Ouch. That stung.
Football’s ability to bring you crashing back to Earth if, or when, you’ve been getting overly giddy rarely fails.
Two four-goal wins in two games had us believing that David Wagner had sprinkled over Colney some of the same magic dust he used so successfully at Huddersfield, but Vincent Kompany’s Burnley took no time at all to knock that mad notion on the head.
There will be no fairytale.
The Clarets’ ruthless exposure of City’s defensive fragilities was a stark reminder of what a good team looks like and how far we are from being one.
Being flat-track bullies is fine if your aim is to hover around the top six with the hope of sneaking into one of the playoff places, but to give yourself even a sniff of the automatics you have to be able to go toe-to-toe with the best in the division. And we’re not good enough to.
In case you’re wondering, our record against the current top six is…
- West Brom (h) – Draw 1-1
- Watford (a) – Lost 1-2
- Luton (h) – Lost 0-1
- Sheffield United (a) – Draw 2-2
- Burnley (a) – Lost 0-1
- Middlesbrough (h) – Lost 1-2
- Luton (a) – Lost 1-2
- Watford (h) – Lost 0-1
- Burnley (h) – Lost 0-3
And for the record…
- Goal For – 6
- Goals Against -15
- Total Points – 2
Then, of course, there’s the conundrum known as Carrow Road – one league win in their last ten.
Dean Smith was clearly a problem and was, eventually, addressed but, as has been said many times, wasn’t the only problem. Another was that this squad, when exposed to quality teams, isn’t good enough to beat them.
But, as painful as it was, Wagner will have learned more from yesterday’s horror show than he did from the two comfortable wins. He’ll now know more about those who can handle the heat when the stakes are at their highest and those who can’t.
It was also a reminder to him, as if he needed reminding, of how error-prone and, at times, lily-livered this group can be.
Wagner can do little to change what he has to work with between now and the end of the season, but some cards will have been marked for when he gets down to the post-season squad assessment.
One of the big decisions will have to be around the goalkeeping position and, let’s face it, the future of Tim Krul.
The Dutchman has been brilliant for this club, let’s not forget that, and has been front and centre of some wonderful moments, but his return to the side in place of Angus has been an uncomfortable watch.
His experience and command of those in front of him are presumably why Wagner handed him the shirt ahead of Gunn Jr, but his awkwardness with the ball at his feet is becoming ever more apparent. He got away with a couple against Preston and Coventry – either bailing himself out or being bailed out by others – but not so yesterday.
His eighth-minute cock-up, following a start in which we were already under pressure, set the tone for the afternoon. And playing catch-up against a team of Burnley’s quality rarely ends well.
All ifs and buts of course, but despite being under the pump early on, if it stays at 0-0 and City eventually gain a foothold in the game then who knows how it could have played out.
Those key moments are on which the outcome of a game hinges. Tim knows that and won’t be able to explain why he did what he did in that split-second.
There’s no escaping though that we were second-best all afternoon. At 3-0 up, the Clarets went into containment mode and so it was clear City would have more of the ball in the latter stages, but it was game over well before then.
All in all, it was a painful lesson learned for head coach, players, and supporters. One for which the only option is to dust ourselves down, remind ourselves that we don’t have to play teams of Burnley’s quality every week, and try and right some of the wrongs at Bristol City next Saturday.
We said it would be a useful yardstick. Now we know.
And one can’t help but admire the work done at Turf Moor. A club that found itself relegated alongside us last summer has managed to reinvent itself and is now wholly unrecognisable from the one nurtured for the best part of a decade by Sean Dyche.
The perfect example of how to do it.
For us, there’s now an uphill battle ahead to make the top six. Yesterday’s defeat saw us drop to tenth and having played a game more than two of the teams above us – Millwall (7th) and Blackburn (8th) – there isn’t too much room for any more Burnley-type performances.
That we only have three games left against the current top six can only be a good thing but, of those teams now above us, we still have to go to Blackburn and Millwall, and entertain Sunderland.
If we did somehow manage to squeak into the top six, that stinking record against the good sides would need to be rectified and sharpish.
But, as the saying goes, we go again… at Bristol City. Let’s make sure yesterday was merely a blip on an otherwise upward curve.
We came down to Earth with a bump, just like the Chinese balloon. But I refuse to believe that our previous two wins were just new manager bounce. Wagner will get the best from his squad, it won’t be enough to get us to Wembley but given time and a little bit of dosh he could build a classy team, and the bleak muddle that has been thrown our way is coming to an end but not overnight. Still better the possibility of a local derby with the Binners next season rather than a regular thrashing by the Prem big boys.
