It was a tale of two Norwich Cities.
You suspect that the fabled ‘wee chat’ was tossed to the side at half-time and replaced with a full-blown hair dryer on setting 11, such was the desperate situation which faced us at that point.
Early season great expectations replaced by distinctly hard times.
What the Dickens was that first half about? A packed Carrow Road was a bleak house on Saturday lunchtime.
Presumably, the training all week had focused on getting in the faces of an in form Everton – depriving their play-makers and free-scoring centre forward the time and space to do their thing?
Instead, Alex Neil’s starting XI gave the impression of having been out with the wives doing a spot of late night Christmas shopping.
After the wretched showing at Watford, we all expected a response brimming with energy and commitment.
“Please Sir, we want some more oomph,” was the fans’ plea to the boss and players after the thin gruel served up at Vicarage Road.
That Everton managed to beat Declan Rudd just the once was the only saving grace in a turkey of a opening 45 performance so miserly that Tiny Tim Cratchit would have found it difficult to have looked grateful.
Whatever was put into the half-time punchbowl worked flipping miracles.
Almost straight away, with the benefit of defensive tinkering and Wes pulling the strings, we looked worthy of our Premier League status for the first time in 135-odd minutes of action.
Game by game inconsistency is one thing but half-by-half inconsistency is a new torture offered up to us.
Suddenly, all that had been missing in action from the opening salvos was on show in front of a revived home faithful. Everton were stifled, hesitant and on the back foot.
Once Deulofeu and Barkley were subbed, we’d won the moral victory surely? Three points were there for the taking once Martinez had resorted to bringing Darren Gibson on to partner treacle-treader in chief Gareth Barry.
Quite how Cameron Jerome conspired to hit row Z instead of the net from a handful of yards, only he will know. It summed up our season to a tee. Missed opportunities.
I was listening in to Radio 5 Live’s commentary. Even old ‘Psycho’ Stuart Pearce declared he had never seen quite such a turnaround in performance and attitude from one half to the next.
With Sunderland following us under the wheels of the runaway Watford juggernaut and Swansea repeating our last gasp heartache at the Etihad, only Bournemouth and the Toon stole a march against an injury-hit, confidence-shot power house led by a Dutch version of a footballing Mr Scrooge.
Alex Neil’s ‘pick n mix’ policy of team selection has turned from a canny and pragmatic approach to someone increasingly unsure of his best team at this exacting level.
Russell Martin back in for Ryan Bennett bamboozled everyone outside of the Neil inner-circle, nearly as much as the now seemingly short-lived resurrection of Lewis Grabban in the previous home outing.
Wasn’t it Seb Bassong who did his best Gareth Barry impression the week before as Ighalo brushed him aside?
Why no last 10-15 minute appearance from Dieumerci Mbokani or Youssouf Mulumbu just to inject fresh energy and legs in a search for those additional points, which were begging to be grasped?
Nathan Redmond, Cameron Jerome, Alex Tettey and Gary ‘Neil’s collective bolt had been shot by then. Maybe the ghost of substitutions past – most notably the Tettey-Hoolahan switch at Newcastle – still haunts the gaffer?
While it’s clear that more consistent quality is needed for the second half of the season at Carrow Road, the best teams of the moment are also benefiting from their boss knowing who to rely on from week to week, as long as injuries and suspensions don’t cloud their choice.
Hats off to Leicester and Watford. Their starting XI has rarely changed and the near telepathic understanding that has brought early success is in stark contrast to our own stop-start spluttering.
The constant chopping and changing in midfield and up front has to be playing a major part in the lack of a regular rhythm that is required for a much needed good run of points to drag us out of the doldrums.
Positive noises may be coming from the upper echelons of the club in terms of planned activity in the transfer market however, the painful reality is surely that at best we are likely to attract a Gayle or a Naismith. Decent enough strikers but no world beaters.
As for quality defenders to come in and sort things out – answers on a postcard please.
No, it’s going to take the nucleus of the current squad to ‘do a Leicester/Sunderland’ of previous seasons. For that to happen, Alex is going to have to find the formula – the right mix and stick to it as closely as possible week in, week out.
For now, with that Scrooge-led, injury-hit, confidence-shot opponent up next, whatever starting XI runs out for us at the Theatre of Dreams, let’s pray they play for the full 90+ minutes and stop being the gift that keeps on giving.
