To see the relief-tinged celebrations at Anfield spoke volumes of City’s efforts yesterday afternoon. It was a performance to be proud of – something that’s not always been the case this season.
But, regardless of any heroic failures, the fact remains it was an afternoon that ended with us being back at the bottom of the pile with the worst goal difference in the league by miles and with the five teams above us having played fewer games.
In a fit of pique, I tweeted post-match that if, as the saying goes, Carlsberg did Saturday afternoons, yesterday’s would have the complete antithesis. It was one of those, in which we seem to specialise, where everything that possibly could go wrong did. Even despite playing well.
When the contract with Lotus for shirt sponsorship expires, I suggest we go the whole hog and replace it with Murphy’s Law.
Feeling sorry for ourselves won’t help of course, and I’m sure Dean Smith won’t allow that to become a thing in the dressing room, but there was something so Norwich City about producing a thoroughly decent performance against a quality side and yet ending the day even further in the mire than when we started it.
But if the worst happens (if indeed relegation is the worst – many disagree), it won’t be losing consecutive games against Man City and Liverpool in February that finally sealed it – it’ll be those opening 15 games when we were the boys to the men of the other 19 teams.
Now we look competitive. Now we look as though we have a structure that provides, against most opposition, a solid platform from which to play. Even if it is too little too late.
That Dean Smith has managed to achieve this while armed with a squad that is nothing like Premier League ready and is worth, in PL money, a pittance is some achievement.
Work has clearly been ongoing at Colney to find a defensive shape that permits us the ability to soak up pressure rather than cave in when the flak is flying, and the improvement is there for all to see.
There’s no rocket science involved. It just means the back four have to stay as a tight compact four when the opposition has the ball – which over the last three games has been almost all of the time – and means we have to concede space out wide on the premise it’s more important to defend the goal rather than those areas.
And it’s worked to a degree, and I’d expect it to to even greater effect against teams who are not Man City and Liverpool. It makes for a massive workload for Max Aarons and Brandon Williams but both have responded to the challenge, especially the Man Uts loanee who just get better with every game.
We’re also of course a better side when Mathias Normann is in it, and in Milot Rashica we have found a player who, after a tricky few months, looks every inch a Premier League player. My big fear with him is he’ll be one of those players who’ll outgrow us very quickly, as our self-funding model demands.
It’s all about the £££s.
Looking further ahead, it’ll also be a squad without Williams, Normann and Gilmour and, most probably, Aarons, but I guess that’s a piece for another day.
In the here and now the biggest challenge is to find some goals in this squad. With Adam Adah’s knee picking the very worst possible time to require surgery and with Teemu Pukki hitting a Project Restart type run of form, it’s difficult to see where they’re coming from when we need them most.
But, we plough on, and go to Southampton on Friday with some belief even off the back of two defeats, such is the skewed playing field on which the Premier League is played.
How ridiculous is it that we lose 7-1 on aggregate over two weekends and yet come away with renewed hope because we did quite well to concede only seven.
Again… another column for another day.
But there’s something unedifying about any Liverpool (a) fixture. There’s always something that grates even when on the receiving end of the traditional humping – and I’m not just talking about the media Liver-love-in, You’ll Never Walk Alone, the endless mirth or the little insignificant ol’ Norwich tone that clouds the whole day.
Yesterday it was good old Mike Dean who took the stripes.
The Merseysider had a decent enough afternoon until he realised who he was dealing with and permitted Alisson Becker the gift of using his hands outside his penalty area to throw the ball into touch.
In the greater scheme of things I guess it was no biggie – it would only have been a yellow and we’d probably have screwed up the resultant free-kick anyway – but it was a reminder of how being Norwich City in the PL means being treated differently.
Do we think it’d have been dismissed with a swish of Mr Dean’s hand if the suspect was Angus and the scene of the crime was in front of the ‘world-famous Kop’? Of course it wouldn’t.
But hey ho… it’s good that we’re reminded of our place occasionally in case we start feeling at home.
The Premier League, eh…