It’s rare to depart Carrow Road after a defeat and not be either seething or hurtling towards the depths of despair. But on that score yesterday was an oddity.
Off the back of an eight-game unbeaten run that turned a place in the bottom three into one in the top six and following a week that exhausted the collective body and mind, there were mitigating circumstances behind yesterday’s loss.
Most of a yellow and green persuasion seemed to recognise it – even the River End – and in the spirit of all being in this together the final blast of Peter Bankes’ whistle was thankfully met with appreciation rather than derision; not a single boo to be heard.
That we were again on the wrong end of some questionable officialdom was there for all to see so I won’t dwell on the performance of the aforementioned Mr Bankes, only to say none of us queried Scott Carson’s very decent sliding tackle that put the ball out for the corner but we did his two handed tug on Josh’s shoulders.
I cling to the ‘these things tend to even themselves out’ cliché although I’m yet to be convinced.
As a performance in isolation I guess the word ‘sloppy’ would crop quite frequently and minus the mitigation there were a few too many stray passes and, certainly as the game became stretched, too many gaps between centre-back and centre-back, and centre-back and full-back. But there were reasons why and to forensically analyse and pore over every error would do a disservice to a group of young men of whom we should be proud.
Part of yesterday’s plan – as confirmed by Daniel Farke afterward – was to keep the ball and not spend long periods chasing white shirts around the pitch, and certainly in the first half, when the legs and thoughts were relatively fresh, they did it very well. The passing was slick, had a decent tempo, and chances were indeed created. Not loads but enough to have gone in ahead.
Marco Stiepermann will be cursing his luck over how the ball contrived not to cross the line when he really should have scored; Josh, in addition to to the penalty incident, would sting the palms of Carson and Cameron Jerome would curl one inches wide. But it all came home to roost when the Rams hit us with that painful sucker punch on the stroke of half-time.
To an increasingly jaded bunch that was ultimately a blow too far. Christoph Zimmermann obviously took the rap for his decision to try and intercept Richard Keogh’s pass rather than stand up, but against the backdrop of fatigue these things happen. And City’s response in the second half was good.
Still they found the wherewithal to get the visitors on the back foot and Timm Klose’s Joe Jordan-esque far post header (one for the teenagers) from Stiepermann’s perfect cross was no more than they deserved. Timm’s decision to grab the ball rather than celebrate gave off a bullish ‘we can win this’ message – and seemed right at the time – but with the benefit of hindsight the player himself questioned whether a celebration that offered a chance to take stock would have been better.
Also with the benefit of hindsight I tend to agree but there was not a single City supporter, player or coach in the ground who didn’t want to go for the win… however illogical in the circumstances. In fact, that Timm even went through this thought process speaks volumes for the man himself and how seriously he now takes his role as one of the ‘old heads’ in this young team.
As it transpired there was little left in the tank to go for the win and with the attacking substitutions leaving City with a frame designed to attack rather than defend, the game became too stretched and open for anyone’s liking. Sam Winnall’s tap-in – after a fine save by Angus it has to be said – came as no great surprise and in the last 20 there were some very leggy, tired young men out there in yellow.
The late rally which we all craved never quite happened and it just felt one hurdle too many, especially against a decent Derby side who, crucially, had not endured 120 energy sapping minutes in mid-week. Going toe-to-toe I’d have fancied our chances.
Yet there remains a conundrum still to be solved. For all the mitigation there appears an underlying snag in our approach at home; one that makes it difficult to get back into a game from a losing position. The method is pleasing on the eye, and I’m hopeful someone will take a thumping at some point, but because we don’t simply launch balls into the box (which is of course a good thing) we don’t create oodles of chances.
The percentage game – as modelled by our neighbours – will create pressure in its own unsubtle way but the more sophisticated approach needs patience and chances to be snapped up when they arrive. That part of the riddle is yet to be completed.
All of which leads us nicely to Tuesday night and another potential humdinger with some more charmers from the Midlands; only this time there will be a gentleman among them. And with Wolves having been on a not dissimilar journey to our own over the last week there’ll be no room for excuses.
Time to start a new run.