I deliberately gave social media only a light touch last night. The fallout from anything other than a win was always going to be unedifying.
When I did dip in, it was typically laden with I-told-you-so’s from those who, since the start of the season, have been pointing out that despite being second in the table, City are not playing particularly well – a fact no one has argued with.
The question of course is… is this how it’s going to be? Has Dean Smith’s current iteration maxed out? Or… is this a side that, with a couple of additions in key areas, could yet produce the precise free-flowing, attacking football we all crave?
Your answer to that will depend on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty merchant.
But what I don’t believe for a second is this is how Smith and Craig Shakespeare want this team to play. In Friday’s pre-match presser, the head coach acknowledged that the football is yet to reach the level he demands, and was equally critical of his team’s performance after the game.
In that regard, those who liken his style of play to Chris Hughton’s are wide of the mark. Hughton wanted it to be tight and compact and not overly expansive. I’m not sure Smith wants it to be any of those things and, to be fair, it’s not.
What it is though, at least at the moment, is stodgy. Badly lacking in rhythm and tempo.
Bizarrely, City play like a team that’s on a bad run rather than one that’s now unbeaten in seven. The staccato passing, where everything appears forced and lacking in flow, is usually a classic sign of a team low on confidence; not one that should be full of it.
But to have played so poorly yet still emerge with the unbeaten run intact was quite something, and to think we managed to snaffle four points from Bristol City and West Brom off the back of two such ordinary displays.
In a parallel universe, we’d be well chuffed with that return.
But there are clearly parts of the team that, for a variety of reasons, are not functioning as Smith (or anybody) wants them to.
The susceptibility to a well-structured high press was there for all to see on Wednesday night and while, after their early goal, West Brom opted for the low block yesterday, the issue of low-quality passing out from the back was still evident.
While the Robins squeezed and pressed, to force our back four and keeper to either concede possession or go long, Albion sat off, allowed them to have the ball safe in the knowledge that none of them were likely to pick a pass good enough to break the lines.
Add into that same mix, the fact that Isaac Hayden and Liam Gibbs are unavailable – players who are comfortable in the defensive midfield pivot role – and we have a problem.
Kenny McLean, for all his other qualities, isn’t perfectly suited to the role of deep-lying quarterback, especially so yesterday when his passing radar was off-kilter.
In the end, rather than risk giving the ball away again, the Scot was not making himself available, which creates yet another problem when the team ethos is based around working the ball methodically through the thirds. His role in that is clearly key.
So we ended up with defenders, not all of whom are comfortable on the ball, having one potential route for a forward pass closed down. The upshot was even more sideways passes than normal as they looked, usually unsuccessfully, for the progressive option.
For good measure, let’s also chuck into the mix that slow, laboured passing across the whole team and it’s unsurprising that we found it so so difficult to make any headway against a well-drilled and Championship-hardened West Brom midfield and defence.
The end result was the toughest watch of the season so far by some distance, which is quite the achievement when considered in conjunction with the second half against Coventry and most of the Bristol City game.
For once, the international break has come at a good time, in that it gives those who are rehabilitating time to edge closer to becoming available and allows some of our walking wounded time to shake off their bumps and bruises ahead of what will be a breathless October.
Importantly, it also gives a chance to refresh some jaded minds within the group.
Not for the first time, I’ll leave the final word to my dad who, despite being no longer well enough to attend Carrow Road, remains as fired up as ever. That Norwich City fire still burns.
We met yesterday morning for breakfast and his response to my, ‘we’ve won six out of six without playing well; imagine what’s possible if we click’, was simple:
“We won’t click. At least not yet – not while the side is unbalanced with no left-footers in the backline and no proper holding midfielder.”
As ever, I’m not about to argue with him. Are you brave enough?
Your dad is exactly right, he can probably see through all the modern terminology – presses,blocks, overloads,assists and xgs.Quarterback is a new one on me, I know that we now have US connections but what’s happened to little scrimmages and Nobby Stiles?. Dean Smith should have been banging down doors to bring in cover for those positions – perhaps there were none available in Great Barr- the Birmingham suburb home of Smith, Shakey and Ramsey. I think our manager is selling is short by continually selecting his young protégé over more established players. Ramsey was at Cheltenham last season, Josh Martin scored more goals in the same league, AJ is OK going forward but leaves more talented players to do his defensive duties.
We are scraping through against poor teams that we should be hammering,thank God Burnley was postponed
I thought Ramsey was our most creative player yesterday and rightly named man of the match by our sponsors. He’s a very good player in the making and an excellent loan signing.
It’s the other members of midfield who need upgrading.
