Well, the run was never going to end with a meek, scrappy 1-0, was it?
Such has been the non-stop thrill ride we’ve been on for the last three months, there was no way the roller coaster was going to ease to a dignified and measured halt. Not a chance.
That it ended against Frank bloody Lampard’s Derby was obviously a source of frustration – not least because it confirms to the media their belief that he’s the “real deal” – but it had to end at some point, and I would rather we went out swinging and missing rather than covering up and still getting hit.
As it transpired we took one on the point of the chin and went sparko.
The floodlight episode added to the surreality of it all and, in the end, it was just about the most Norwich way possible to end an unbeaten run, and the most classic case you’ll ever see of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Yet, if anyone had predicted a run of two defeats in 21 games, during which time they’ve played some of the finest football seen by a City side in years, they’d have been laughed at. Few saw this coming. So, however disappointing and self-inflicted this defeat was, for me at least, it was impossible to get angry.
Individual errors and a collective inability to defend set pieces were to cost us yesterday but, in truth, it is something that’s been building and to have conceded 13 goals in the last five home games suggests it just finally caught up with us. Up until then our attacking swagger and ability to conjure up late goals had dug us out of a few holes.
But – and it’s a phrase that really triggered some who were angry about yesterday’s defeat – that’s football. It really is. The inexact science of football.
And the fact we’re shipping goals for fun, especially at home, won’t oddly enough be lost on Team Farke, who I suspect may now turn to one Grant Hanley to sure things up as they did last season. They may consider his slightly less sophisticated use of the football a price worth paying for some extra solidity and organisation.
There has to be an acceptance though that this style of football will, at times, expose City at the back. That’s the nature of the beast. The measured, patient build-up encourages – necessitates in fact – both full-backs to join in, and so opponents will naturally look to expose us in those wide areas in transition. And it will happen sometimes.
The best advert for persevering with this style that has served us so well is that space in areas vacated by advancing fullbacks is not a problem Tony Pulis ever has to wrestle with.
What City can do better and have to do better is defend set pieces. More of the same will only end in disaster and disappointment further down the line, and they have to stop opponents “missing out the first man” quite so easily. Also they then must react smarter to the second balls.
To have worked so hard and played so beautifully to set up that 2-0 lead only for it to be eroded by two pieces of ‘eugh’ defending was a blow to the wotsits, and for once there was a tangible impact to the collective belief.
By contrast, to have gone in at the break two goals up, and with Derby looking so decidedly average, would have been edging into game-over territory, and I’m not sure even ‘fantastic’ Frank would have foreseen them being level at half-time after the pummeling they’d had.
The football in those opening 35 minutes has to be up there with the best we’ve seen since the Mike Walker years, and rarely have we seen such a relentless onslaught allied to such beautiful football – all constructed without Mo Leitner and Emi Buendia in the side.
When the dust has settled and the teeth gnashing and hand wringing have stopped, that spell will be well worth remembering.
But, without Mo partnering Alex Tettey in the base of that midfield, one thing we’re not as good at is that horrible term ‘game management’. Look back over the run, pick out the games in which Mo has been absent, and those tend to be the ones where the pendulum has swung a little too wildly at times and where we lose control of the game a little too readily – Forest being a good example after the Stiepermann foul.
Mario Vrancic is a fine footballer, who’s in a rich vein of form, but he does the role differently to Mo and doesn’t naturally bring that same order and calmness to proceedings that the German does. (There’s me stating the obvious again – “Norwich miss their best player shocker”).
The good thing though is this lot are resilient and setbacks tend, once the post-match emotion has subsided, to be treated with the same level of calmness as last-gasp victories. There will be no knee-jerk fixes and dramatic changes in formation or style – why should there be? – but they will quietly go about addressing the issues that have figured large in this mini-blip.
Clear heads and perspective are needed – something that was in short supply on social media last night – and I trust Team Farke implicitly to bring this to a group who have given us three unforgettable months.
Others, with deeper pockets (like Derby), expect to succeed. For us, in our age of austerity, this promotion push has been achieved through hard work and innovation. We have much to be proud of.
Yesterday was a bad day. We have plenty of good ones ahead. On to Brentford.
Michael D says
Maybe yesterday was our first lost in 12 matches, but I thought there was much that was far too predictable about it. For me – apart from the missing Mo Leitner – there is only one player I have wanted to see on the pitch these last several matches and that is Grant Hanley. He was bought last year when we were patently failing to be able to close the door in matches, and over the last few games when we have shipped a horrendous number of free goals (goals conceded from second phase corners must be up to nearly double digits now), the only time we seemed in a modicum of control at the back was when Hanley was forced to come on for 30 mins against Bristol City. I have no idea why he has not been back on the pitch since as he played extremely well then, and his leadership made a big difference.
