Aficionados of the Fast Show will recall a character called Indecisive Dave. As the name suggests, he took indecisiveness to a whole new level. He was brilliantly played by Paul Whitehouse but I now find those sketches an uncomfortable watch.
Why? Because that’s now me while reading the messageboards and Twitter (and even listening to Canary Call) in the aftermath of a City game. I was at it again last night.
I was actually fairly comfortable with what happened yesterday – Fulham did pretty much what I’d anticipated they would. They clearly have an embedded style of playing that’s not dissimilar to our own but have been doing it longer and man-for-man have a squad of better players. That City matched them for long periods was a positive sign.
But it was when the debate opened up to what yesterday meant in terms of the club’s overall direction of travel that I struggled and found myself toing and froing in an Indecisive Dave style.
I can’t, however, agree with those who argue there has been no progression on the pitch. Before Christmas the football was so sterile there were barely any chances being created and we were almost non-existent as an attacking force at Carrow Road. While it’s clearly not fully transformed, I now see more bodies in the box and a greater desire to get in behind.
Where it often falls down – and is clearly something that has been a problem all season – is when the build-up play is ponderous and without oomph. On the rare occasion when we shift it quickly we look far more of a threat. No rocket science needed. To shift it slowly allows the opponents of the day to get set in their defensive shape; to shift it quickly denies them that opportunity.
Fulham, while not streets ahead of us yesterday in terms of quality on the ball, where able to demonstrate how it can be done at pace.
But it takes good players to do it. The more limited the group the slower that ball will be moved. It requires confidence, intelligent movement off the ball, a perfect first touch, an awareness of the options, and an in-built cohesion. And it starts from the back, with Angus.
I understand the need for caution when either centre-back has the ball – a mistake can, of course, cost a goal – but if all of the above boxes have been ticked then the ball is moved quicker than City do right now.
Klose to Lewis, back to Klose, across to Zimmermann and back to Klose is fine – unlike most of the River End, I’m cool with that – but I do wish that ball could be pinged rather than rolled sometimes. Overly simplistic maybe, but it would up the tempo, and would force the midfield to also do everything a little quicker.
Yet yesterday, even with moving the ball a few mph slower than Fulham, we matched them for long periods – the in-form side who were unbeaten in 16. City just fell short at both extremities of the pitch. Three bits of iffy defending – two of which were punished – and poor execution in the final third were ultimately the difference.
But it didn’t boil down to luck. Fulham are now 17 unbeaten for a reason. They don’t make defensive errors and are clinical in the final third. That’s what turns an okay side into a good one. That City came out the wrong side suggests they’re an average side … and they are.
The big debate, one that’s still raging today, is around whether we’re on an upward curve, a plateau or a downward one. And that’s where Indecisive Gary kicks in again.
Make no mistake, this is no slight on Messrs Webber and Stone. I wasn’t at the Supporters’ Trust AGM, but understand that both were as impressive as ever, and both will, I’m sure, squeeze every last drop out of the resources afforded them.
But in this realm of extreme austerity that we’re about to find ourselves in, it just feels a little like Webber and Stone are being asked to deliver a successful club with their hands tied behind their backs.
This time next year the wage bill will be a mere fraction of what it is today. It has to be. And so the reliance falls on identifying more unpolished diamonds and promoting good youngsters from the academy.
It might work. But only might. And the alternative is fairly unpalatable. Fulham, to return to that comparison, are further down a similar road to ours but they haven’t been hamstrung by a shoestring budget. Their owner also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars. Do the maths. And that makes a huge difference.
We had Dennis Sbreny up top, who to be fair was decent, but if you’re heading to the playoffs would you prefer Dennis or Aleksandar Mitrović leading your line?
So, while there were definitely positive signs yesterday, there were also some pointed differences that ultimately determined where the three points ended up.
Where we go from here will depend hugely on what happens in the summer, but looking further ahead we’re looking for some favourable footballing gods and a prevailing wind.