“The time has come” the Walrus said
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax,
Of cabbages, and kings,
And why the sea is boiling hot,
And whether pigs have wings”
Just Stewart’s kind of themes, you may be saying. Well, perhaps (with one exception; as a result of school dinners I sadly can’t even think of cabbage without gagging).
With the privilege of a midweek slot, I can usually step back and take a wider perspective on Norwich City affairs, having left the nuts-and-bolts of match analysis to my better-qualified fellow writers.
Usually, but not this time.
This time we have to re-visit the Sunderland game before we can move on. A proper assessment needs to replace some of the myths that started circulating on Saturday night.
It was an afternoon of total frustration, perhaps explaining some the things said in its aftermath. We might argue about the balance between them, but it was surely the case that we were on the wrong end of luck, refereeing decisions and some of our own decision-making – all three.
I do owe Mr Marriner an apology. My first reaction to the Sunderland penalty was that he’d got it wrong; on closer review, he had reason to give it. Having got that out of the way, he was harsh on a number of our appeals, individually and collectively.
Perhaps not all of them were justified, but I was directly in line with Mbokani’s second-half run into the area and it was a clear penalty. Compared with the one given at the end of Leicester-West Ham, it was stonewall with extra cement and an ornamental topping.
We were also the architects of our downfall at times, of course. But our performance was variously described by fans on Saturday night as a “no-show”, “capitulation” and “disgrace”. I’ve checked back over the action and match figures, and they back up my recall. It was none of those things.
We had two-thirds of the possession, 19 shots to their 8, and 14 corners to their 0. Those stats highlight our lack of potency up front on Saturday, of course, but they also underline some important points about the game.
For the first hour, at least, we were the better team – committed, organised and at times fluent. Only in the last 20 minutes did we lose our shape and edge.
There’s a reason for my going over this ground, even several days after the game. This was not the performance of a team that’s lost heart or belief. In contrast to some of the things written since Saturday – including the piece published on this site on Monday – our team is not about to subside gently into relegation.
I think the Victorian mathematician Charles Dodgson would have liked football stats – and indeed the mathematical side of football. Defoe’s runs would have fitted nicely in his theories of linear algebra, while some of City’s defending might have confirmed his concept of the mysterious alternating sign matrix.
He would, I’m sure, have confirmed that the job we ask of assistant referees to judge offside is a physically impossible one (though that’s no excuse for allowing Diego Costa’s goal at Carrow Road).
Dodgson was an interesting character, and a reminder that our separation of science and arts is rather absurd. Finding his job as Oxford Professor of Mathematics a bit easy, he filled his time with writing and word games. Under the more familiar pen-name of Lewis Carroll he wrote the poem quoted at the top of this article, while developing the basics of Word Ladders and Scrabble.
For us, the next month is going to be more like Snakes and Ladders. Some of Saturday’s doom-mongers talked about the ‘momentum’ of Newcastle and Sunderland. Really? Both beat a lowly opponent on Saturday, but it was their only win in six and their momentum may well not last a week.
The only club in the relegation battle to have won more than one of the last four games is Norwich.
As City fans, a late-season battle is familiar territory to us. I used to list the remaining fixtures and predict all the results to give a final table. But the truth eventually dawned on me: a relegation or promotion fight creates so many twists and turns, so many unexpected results, that the exercise is completely futile.
Who’d have thought in 2014 that Sunderland would win at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge to secure their Premier League status? Even their own fans had written them off two games before.
No – for better or worse, it’s going to be a bumpy and bone-shaking ride. Strap yourself in.