Gary Field says
This call for stability in selections is interesting, if only because I actually think that performances overall have been so mixed, very few players have been nailed on picks week in, week out.
It also reminds me of our previous season in the Premier League, when CH seemed to go with the same starting XI irrespective of the last performance.
Either way, there’s need to find a bit of consistency and Alex’s team selection process would then take care of itself.
Douglas Millar says
Next Saturday will be another opportunity for the manager to prove he can manage in the Premier League. I do not expect City to win but I do expect a performance full of effort and energy. Even when Leicester were rooted to the bottom of the table last season they gave their all for the manager and the team. We expect no less from City.
Last season after our mid season hiccup, City needed to play with intensity every week. And for 20 games or so they did so turning likely draws in wins and probable defeats into draws. Like all supporters who are desperate for their team to do well,we attributed much of the never say die spirit to the manager. Let Alex Neil prove that we were right last season and the doubters wrong.
“Instead, Alex Neil’s starting XI gave the impression of having been out with the wives doing a spot of late night Christmas shopping.”
Because only women shop.
I’m not sure I agree, to my mind the squad rotation/ tinkering isn’t so much the problem. I reckon the big problem is we can’t score goals. The midfield have been making chances, we have dominated games for good periods but time and again when we have those periods we can’t get the crucial killer goal. I agree Jerome’s miss summed it all up, good work a great chance crowd excited and it all deflates. I knew what an astonishing chance it was to win a game we really should have been out of, the players must have known and felt it twice as much.
My opinion is we spend as much as we can on a striker who can score. We don’t need an all round player, we don’t need someone who works their Gucci socks off, just someone who when the ball comes near them they don’t hit row z.
Bit of a gamble but something has to change quite radically or we go down.
Woodton Canary says
I can’t remember the last time I saw such a one-sided first half. It was just staggering how Norwich managed to turn it around for the 2nd half.
It seems your answers are to do a Hughton and stick with the same underperforming players and others are saying mix it up. Whichever way you look at it, Neil doesn’t know what the answer is right now and is still searching. New, fresh, young players who haven’t been relegated from the prem before and actually want to prove themselves would be the way forward in Jan in my eyes. I was amazed Neil would be weak enough to shoe horn our captain back in the side against one of the hottest strikers about when Bennett has been playing well. To tell the truth, I was disappointed in Neil and I never thought I’d say that. Martin is a great servant, but a terrible CB and definitely no captain.
Azores Canary says
Nice seasonal sprinkling, Russell, a good read.
You have summarized what nearly every Norwich fan thinks. Does AN and the Gang read internet articles and listen to the opinion of the fans? I think not. Perhaps NCFC should recruit a knowledgeable type to sift through the webpages and give a précis of current fans thinking to AN and Co – let’s face it, it couldn’t do any harm, and may even reduce the number of catastrophic team selections. (As the Head of Recruitment’s department clearly has as much work to do as Leicester City’s complaints department, maybe they could be delegated with the task.)
Football is supposed to be a business nowadays, so why not listen a little more to the shop floor? I’m not suggesting the Supporters pick the team, just pointing out that good managers will often be inspired by the ideas from the floor.
Let’s hope we stay up and AN keeps his job, inspired by the loyal support of the Yellow Army – several of whom know a lot more about football than they are credited with.
Russell S. says
Cheers for the comments all.
Squad rotation is fine if it’s one or two changes now and again but when it’s 3-4 every game, it begins to look a bit more desperate.
Stability with decent backup to cover injuries/suspensions has to be the holy grail.
John(3) – how you managed to twist that sentence into an allegation of sexism is quite remarkable!
Keith B says
On the face of it I was surprised Ryan Bennett was dropped. But I wonder if that lad’s problem is between the ears? Nobody, not just AN, has played him week in week out. Why not?
I suspect he’s a slow learner. He got in to trouble on Twitter a couple of years back. But he still was stupid enough to reply to Piers Morgan – an experienced wordsmith who could eat the likes of Ryan for breakfast in any written media – instead of just keeping quiet.
I wonder too if Neil was not convinced that the push on Sanchez was accidental – because if it was deliberate it was utterly stupid; he could easily have received a 3-match ban. One reason for Lafferty’s exclusion is his ability to collect cards; it may well be that Neil sees Bennett as another accident waiting to happen.
