In a season of heartaches, cruel blows and crushing disappointments, yesterday’s was right up there and, no doubt like most others, chez Gowers was an unhappy place last night.
Yet it was so typically Norwich. Another in a long, long line of ‘what could have beens’.
It was *almost* so perfect:
Show the league leaders respect, but not too much respect ✔
Set up in a way that will make us hard to break down ✔
And in a way that also offers an attacking threat ✔
Dig in when under pressure ✔
No silly individual errors ✔
Show some ✔
City did all of those things, except for one crucial 10 second spell when it really counted. When everything was on the line.
How costly it will ultimately be will only be revealed in the next two months.
While on this occasion the feeling of despair was around the result rather than the performance, we departed the King Power with the same number of points when exiting stage left at St James’ and Villa Park.
Yes, there was a feeling of restored pride and renewed hope, but neither are currency in which Premier League safety is traded. Points and points alone are the only route to 17th place – and lots of them.
The cold, hard facts are that in 2016 City have played nine, won one, drawn one and lost seven, during which time they have scored eight and conceded 22. They’ve taken a single point from their last seven league games and have gone 14 PL games on the road without a clean sheet.
Le Saux and Lineker both think it looks grim. For once it was hard to disagree. (Keown just mumbled and stared).
Some sought comfort in the fact that finally Alex had finally found a formation that ticked all the boxes. I’m not so sure.
Three at the back (five at times) certainly worked yesterday when faced with the rarity that is twin strikers but I’m not convinced it’s one that will be needed when faced with a lone striker, which is nearly every week.
Three centre-backs, only one of whom has quality on the ball, strikes me as overkill in that scenario and I expect us to return to the 4-2-3-1 on Tuesday evening. Yesterday’s formation, for me, has potential to leave us horribly exposed in wide areas and always just one hoof down the flanks away from back-peddling. But what do I know…
However, one huge, gigantic plus we have when operating as we did at the King Power is that in Robbie Brady and Ivo Pinto we have two who are just made to be wing-backs.
That yesterday’s brought out the best in both is not in question, although the latter will certainly be undergoing some extra-curricular training in the art of one-on-one defending, if not now then during next pre-season. And it stifles the tiresome debate around Brady’s best position.
But credit to Alex for identifying a system that did to Leicester what many have been unable to achieve.
Vardy proved yesterday that, while his one trick is a very effective one, if is he isn’t offered oodles of green grass to run into he’s far less dangerous, and Mahrez, while he’s a shoo-in for 2016’s summer transfer saga, can disappear in games for long spells if denied time and space (even though he did have Tettey and Klose on toast in one mazy first-half dribble).
And the much-vaunted central midfield pairing of Kante and Drinkwater struggled to gain the upper hand over Jonny Howson and Alex Tettey; Howson in particular having the type of afternoon that will ensure he’s a Premier League player next season, be it in yellow or a different colour.
But for all the good we were unable to find a way past Kasper Schmeichel and mustered just a single shot on goal in 95 minutes.
Nathan Redmond’s second-half rocket had the Dane scrambling and he’d have been helpless if Cameron Jerome’s first-half header had gone the other side of the post, but with the breakthrough never coming there was a horrible inevitability about Ulloa’s late late winner.
In the final reckoning, if the worst were to happen, City’s downfall wouldn’t be down to defensive vulnerability alone. We have four joint-leading goalscorers – they have four goals each. Jerome has scored three times.
Half-chances for City come and go. At the other end of the pitch a higher proportion end up in the back of the net. The margins are fine but when they almost invariably go against you the struggle is uphill. It’s why we are where we are.
But, if yesterday proved anything it was that the will and desire is still there, and there is indeed still fire in the belly. And while it’s there we still have a chance.
The break in Abu Dhabi did appear to have a positive effect on the collective mind and there was no denying the passionate backing afforded by the Yellow Army.
We’re still alive, kicking and fighting. Ignore the bookies… it ain’t over ’til it’s over.