I read that Farke was blaming the floodlight failure yesterday evening for our inability to see the match through. No, it was our inability to shut the door tightly and address our obvious failures to control our defensive third of the pitch. Farke’s subs were Trybull, Rhodes and Srebeny, when it was not our attack that needed strengthening at 3-2 but our defence.
It looks to me now that sides are merely viewing videos of how we concede goals at corners – pull the ball back to someone coming onto the edge of the circle, and bang have a go – and then simply developing a plan to play a repeat. We haven’t countered this for games now, and haven’t modified our marking strategy accordingly. We missed our chance to make a real statement of intent yesterday by conceding the lead twice at home, and it is not just that we have had one loss I’m worried about, it is simply our failure to put in place obvious defensive requirements that have been badly needed for several matches now. We may have been floating on air these last few weeks but if we don’t for one bring Hanley back, and for two significantly tighten our defence, there is a lot that could come crashing down in the early new year.
Yes, we need to pick ourselves up to go again, but in doing so, Farke needs to make some decisive changes in his current match strategies too. His set up and responses were not adequate yesterday and not adequate against Notts Forest – 7 goals conceded in two matches at home is shambolic.
Keith B says
On the face of it bringing Hanley back sounds like the obvious answer. and a lot of people are saying so. But I’m not so sure.
He was, don’t forget, ever-present in our first 6 games, 3 of which we lost, with 12 goals conceded, including 7 at Carrow Rd. We play those 3 teams again in the next 5 games, 2 of them away.
It is only following Hanley’s injury though that we have been able to play the expansive football that’s taken us up the table. Of course he was a vital acquisition when he joined. Our back 4 until then had mainly been Pinto, Husband, Martin and Franke . The problems we are having now seem to be much more to do with what’s happening in front of the back 4 than a year ago.
As for corners, Hanley is never likely to be anywhere other than around the 6-yard box/penalty spot area. The issue seems to be patrolling the edge of the box and getting pressure on those lurking outside; I can’t see that he is the guy to solve it.
Farke did not, as far as I can see, blame the floodlight issue for our failures, although he quite rightly pointed out that it gave FL a chance to rejuvenate his side that he wouldn’t normally have got.
As Gary says it’s game management that let us down yesterday. That has to come from the middle of the park, and perhaps by defending better from the front. Our failure to get something from the game seems to have started from immediately after our second goal, not our third. It’s partly a matter of experience – which is, to be fair, something Grant Hanley does bring to the group. Having 4 young kids in the side is great, but perhaps we’ve seen the downside to that once or twice of late.
Michael D says
Fair comments Keith, but I think Grant would help a lot with the on-game management of the defence which is sorely lacking at the moment, including for better marking at corners.. And I know that when he was playing early in the season were not our best performances, but he himself had had a very limited pre-season and was not fully fit then. I still believe his return to the side is overdue and I don’t believe the calamitous, defensive game management yesterday would have happened with him on the pitch.
Keith B says
Yes, I’m not saying don’t give Hanley a go at all, and certainly I think he’d have made a better job of defending the last goal. I’m just concerned that some people think his presence will solve everything. It won’t.
Finding a way to cover for Mo’s absence is what really matters. It would be interesting to see what McLean can offer, if only he can get fit enough.
Dave H says
I would also like to see Hanley come in now. However, we need to recognise he’s not fully fit himself. For that reason, I don’t think it will solve all the issues.
Hanley should have played yesterday because it was obvious that Zimmerman was not fully fit. I’d prefer to see Hanley partner Klose because he is by far the quicker of the three and in recent times our full backs have managed to hide this deficiency.
I also thought despite his fully committed endeavours Tettey was looking tired in the last quater of the game and when this happens we are easily overrun.
When Lewis returns I’d like to see Godfrey given a run as the holding midfield player as he’s younger, quicker and more skilful which gives him more time to make decisions.
Farke should also remind our players that when defending the old adage of “when in doubt hoof it out” is still valid.
That said, I thought for the first half hour yesterday our play was sublime. Pity about the lights.
A good summing up Gary. Still feeling bitter disappointment at the outcome of yesterday’s game and the manner of the defeat.
The attacking play, particularly in the opening 35 minutes was as good as anything I’ve seen for seasons. Pukki was as sharp as a tack, hopefully heralding a return to his best form after a dip. Hernandez grabbed his chance to press his claims for a regular start with his usual energetic and fruitful wing play. That’s about it for the positives.
The manner of the goals conceded belied a side in our lofty position. Being perfectly honest, we have been gifting hideous goals to all manner of opponents in the same fashion willy-Nilly for many weeks now with few signs that the issue is being addressed. If the personnel are not heeding the messages from the coaching staff and repeating the same costly mistakes they need to be changed. The large figure of Hanley is looming over them and should not be kept in reserve a moment longer.
We should not have to score 5 goals to win a home game and if allowed to continue this malaise will wreck our chances.
Both Notts Forest and Derby were considerably inferior on the day and should hVe been sent home empty handed, smarting from heavy defeats.
