As 0-0 draws go the latest tale of two cities was quite entertaining – a statement that will with have some RiverEnders foaming at the mouth – and far removed from the Burton equivalent, which did scream bore draw.
Unlike Cloughie’s men, Bristol City arrived overflowing with confidence and, orchestrated by a lively Korey Smith, looked every inch a side who had gone eight games unbeaten – a run which included a thumping win over Derby and a cup win over Stoke inside the last week.
So to come away thinking we could and probably should have won is not, in my eyes at least, the end of the world. It was disappointing, of course, but it didn’t leave the slightly numb feeling we all felt a week and a half ago.
Angus had precious little to do – aside from one fine second half save that proved to us all that his concentration levels are spot on – and City created two first-half chances that were simply there for the taking. If either had gone in it would likely have been game over – the margins, as ever, were fine.
That Marco Stiepermann made a better connection with the goalpost than he did with the ball was not only a huge source of frustration for him, so too when not-so-super Mario found the outside of the post instead of the corner of the net.
Talking of whom, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in Vrancic’s offering yesterday, especially after his eye-catching brace at Brentford in midweek.
My assertion that his ‘star was hopefully rising’ was evidently a bit hasty and compared to the way in which Stiepermann, Tom Trybull and, latterly, Christoph Zimmermann have adapted to the brutalities of the Championship, he’s clearly still coming to terms with with pace and power of it all.
Give him time and space to pick a pass and he’ll do it. Give him a set piece and he’ll deliver. But to see him struggle when the pressure is piled on and the tackles are flying is (and I’m sorry) a little hard to watch right now.
Marley Watkins is another who struggled to make an impact yesterday but for very different reasons. Out of necessity, Watkins is one who suffers – or at least is suffering at the moment – from being able to play in a variety of positions. And after what sounded a very decent shift in midweek as the lone striker, his efforts to play on the right of the three supporting Cameron Jerome came up a little short.
Unlike Vrancic he’s well schooled in what it takes to negotiate the Championship but right now he appears one a little unsure of his place, or if he has one it’s on the fringes. What he doesn’t look like at the moment is someone who scored 12 goals for Barnsley last season and who built his reputation on pace and power. Hopefully once he’s netted his first league goal the confidence will start flowing.
And then of course there’s poor Josh who had an afternoon to match his Bramall Lane experience, although Greg Downs’ Canary Call assessment did feel a little harsh. He’s clearly a sensitive lad – not necessarily the norm for a pro footballer – who thrives on confidence, which at the moment is in short supply.
Alas the fillip of a goal at Griffin Park was short-lived and yesterday was one of those where the decision-making was wayward and the dropped shoulder largely ineffective. However the negative body language of which Downs spoke was, for me, a fragility of belief rather the evidence of him not being ‘on it’.
Part of the Josh conundrum comes from the reliance on him to deliver in the current set-up. Take him out of the equation and it’s a squad not blessed with blistering pace and one more designed to shift the ball methodically from A to B and onto C through the thirds. Josh offers something different; the ability to knock the ball into the grass behind and leave a full back in his wake. And we need that variation.
To be fair, Yanic Wildschut offers something similar on the other flank, albeit his skill-set is of a less graceful ilk, and the impetus gained from his driving runs did impact on the game in the second half. Unfortunately by then Bristol City had retreated and lost any genuine interest in winning the game; their sole intention being to keep it at ‘nil’. And they did it very well.
Wes, when he arrived, was unable to break down an impenetrable red wall and found himself shuffling sideways rather than forwards, and all afternoon Cameron Jerome was unable to impose himself physically against centre-backs for whom the whole 90+ minutes were probably just a little too comfortable. It was clearly one where Cam had run himself into the ground by 70 minutes and was crying out for a strutting Portuguese alternative to offer a different type of threat.
It was that type of afternoon. A nearly afternoon. But it was also one where we earned our fourth Championship clean sheet in a row – and that’s something not to be sniffed.
We could with hindsight question the head coach’s team of choice but it’s clear he was looking to maximise his resources in order to have some fresh and energetic legs available for Boro on Tuesday night and then for Reading next Saturday. So the benefit of the doubt should be granted.
That two thirds of the team is functioning like a well oiled machine right now has to be a good thing; that the attacking third is struggling to break teams down at Carrow Road is, at the moment, the payback. But it’s one that’s worthy and at least means there is a solid base from which the team is performing.
Boro will naturally be a massive test and will be a good barometer of progress but to progress from from the nightmares of Millwall and Villa to where we are now in a very short space of time is no mean feat.
Oh, and by the way… seen these?
#Norwich have kept 4️⃣ consecutive league clean-sheets for 1st time in 1️⃣6️⃣
years since Aug – Sept 2001.
— Goodbrand Stats (@StatsChristian) September 23, 2017
Also came after a 4-0 defeat away to Millwall. We finished 6th and reached PO final. ? https://t.co/FJqdfP2re9
— Adam Brandon (@AdamBrandon84) September 23, 2017
On the Ball City…