Whatever else, Martin has a footballing brain and excellent temperament. He can take and understand instructions. As can Gary O’Neil – another who’s perhaps less talented than (say) Mulumbu, but more reliable – which may be why he has featured more prominently of late.
And talking of O’Neil apparently he makes a 250 mile round trip each day for training. Or he did until banned for two speeding offences of 97mph and 103mph. Everything about that is plain stupid – the trip itself, and driving on the A14 and A11 at that sort of speed (if he was caught twice then he will have done it many more times and got away with it).
We’ve got enough on-field issues without the distraction of stories like that and Ruddy’s night out on Tombland making things worse.
Jim Davies says
Watching Saturdat’s first half performance, it seemed to me that the plan was actually to play with three at the back (Martin, Bassong, and Olsen), with Wisdom, Brady, Redmond, Tettey, and O’Neil making a five man mid-field, presumably to try and nullify Everton’s midfield. With Martin keeping mostly well to the right, and Olsen having his hands full with Delefeou, this left plenty of room for the very mobile Lukaku to do his mischief. Thank goodness he wasn’t as sharp as usual.
Once the change was made, four at the back looked tighter, and somehow Wes seemed to have more freedom in mid-field.
I know it’s not fashionable, but maybe it’s time to look at 4-4-2 as an option again, to give more support to Jerome or Mbokani in the striking role. There are rumours in the press of a French striker, so maybe it’s worth a try before he arrives – Man U’s back four look a bit shaky, so two strikers might make them even more jittery.
General Fluff says
KeithB – “experienced wordsmith.” – I can think of some other descriptions for him.
O’Neill. Ruddy, the camera pit have all got into off the pitch scrapes.
There is literally never a dull moment supporting this club!
Keith B says
“KeithB – “experienced wordsmith.” – I can think of some other descriptions for him.”
Oh so can I Fluff, but not ones they’ll allow me to print here…
Colin M says
Just watched the Everton game again, what a strange match. It’s as if they had a collective labotomy after 15 minutes! Think we were frightened no player had any confidence. Everton weren’t any good either other than their fabulous back four.
Great 2nd half performance full of energy and commitment but we lack pace to get in behind and we do switch off when intensity levels fall.
Jim (10) may have a point re 442 and back 3 theory.
Canary Mary says
Very interesting read by all the contributors .
I agree with most of what has been said, but however I think
whatever some of the supporters think of WES –too many
turns–gives the ball away–my question to them IS where would we be now without him ??? He was working hard in the first half being flattened by 7ft defenders on more than one occasion!! His scuffed goal on minute 2 of the second half set the guys up by starting to BELIEVE! & suddenly getting the 12th man going ,which is SO vital when our backs are against the wall-be it by our own creation the lads that is.
We made our feelings perfectly clear on the half time whistle!
I like many was abit puzzled as to why the Manager changed the team so much after the stirring display by the group that out played!yes,out played THE ARSENAL the previous week?
Surely they were all on such a high it would have been perhaps a wee bit better to keep them playing?
Still I firmly believe if the manager & his team continue to learn
on the hoof we’ll have one hell of a ride IN the Prem next season.# NCFC
Russell S. says
Canary Mary – we need you in the dressing room to pump the boys up before kick off!
Agree with everything you said but wish you hadn’t used the term “on the hoof”. Too much ‘hoofing’ on show at Watford and 1st half of Everton.
Premier League Pedant says
What better way to restore confidence and turn our season around than a win at Old Trafford? I wanted ManUre to beat Bournemouth, but they deserved to get beat. They were awful. We shouldn’t fear them at all.
Robbie Brady is our most effective player this season, but has been fairly anonymous since the Arsenal game. He never got a game in FIVE YEARS at Man Utd. I think he might like to prove a point.
Canary Mary says
Thanks Russell S X
By saying on the “hoof” I wasn’t referring to the manner of play!
I really meant as the Management team are learning to come to terms with THE BEST LEAGUE in the world -:))
I always liken top players as race horses!
are race-horse thoroughbreds! the mid-field & wingers.
Some are great big Shire horses ! No dis-respect to our defenders! And some are just Arabs!That will be WES X
As I see it at present its the speed thoroughbreds that we are needing the most ATM.
DRESSAGE breeds are No good in this league-:))
As race horses legs are so valuable, so too are our footballer’s
legs! The Physio & Doc are the trainers too.
As many pundits say ! The season isn’t a sprint ! It’s a marathon