence takes the ‘leakiest’ award despite recent fine results away from home and susceptibility to a fast break or a whipped in corner or free-kick will be top of Alex Neil’s ‘to do’ list once everyone is back on the increasingly chilly fields at Colney.
With the managerial axe now being wielded, the post-international run up to Christmas is likely to see further victims as expectations fall flat and fans get ever testy.
Eddie Howe and Neil are as safe as houses you would think for this season; Flores, I’m not so sure of – particularly with the Pozzos’ recent twitchy trigger finger. It won’t take too many more blanks at home for Europe’s managerial market to once more become the focus at Vicarage Road.
With two weeks of Premier League paralysis, there is much to ponder for manager and fan alike around the country. The early skirmishes of August and September will quickly fade from memory.
Overall, my team get a grade B to date – some very promising signs but clearly room for improvement, tighter at the back, more clinical up top and greater consistency from game to game.
With dark mornings and short days around the corner, who’s going to be up for the fight on a soggy Saturday afternoon or under the floodlights on a wet Wednesday night?
It’s men from boys and wheat from chaff time.
Paul Manning says
Am surprised that AN chose Whittaker to start on Saturday. Leicester behaved exactly as expected: counter attacking with pace. Elliott Bennett or even an out of position Martin Olsson would have surely done better.
Mike Reynolds says
Can’t disagree with any of that and hadn’t put two and two together re pre-international break. Given the once in a lifetime chance the Euros offer our players it wouldn’t be surprising if, sub-conciously, they were holding something back. Four fouls for both sides could be an indicator.
Stewart Lewis says
For various reasons I’d missed the previous three games before Saturday. Maybe because we’d been better in those games, others seem more critical of Saturday’s performance than I felt.
We started brightly, always tried to play positive football and put Leicester (a team renowned for fitness and resilience) on the rack for the last 20 minutes. Whatever the validity of Leicester’s penalty, it certainly wasn’t as clear as the pull on Jerome that the officials missed.
That City performance would have been enough to win almost any Championship game.
But there’s the rub, I guess. Allowing ourselves to get stifled after the bright start, and giving away possession as we did, will be punished in the Premier League in a way that it isn’t elsewhere. So I bow to the judgement of my betters – including Alex Neil and Russell Saunders – and agree that the performance wasn’t good enough for our current ambition to thrive in the top division.
It’s a harsh world.
Russell S. says
Paul – SW seems to be a Neil go-to guy whatever some fans say. Everyone knew how Leicester would play so it’s a puzzle that we couldn’t counteract them. Hopefully Mulumbu will be close to a return for Newcastle. I think we’ll go up a notch with him pulling the strings – at least that’s what his preseason suggested.
Mike – sure it’s a coincidence but I like a conspiracy theory. We’re a victim of our own success with so many internationals in the team now. No excuse for Howson and Jarvis being poor though!
Stewart – thanks for elevating me to the same company as AN! The West Ham performance which you missed by the sounds of was another level (or two) up and raised everyone’s expectations – sound familiar?
What we need is a sustained positive run like Leicester to get rid of the ‘1 step forward, 2 steps back’ fan mentality.
..onto the Magpies.
Sorry , just out of pure curiosity, why is this “half term” ?
I get it. The Canaries are promising yet we are struggling because of our lack of goals and we may yet sack our manager?
We have scored half your goals but you fail to mention that you have let in double ours!
We have the joint best defence in the league which is unbelievable for a newly promoted team. I would rather take our cautious approach although it is one we are not use to than yourselves trying to outscore established premier teams.
I do not think our manager will be getting the sack Russell but will be judged by results and league position as all that matters is staying in this division. I think he and our players have surprised everyone with the quality and organisation of our play even though we need to get players forward quicker which is why we seem to be better playing away from home.
We play Arsenal next but I note from your fixtures you have yet to play any of the top four and your fixtures from the end of the month to boxing day look horrendous along with the final three games. You need at least 4 points from the next two games otherwise you could be in the bottom four come early November!
Stewart Lewis says
Take a little closer look at the table. Palace (Norwich’s first opponents this season) are fourth.
Actually we’ve played a good spread of teams – four from the top half, four from the bottom half.
And if you’re sitting down, I have a revelation for you: the season is made up of two games (home and away) against every other team in the division.
Russell S. says
*Stu – my personal take on the international break period – not a strict definition.
*Mick – well done on your team’s defensive record and being competitive..so far. My points were (1) if I’d bought a season ticket and seen 1 goal scored in four home games, I’d be thinking of a refund and (2) if Ighalo gets injured, your goals for column is going to shrink even more – he was gifted a goal at Bournemouth too.
Flores’ tactics have worked well so far but cannot be sustained over the whole season – other teams will work you out and at some point you’ve got to be more positive going forward.
We’ve played (and lost) to Palace who are 4th, as well as Leicester and West Ham (5th and 6th) – arguably the three form teams in the league although not reflected in their positions.
Thank you for your continued interest in a Norwich City website! Is there an equivalent one for Watford where I can contribute insights on the Hornets?
Three ‘new’ teams – first 8 games;
Norwich: played 1 of top 4, 3 of top 6 and 5 of top 10
Watford: 2/4, 2/6, 4/10
B’mouth: 0/4, 2/6, 3/10
..could be reasonably argued that Norwich have had the toughest start?
Stewart Lewis says
West Ham were also in the top four when Norwich played them – they dropped out because of the points we took from them.
Premier League Pedant says
1. It was a penalty.
2. ‘Indefensible’ is a harsh description of our performance. Leicester are a decent side, in great form, and their hilarious manager was so confident of victory he could even drop Mahrez, who’s been a revelation this season. It was hard for us to play our usual attacking style when we know our opponents are so lethal on the break, and two mistakes in midfield cost us the game.
3. Personally I welcome the odd contribution from rival fans on here.
4. I’m still very confident of safety, but I don’t want us to be so impressive that Sir Alex gets poached at the end of the season. The occasional reality check will do us good. I want him here learning his trade while he makes us an established PL team.
Russell S. says
*PLP: (1) well that’s settled then, (2) ..as in they knew exactly how Leicester would play and didn’t counteract it, (3) me too – Mick the Hornet is fairly regular on here and it’s rude to call his contribution ‘odd’ and (4) we won’t go down with AN in the job – of course there will be blips but on the whole what we’ve seen this season is hugely encouraging.
Maybe teams will work us out Russell?
After watching another limp performance from you on live TV I would say they have worked your lot out!
You could moan about your defending which is school boy football but the most worrying thing for yourselves is the lack of effort from your players in tracking back and the way they give in. At least we are trying and players cannot be faulted for their effort even if they were not good enough on the day against a class team.