I wish Cantwell would do more weights as he needs more strength to play at this level. All the skill and vision but not the strength to remain on or compete for the ball.
Gary Field says
What this team seems to be missing at the moment is a Tommy Tryball or Moritz Leitner type player, careful in possession and capable of getting the team ticking over again. We’re often too careless with the ball, coughing up cheap possession, time and time again.
Gary Gowers says
Very good shout, Gaz. Someone to keep it ticking over in there and who is happy to take (and keep) the ball when under pressure.
Next month we have away games against (among others) Watford, Sheffield Utd, and Burnley.
Could be tough.
Excellent summary of our current position Gary.
Championship sides have worked out that by using a forward press we become a clueless side because our current midfield is not up to the job. We badly need Hayden fit and on the field and hopefully Gibbs as well.
The two new lads Nunez and Sara are still coming to terms with English football and I hope they quickly adjust to the speed of our game. As I remember Buendia took a little time to come to terms with the speed and physicality.
The back four are competent at this level of playing out from the back but unfortunately our midfield gives them very options and for most of the time yesterday they went missing due to the pressing of a physically strong West Brom side.
I think Sargent is wasted wide and needs to be brought back into the middle where he was a real threat. I’m sure a clever, experienced Pukki could play of him to give a greater goal threat. Pukki’s touch and awareness for me makes him an ideal number ten.
Your dad is spot on give us hayden and gibbs and natural left back and byram at right back you will have so much more balance in the side.
Yesterday was one of them going to be a good point at the end of the season but did west brom or bristol city see the whites of kruls eyes apart from the 3 mistakes for the goals conceaded all were of our own making not us being carved open!
Half full for me a job in progress
Internet issues meant I only saw the first 30 minutes – it was more than enough!
What struck me was how WBA used Byram receiving the ball as the trigger for the press – like they had identified him as the weak link in the back line. Certainly going forward his right footedness (if that is a word!) was a limitation.
2 other things struck me in that opening period. First, Josh Sargent looks a shadow of the player he was a few games ago, when he was playing as a lone striker. Where he was bullying defenders, now he is bullied. Perhaps a more traditional 2 up top is the best way to play him and Pukki together. Dare I suggest a Lambert Diamond with Aarons and Giannoulous (when fit!) providing the width.
Secondly, it is clear that Smith wants to stretch the opposition. But the by product seems to be that our players are too far spread for us to be able to play through the lines in those crisp, flowing moves. This was evident in midweek, and again yesterday when WBA bothered to press. To me the symptom of this is the number of misplaced passes – we are having to attempt longer, riskier passes in our own half, and these are being intercepted or misplaced. It would be interesting to see an analysis of player positions from yesterday compared to peak Farke-ball.
Finally, I fully agree – without a Gibbs or presumably Hayden, the midfield doesn’t look balanced. It feels like Smith just selects his ‘best/favoured’ players and sends them onto the pitch…….time will tell when one or both ar edit again…
The WBA goal was an absolute gift. Surely someone on the field should be marshalling the defence when we defend a corner, Krul perhaps? Push, shove, point and shout, the modern keeper is at the heart of the defence, boss of the penalty area, not just a shot stopper. But we got a point and no Bruce the ref wasn’t biased against you, he got the big decisions right, your team and your tactics aren’t very good, we made you look better than you are, without that gift of a goal WBA would have lost, and as dodgy as we are City would have won.
A fair summary. I attended with my Albion mate who feared a thrashing, but I’ve seen Albion too many times to underestimate their rugged effectiveness.
The worst thing is it that the best we can play it was border line pathetic yesterday byrom and hernandez only ones who got more than 4 out of ten defence must be rebuilt cause its struggling to get a foothold in the championship and I dread to think if we get up again and had this defence for the third time .only positive was a point we didn’t deserve will it get better it must surely but honestly we are not that good even when we’ve managed 3points missing gibbs big time reminds me of skip abit .
Hard to watch. £30+ I could have spent on a lovely bit of lunch. I suspect more people will (if they aren’t already) take this view. Even if we get promoted. (especially if we get promoted?). But then again NCFC benefit greatly from having such a vast geographical area of support to call upon. Hayden in/Gibbs back will be good but I’m struggling with the volume of injuries over the last few seasons which consistently hamper us. Brighter point: Smith is making better substitute decisions.
Tim Ball says
Your dad got it 100% correct Gary.
I’ve just replied to my mate Trev on WhatsApp and said the same.
Hanley and Byram are both right footed playing on the left.
Okay Sara is left footed but on other occasions we haven’t had a left footer there, that makes building quick attacks on the left very difficult.
