The boos that sounded upon the final blast of Tim Robinson’s whistle didn’t quite reach cacophony levels yesterday but that they are becoming the Carrow Road norm tells a story all of its own.
I used to get the hump with the booers. I could never really see the point of it – still don’t when it happens during the game – but so scarce are the thrills right now, so meagre the moments of joy, it’s almost forgivable that some choose to unleash their frustration in that way.
Afternoons and evenings at Carrow Road have become joyless and in order for that to change it feels like something has to give. Whether that’s a small, or perhaps not-so-small, tactical change, whether it will just come about organically with the return to fitness of some keys players or whether some of the current crop need to step up I really don’t know – but more of the same is neither good enough or fair on the paying customer.
We’re all City through and through, the love is unconditional, but to be expected to smile and ‘happy clap’ through such average fare is a big ask. Elsewhere there would be rather more than a smattering of boos.
In fairness yesterday was a step up on the Barnsley bore-fest but it was starting from a pretty low base and much of the entertainment was derived from the fiasco of a stricken linesman being replaced by a fourth official who, after an eternity, was himself replaced by dear old Spud. Minus that sideshow, of which Spud was naturally the star, it would have been only a single notch up on the entertainment ladder.
The football in the first half was neat enough and we had enough of the ball to tick Daniel Farke’s ‘dominated possession’ box but when over 100+ minutes, when playing at home to the epitome of an organised mid-table Championship side it says an awful lot when you can vividly recall the two chances created in open play. Two.
As it transpired poor Josh Murphy, for whom I had some sympathy yesterday, proceeded to miss them both, something that happens when your confidence is rock bottom. That brilliant finish at the Emirates seems an eternity ago.
That we are having to lean so heavily on a lad who’s clearly struggling is partly down to the seemingly endless injury crisis of course, but still I would expect more than two solitary opportunities to come our way in a game and for others to get themselves in goal-scoring positions; Wes in fairness going close in what led to Josh’s deflected second half effort.
Part of the problem is that through the intricate passing and rotation of our midfield we simply fail in that most basic objective of getting bodies in the box – Nelson Oliveira invariably being the only target. Therefore when (or if) the cross eventually comes in it has to be so precise to pick out a yellow shirt among three or four defenders it’s nigh impossible.
Another problem – at least it certainly was yesterday – is that Oliveira appears so unwilling to get on the end of stuff; a more petulant, sulky performance you’ll never be likely to see. Just occasionally an ordinary cross can be turned into a decent one if someone in the box is prepared to scrap and fight and hassle – just as Jordan Hugill did for Preston all afternoon – but that was never likely to happen yesterday.
Ditto on the occasions Angus had to kick long. Oliveira was naturally the target but, again, appeared unwilling to challenge, making the defensive header for either centre-back a thing of comfort; something that never once happened for Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley. And let’s not even start on him booting the ball downfield after Preston’s equaliser in a fit of pique.
I may be wrong – and I hope I am – but his body language yesterday was screaming ‘I don’t want to be here’, just as the agents are starting their groundwork for the January window. Cameron Jerome, for all his profligacy in front of goal, offers effort and desire and was well worth a ten minute run-out yesterday. We needed to create pressure. A protruding bottom lip doesn’t do that.
Elsewhere we are also failing right now in another basic football requirement – winning second balls. We just don’t do it. We didn’t against Barnsley and we didn’t again yesterday. I hesitate to say this isn’t happening due to a lack of desire because, for me, there is effort and hunger in most things they do but for whatever reason we come off second best far too often in this regard.
Things don’t get any easier of course and Cardiff away is not the fixture you want when you’re looking to end a six game win-less run but at least away from home Team Farke have a point of reference when it comes to setting up the team to do a job. And it will take a Boro/Sheffield Utd away type effort to bring anything home from South Wales.
Whether a midfield minus the still-injured Alex Tettey can offer an effective shield to our back-four is the big question, especially a back-four that is creaking a little, but it’s only right to highlight that Angus, for all the paucity in front of him, is still hardly being over-worked.
Perhaps that, coupled with the fact we’ve finally seen a promising glimpse of one Alex Pritchard are positives we need to cling onto.
Ultimately however it’s just a game of football. We rant about it. We get upset about it. We laugh and cry about it. But’s it’s just a game – and the heartbreaking news yesterday of the untimely passing of Simon Thomas’ wife Gemma puts it all into perspective. Shankley was wrong. Words are futile at times like this but all we can say is our hearts go out to Simon and their dear little boy Ethan at this unbearably difficult time. Our thoughts are with them.