We are fortunate in that January contains not one but two cup weekend breaks from the action, which hopefully will negate the impact of the loss of Lewis, Leitner, Buendia et al. Along with McLean, they’re returns cannot come soon enough.
Richard Clifford says
Excellent article & 1st comment in response. “The measured, patient build-up encourages – necessitates in fact – both full-backs to join in,”…..key factor. Then the set piece point (our defending) – Which both Gary & Michael D make perfectly. But not forgetting that the 1st 35 mins was amazing “relentless onslaught/beautiful football” – indeed. Ultimately Im left with Michael Ds point about the subs at 3-2. Wasnt Hanley the man for that moment? The omission felt bizarre. This was the defender who nearly scored at Bristol City – He can get up but he also brings more strength to the back line. Other question: When will our conversion rate on chances improve?
Cyprus Canary says
I sadly missed this one on iplayer because my wife was taken ill in the morning and we had a blue lights ride to the Hull Royal Infirmary. However, the run had to end at some point and to be fair Farke didn’t really use the light failure to cover up the problem. Fantastic Frank even conceded that it was a real advantage to his side. Thrash Brentford and give extra practice defending set pieces and we will be back on course. Happy new year all.
Gary Gowers says
Hope things are all okay mate? Some things are rather more important than a daft football match.
And so say all of us…
O T B C
Cyprus Canary says
Thanks guys things are looking much better today.
Gary Gowers says
Wonderful news mate – very pleased to hear that.
Totally agree with you Gary.
In almost 60 years of going to The Carra, I’m struggling to remember a better display from City than that in the first 35 minutes yesterday. We could and maybe should have been out of sight.
To then concede 2 goals from defensive sloppiness before the break was little short of ridiculous given that for both we had numerous chances to clear the first (and indeed second) ball. Mis-kicks and missed kicks came back to haunt us for their third, and even after Zimmermann had been levered off the ball (never thought I’d see that!!) for the fourth, Rhodes effort came back off the underside of the bar whilst earlier, Tomori’s had gone in. Such are the minute differences between success and failure at this level.
For all the moaners and those saying that Daniel Farke and his team cannot coach, please remember that if you’d been told at the start of the season by someone that City would be in this position at this time, you’d have wanted them carted off by the men in white coats!!
You win some, you lose some, but I’ll take this entertainment anytime.
O T B C
John Holland says
I hope this is not the trigger to tighten things up, I have thoroughly enjoyed the run where the “we’ll score one more than you” has been the philosophy. We have to look at who we had missing and also who was not fully fit. Mario set up two great goals but we see people criticising the lack of his tackling but that is not his job, unfortunately we had a slight imbalance in midfield due to the loss of Buendia and Leitner. It was also notable that Tettey seemed off the pace in the last 20 minutes and that created gaps in midfield. We have given away goals due to the defending of non-defenders but that is life. We have an incredible record against the bottom half (10 wins and 2 draws out of 12), repeat that and we will make the play offs but promotion will require beating the top 6 more often. Regarding the floodlight incident, it would be useful to hear why the players left the field, if it was lack of light then it would be wrong but if it was down to problems with uneven lighting or due to the loss of goal line technology then maybe that would be ok. In any case this needed to be entirely the ref decision
Jim Davies says
I don’t want to be constantly complaining about referees, but in truth there is plenty to complain about. Against Forest the only people in the ground who didn’t see a blatant handball were the referee and his assistant, and yesterday Derby’s first goal came from a corner which only came about because the referee inexplicably gave Derby a free kick when Stiepermann, having got between a Derby defender and the ball, was kicked up the back of the legs. Should have been a free kick to us.
Having said that, our defending of set pieces does need to improve.
Anyone know at what stage of a game the result stands if the match has to be abandoned? I believe that Fabulous Frank was keen to have it abandoned, though that was because he believed it would be replayed.
Always nice to read Gary’s piece after a loss; measured and blameless.
All in all, we’ve struggled with injuries, fitness, the players do look tired, our defence has forcibly been changed too often recently and our mental resilience could last only so long. I bet Farke would have loved to have rested some players this Xmas but it just hasn’t been possible.
Also, importantly, we have been the best side by far in pretty much all our recent games except Bristol, where the squad was ill. We will march on.
Alex B says
Yesterday’s game was a hard fought one where either side could have won and for once city didn’t get the late goal.
Looking for who to blame is pointless, yes the lights failure wasn’t a help the break just happen to be in Farke time and the restart Derby came out of the blocjs the quicker, just maybe this will kick start us on another run.
So far this season has had many highs and yesterdays game was one of them now isn’t the time to write of the rest of it lets look forward to a great finish.
Colin M says
A timely lesson for us. I reckon we may look back and see yesterday as a valuable experience especially for the young ones. We will be stronger and wiser for it. Credit must go to Derby for exploiting our weakness.
First 35 mins the best Footy i can remember in 25 years.