People moan about Kenny, who admitted he was poor yesterday, but who else have we got to play holding midfielder at the moment 🤔
He is no more a holding midfielder than I am a big fat parrot but needs must.
No Gibbs, Sorensen and Hayden I’m afraid.
However I do think there should have been a plan B once it was clear how bad Isaac’s injury was.
We don’t learn. Look at the situation with Normann last season.
We were told Isaac would miss 6-7 games, well you can double that now.
The problem at left back is nearly as bad.
So until we get a better balance in the side I don’t think we will be a smooth outfit.
From what I’ve been told there was more atmosphere on Mars than Carrow Road yesterday.
Our fans are the best out there, humiliated by Stuart Webber and fed absolute garbage in the EPL and no doubt really apprehensive about a return to the wonders of the Premier League but I do think the team need the fans behind them.
Imagine being back in the mid nineties until Nigel Worthington came.
How would we have responded to 2nd in the league after 10 games after years of championship awfulness?
We would be ecstatic ( I went most weeks then ) and cheering the boys on.
We all loved Daniel Farke, but I think he all spoiled us in the championship and there is a feeling, of dare I say it entitlement?
A young lad by the name of Teddy was absolutely furious with Saturdays performance on Canary Call, I was worried he might have a heart attack!!!!, This is after 6wins and a draw in 7 games😱
Without a holding midfielder and left back added to a pretty up and down start I will take 2nd in the league anyday.
Oh come on a big fat parrot would be better than Mr Toothpaste.
Tim Ball says
Over my head that one Bernard 😂😂😂
After 58 years of following this club, I come to the conclusion we could win the League, FA and League cups qualify for Europe . There would be still many many supporters who would be on Canary Call every week (teddy) still finding everything they could find fault with.
Yea we scraped it against Bristol, fought back for a point against WBA , it was going to happen Saturday, Bruce may not be my cup of tea, but he does sort a defence that works, that puts the onus on the other team. I expected not a lot all else. However thought we would be far better than we were, I do find it strange that pro footballers struggle to put passes together, that is one of the basics. Struggle to break down teams is one thing, but basics should there. That is a tad worrying for me, we may be second but sometimes our play doesn’t appear worthy of that lofty place.
Still if the manager was happy with that and the way we play I would be calling for change strongly, but listening to Smith, clear he is frustrated as perhaps what some of us are. With upwards of 10 players away on International duty, he hasn’t got a lot to work with.
Don’t forget the passing out from the back, it’s great with players who have the level of skill to execute it correctly, sadly we do not.
When our goalkeeper has the ball, it is nervy to watch., it’s only a matter of time before a really high pressing team will catch him well and truly.
Guess he must be playing that way under orders, if so Deano change the orders.
Good article Gary and as always some measured comments, sadly its really difficult at the moment to even work up the enthusiasm to respond to what I’m seeing week after week.
It’s now reached the stage where we’re also being told by the likes of Will Jennings to ‘stop whinging’ and by Rob Butler and Simon Lappin et al that ‘getting points is all that matters and we’re not here to be entertained’.
Well I’ve got news for these media presenters and pundits who are actually being payed money to be there, I personally do go to CR to be entertained to some degree and whilst we all understand that winning or drawing is the bottom line this has to be achieved in a certain way to keep fans coming through the door.
In my view Dean Smith has done absolutely nothing to endear himself to the fans since day one, it’s blindingly obvious that he can’t get out off press conferences soon enough and all he does is talk about high press, low blocks, number 8’s, 10’s and 6’s yawn yawn. I’m not sure how he can change things other than with performances on the pitch, he’s never going to have the charisma of Farke but at least he could play a brand of football that’s pleasing on the eye. It’s all very well him saying after games its not what he’s wanting to see but he’s the one picking the likes of McLean game after game and expecting things to change. I’ve heard the word class mentioned loads of times by pundits this season in relation to the players we have but I’m struggling to see it myself, we look bang average.
Coupled with the fact that Stuart Webber appears unwilling to engage with the press/fans and Delia and Michael openly said in their interview with Alice Piper that the club is being run well and there’s not likely to be much change forthcoming with Mark Attanasi, is it any real wonder that the atmosphere is as flat as the proverbial pancake.
I don’t profess to have the answers Gary but I do know that something has to change at NCFC in the near future to keep fans like me on board, I’ve never considered myself a glass half empty sort of bloke but my goodness it’s hard to stomach the sort of garbage we’re being subjected to.
Your headline mentioned the word joy in relation to the passing game we’re playing, I think you might be stretching the dictionary meaning of joy a tad too far.