One step forward and two steps back. I’m calling it ‘The Strictly Season’.
I’m not referring to BBC’s primetime Saturday night fodder but the Canaries’ Premier League efforts so far in 2015/16.
After an hour or so of Saturday’s game, most of the travelling army probably felt like screaming; “I’m a Norwich fan, get me out of here!”
After the blustering performance against the Gunners, Saturday’s surrender at Watford with Storm Desmond blowing in was the dampest of squibs.
Continuing the dancing theme, our team gave the appearance of a room full of first-night strangers nervously waiting to be paired up for their turn in the spotlight.
In the meantime, Watford’s front two danced rings around our boys at the back and probably would have got a ‘ten from Len’.
While the loss to a knee injury of play-maker Wes and his twinkling toes may have been a factor, Alex has previously put him on the bench anyway for recent away games.
With the bottom of the table getting tightly squeezed, City now badly need to pinch some points from Everton, Man Utd or Aston Villa going into the New Year to give the faithful some indication of a season’s second-half revival for survival.
Of course, with Fulham out of the way for now, our historical bogey team is Villa. We can’t even bank on that one turning out well.
Newcastle away was a catastrophe and West Brom at home a calamity. Loads of possession but more holes in defence than the one at the bottom of my garden.
It’s fair to say that the vast majority of fans were in agreement a month ago with Neil’s sudden shift from being on the front foot to taking a tactical step back in emphasis.
More solid maybe but still only a small points’ reward has been the result. The goals-for column has withered alarmingly since we swapped a quick step for a slow waltz.
Against a Man City or even a pale imitation of defending champions Chelsea, that’s fine to a point, but for Watford, an almost total lack of attacking intent or effort is clearly unacceptable.
Even with my lack of coaching badges or experience, the one thing that keeps cropping up is that if you start the game defensively-minded and go behind, it’s near impossible to flick a switch and get everyone in attack mode.
By contrast, Bournemouth’s troubles are largely injury-related but they continue to stick to their philosophy of last season. Compare and contrast the shots attempted/on target stats from their win at Chelsea to our defeat there.
In terms of the table, City are now just a goal-difference away from slipping further down, while in terms of fan mood and outlook, the Cherries’ faithful have to be hugely buoyed by their recent performances.
Newcastle had every piece of good fortune going – a vapid Liverpool, lucky deflected goal and wrongly disallowed equaliser.
All in all, it was the perfect storm of a weekend.
The Hornets have found a manager with a plan who has taken them to the next level. Respect to them for that although such success almost guarantees that their Spanish conquistador will become the target for bigger fish next season, such is the often double-edged nature and short-lived benefit of a surprisingly good season – refer to Paul Lambert for a case for the defence on that theory.
Even if he is poached, it looks like Watford will be comfortable in mid-table and crucially in prime position to suck up their share of the big BT/Sky lolly of next season.
Norwich’s fate in that regard hangs more in the balance.
With a poor run of form only slightly better than Swansea, Villa and Newcastle, the “there are definitely three worse teams than us” argument rings increasingly hollow.
Our current boss is still learning the Premier routine and the steps involved for success in front of the harshest of judges – us fans.
Any talk of ditching him for a new model is plain barmy of course.
His skills in a still very young managerial career have been based on good coaching, discipline and effective man-management. Those skills haven’t disappeared overnight.
Maybe the constant chopping and changing of first-team personnel, formation and tactics is the root of the seeming lack of attacking oomph that was so painfully on display at Vicarage Road.
I hope we return to some degree of our more natural inclination of being positive and full of energy as displayed in fine results against Bournemouth and West Ham for example. That vigour and confidence seems to have evaporated for now.
I trust Alex to knock the troops back into shape on the unforgiving fields of Colney. Clearly, that’s the place where he sees through the week who’s most up for the challenge for the coming weekend battles.
After that Watford debacle, there are a number who need to step up to the plate and sparkle on the stage against an in-form Everton.
I think we all had a few more points in the bank by now from our pre season predictions and that may be the difference in May. It seems likely Norwich will go into the new year stuck in the bottom three and from there it could be difficut to attract decent signings, although with one striker isolated far away from the action it wouldn’t really matter how good they were. The players seem to be micro managed on their every move and look scared to me, the weekly merry go round selection doesn’t help. On Saturday you could see the players crumple the moment the first goal was scored and there was no one on the pitch who wanted to take charge. As for the predictions I reckon 35-37 points I hope that will be enough.
OK, it’s stating the obvious but we are not on a very good run. But at least that’s happening now, not in March/April. The teams that survive do so by putting together a good back 10 or 15 games. Leicester last season. Sunderland the season before also came late, helped it seemed (not hindered) by reaching the FA Cup 6th round and League Cup final.
There is a long way to go yet. There is time to get on a roll, get some momentum going.
Of course good performances in the rest of December would help, not just in adding some points but perhaps more crucially in persuading potential transfer targets to join us. At the moment we look to be heading in the wrong direction.
More than anything else, I think we need something better up front, a potential match-winner. That’s what Watford have, as we saw on Saturday, and what we haven’t had since Ashton or Huckerby.
