As halves of football go, yesterday’s first was about as abject as they come – unless of course you travelled to Watford, where there were two of them.
That City, from somewhere, found the wherewithal to salvage a point in the most unlikely of circumstances was laudable – almost unbelievable in fact – but must not be allowed to disguise the fact that for 45 minutes they looked equipped for only one thing.
It was another day when Alex Neil pulled a rabbit out of his half-time hat, amidst the shattered tea-cups, and confirmed yet again that he has more than a little something about him, even if his tools for the job look to be of an indifferent quality right now.
There is no escaping that prior to said half-time rollicking the Canaries looked every inch a side destined for the drop and, of even greater concern, appeared almost accepting of the fact.
Compared to the Arsenals, the Man Citys, and even the Evertons, we lack quality – everyone knows it – and so, at the very least, the players need to make tackles, play with energy and operate at an intensity level that rarely dips below 100 per cent.
Other teams can afford to be ‘off it’, coast a little yet, still be capable of winning a game. We can’t. No room for passengers. No way of accommodating too many 5/10 performances, which is why yesterday’s opening 45 was unacceptable.
Everton are decent – more than decent – but to stand off and permit them time and space to dominate was inviting trouble.
And the mistakes. They persist. Too many to list but the first-half was littered with them, including three in the lead-up to Lukaku’s goal.
The decision to move Russell Martin out of central defence was an easy one – the skipper unfortunately doing nothing to justify his reinstatement at centre-back – but to move him to right-back instead of hooking him also proved to be the right decision as he was at the heart of much of City’s good work after the break.
Hopefully that will put to bed once and for all the argument about his best position, although it probably won’t given his apparent desire to be a centre-back.
But he wasn’t alone in upping it a couple of gears after half-time. Ten players in yellow found another level – Declan Rudd was excellent throughout – and finally found the sort of intensity required to get something from a Premier League game.
And, irony of ironies, we should have won it; Cameron Jerome’s glaring miss after some good build-up play was no doubt replayed hundreds of times in his mind last night.
City’s cause has not been helped by the renaissance of Bournemouth of course, who have now taken down two of the big boys in consecutive games, and in order to survive we too now need to find some big wins. The days of looking to realistically take points off just those in our ‘mini-league’ are well gone and the Cherries have shown us the way ahead.
As ever, the post-match conversation naturally turned to what can be done in the January transfer window to improve things and help us match the current levels of our fellow promotees.
Alex Neil confirmed at last week’s fans forum that work is already well under way to bring at least a couple of new faces in and, preferably, at the beginning rather than the end of the window. And boy do we need it.
From somewhere we need to find a defensive permutation that will bring us some clean sheets and minus a couple of defensive additions it’s difficult to see that happening. Currently only the two sides from the north-east have conceded more goals and it’s doesn’t take one with a UEFA Pro Licence to see that basic defending is City’s Achilles heel.
Nor are we awash with goals – but where, in the January window, do you find a striker guaranteed to score goals who would be willing to accept – in PL terms – modest wages while being thrown headlong into a relegation dogfight?
Answer: You don’t.
So, in my view, it’s the back-four that will be the focus albeit the same caveats remain in place. If you’ve read this column before you’ll know my thoughts on City’s travails in the transfer market, so I’ll resist repeating myself. But it’s not going to be easy.
Yet there are still a few positives floating around, not least the fact that this time last season both Leicester and Crystal Palace were both firmly ensconced in the bottom three.
All is not lost – even thought at half-time yesterday that’s *exactly* how it felt – but changes have to be made. More of the same won’t be good enough
Other random observations from yesterday:
– Gerard Deulofeu is a very good player.
– Gerard Deulofeu is a bit theatrical.
– Everton are close to being a very good side.
– Carrow Road doesn’t suffer fools.
– Carrow Road can be noisy when it has something to cheer.
– Russell Martin’s call for “equilibrium” has gone unheeded.
So, a point which few saw coming and a second-half display that gave the faithful something to get their teeth into. Only Manchester United away next week.
Another case of Norwich City turning up at precisely the worst possible time?