Whether we can find one without breaking the bank or busting the wage budget wide open remains to be seen.
Russell S. says
Tim and Keith – good comments.
I think every team not relegated suffers maybe 3-4 stinkers a season – that’s normal (Liverpool were probably as poor as us at the weekend).
We’ve probably had 3 of them now (Watford, Southampton and W. Brom), so not much slack to play with herein.
After the Southampton/Baggies no shows, the boys bounced back well. Hopefully again on Saturday.
I’d add one Grant Holt to your list Keith!
Azores Canary says
There is not a huge gulf between Norwich and Watford. On another day, had AN’s team selection been more offensive rather than containment we could have got a point or even snatched a win.
Success at this level relies upon all 11 players pulling their weight, and it is obvious that Lewis Grabben is not up for it. He can score the odd goal (that’s what a striker is meant to do), but football is a team game and depends upon all the team playing together for each other to create goal scoring opportunities AND defend in depth.
AN has had the strength of character to replace Ruddy with the excellent Rudd; Martin with Bennett etc. Now he must do the same with Grabben, regardless of Grabben’s keenness at Colney, and impetuous demands. I’m keeping the faith with Alex Neil, there’s a long way to go, and he’s still learning his trade. We must not turn against him just yet. OTBC
Derek Piercey says
A while back, one of the writers on here posed the question about when did we last have a mediocre uneventful season?
Seems like we’re going to have wait another year for one!!
Stewart Lewis says
Sober but sensible comments.
Saturday was an awful and dispiriting performance, but we all felt hopeful just a week ago. It’s a tough challenge, but let’s not make too much of a song and dance about it.
May seem simplistic to some but a repeating familiar Premier League scenario plays out again methinks… 1) Team plays number of games showing sufficient for fans’ optimism … 2) our forward players consistently fail to take chances created … 3) squad eventually runs out of steam … 4) relegation!
Jon B says
I’m with Azores Canary to a point on Grabban but put your shortest striker on against two much taller central defenders and play the long ball game in windy conditions and he won’t get much of a sniff. He was reasonably effective in the first 20 / 25 mins before they scored and we started going more direct, then withdrawn after 60 mins ish. A few hundred of our so called fans booing him off! Fans who presumably cheered when he scored last week! It’s a game of opinions but I see no room for booing off an individual, just like the treatment dished out to Whits earlier this year.
Gary Field says
Azores (4) “more offensive?”
We started with two wingers and, a part from starting with an extra striker, I’m not sure how much more attacking we could have been?
Leaving aside personal views on Grabban, the problem wasn’t the selection, it was execution of the game plan by the players that was woeful on the day.
Russell S. says
Cheers for all the comments.
We’re all feeling a little tender after the ‘Watford incident’ and there’s no question we’re in a relegation fight..but some of the “we’re already down” type stuff I’ve read beggars belief after just 15 games.
Leicester and Sunderland have both shown recently it’s possible to recover in the second half of the season and if we start playing our football again and press with energy (as those sides did – they didn’t sit back and circle the wagons), we’ll be fine.
Premier League Pedant says
(3) You’re saying the performance at St. James’ wasn’t a stinker, or did you just erase it from your mind?!
(8) Yeah I have a massive issue with so-called fans booing their own players. For what? Not doing his job well enough? As supporters our job is to support. Grabban is a decent striker, trying his best. The very least he deserves is our respect.
Russell S. says
PLP(11) – the score was a stinker but not the performance going forward – 18 shots, six on target at Newcastle. One bad substitution when we were on top and freakish finishing from them undid us that day.
I’d rather that type of game than Watford or Southampton where we managed a single effort on target in both and never looked at ‘the races’.
Have followed a link from a poster on one of the edp comments pages? It is so refreshing to find some sensible and more balanced views here. For me one of the biggest no shows this season has been the backing (or lack of it) from the crowd. Expectation levels are so often unrealistic and we need to give the team more help, particularly at home. Watford I agree was a total disaster and not one that deserves any kind of support with ridiculous ‘hoof ball’ in the wind. However, we have seen how well we can play this season and for me some of the football has been excellent. We need to get back to the short fast, forward moving passing game as shown brilliantly in that first Palace game. We now have Mulumbu and Tettey to cover a weak defence so let’s go for it against Everton and get back on track. We are OK!! OTBC
Richard Garratt says
Dave (13) yes exactly. The Pinkun website is essential reading for exiled canaries and the journalism is what it is: okay but not going into too much depth or controversy. However, the contributors to the comments are dire. Full of people with too much time and not enough intelligence. I don’t think I’ve read a comment on this website which irritates me half as much as the majority on the Pinkun… MFW is easily my favourite sit for NCFC related articles.
Premier League Pedant says
Good point Dave, about the crowd. So much excitement around getting back in the Prem, but now we are here it’s like everyone’s sat there with their arms folded waiting for something to happen. Although the Arsenal atmosphere seemed much better than for Swansea, to be fair (watching on TV).
I hope we get back on the front foot vs Everton. They have a lot of attacking talent but aren’t all that defensively, even with John Stones. Let’s get Brady and Redders on each wing and Wes behind the striker, take it to ’em and get the fans on their feet!