Men vs boys, pro footballers the mistakes were Sunday league at best. Burnley did it while we hung on to smudger who didn’t improve one part of the team or player.
Kompany had us sussed out knew the weakness and exposed it perfectly, just as many had done in Farke’s time. Fans have been calling for defensive players and nothing moved, we need them across the back line. While Max is awesome going forward, there is a reason he is still here, with all the big names being said to be targeting him. I have little doubt the two he turned down are the bottom two. nearly through the trap door. He got nowhere near the guy for one of the goals. As for the other goal who was picking him up, who should have gone with him, all ball-watching and leaving it to someone else. I won’t go for Krul he has taken enough stick, everywhere since being back.
Hanley has had some great moments but equally bad ones, Omobamidele is young learning and has been very good, Giannoulis always had question marks over the defensive side of his game. McClean well that was all the good work chucked out of the window.
that is two coaches who have tried to make these guys able to play out from the back with varying degrees of failure and success. But every time they come up against a side that presses really well they cannot handle it. Like trying to convert a bricklayer to a computer technician.
The defence needs an over haul, as much as I love Krul that must surely be it for him as No1, Hope Gunny’s injury is ok for Bristol. that will not be a walk in the park either.
Love to hear your thoughts on our set piece coach ? From both corners we had no plan on how to stop them and when we get one it’s the reverse no plan to put them under pressure,
His head must be in Nashvil or wherever his Country and Western singer lives as it’s not improved our fame plan
Cannot say we had one if judging by the defending and attacking corners, either he is still a lodel or the players cannot grasp another aspect to the game.
Bill H says
The set piece coach is clearly out of his depth but Max Aarons weakness in the air is a real liability.
Neil Leggat says
Totally,totally correct, I’m just glad I don’t have to pay to see it!
MYSTIC KEV says
Spot on Gary the last two weeks have been like putting a clean fresh nappie on a newborn baby and then suddenly realising that nappie is still full of the same shite . Burnley are a slick side but the were very much helped by the usual culprits giving them a helping hand as they usaly do when we play anyone decent afraid mr wagner got hullava job turning the tide with a few of yesterday’s team still playing.
The big word in my house yesterday was Ooops we did it again.
Many comments after the gain didn’t even mention Krul but blasted Hanley if any thing he saved TK blushers a few minutes earlier with a sliding clearance then was the last man on the line again trying to save the day.
Hanley isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but even on a bad day he gives 100% what more can you ask.
Kompany worked out stopping Aarons and Giannoulis from getting forward would stop city and both got the full attention from the Burnley midfield and with Brownhill in the Ref ear all the time it looked like he was controlling the game for him.
A poor day at the office so let’s hope for some good news on the Gunn Jr front before the next game, to many players reverted to being a Smith Team the two week break didn’t go to plan we looked rusty and forgot all that good stuff in the previous games.
Roger Cole says
As well as the tactical tweaks already mentioned I realised in the second half (when we were attacking the Barclay end) how cleverly the Burnley defence was lying deep. At the same time, their front three pressed high keeping our two wing backs on defensive duties and our two centre backs stretched. On the rare occasions Pukki or Sargent got a ball to run on to they ran out of road, there was no space in behind to run on to through balls. Sometimes a low press or even no press works.
Interesting that you take such a pessimistic view, Gary. You sound a little like those who were booing Krul every time he got the ball. Maybe Dean Smith had a point? The Carrow Rd crowd were no help to the players yesterday despite a much improved performance and style of play. The mistakes were horrendous and proof that we need two £10m centre backs, not another winger. But having been to the two previous away games and seen the improvement in the team, I was really annoyed at how quickly fans got on the players’ backs yesterday. Some of them couldn’t wait to boo their own players. We’re never going up if this carries on.
Gary Gowers says
I prefer to see it as realistic rather than pessimistic, but take your point.
I’m no boo-er though. Have never done it and wouldn’t start now.
PS. Dean Smith was wrong – none of it is the crowd’s fault IMHO.
If you are getting mauled by a basic high press, yet continue to play it out from the back, the fans have a duty to mock their players. Blaming the fans for something easily fixed on the pitch, by a player with an ounce of common sense, is a very strange angle.
Goal keeper is an issue if you want to play out from the back. Krull has always been better (up until now) than Gunn at this. Angus great shot stopper, rabbit in the headlights with the ball at his feet.
CB: Hanley still can’t play with the ball at his feet. big Andy suddenly looked suspect under intense pressure – he needs to experience more of that to get better and I back him to do so. Getting a first choice CB to partner him is number one on the summer sort out list for Wagner.
CDM/quarterback – still missing Ollie Skipp, is he free yet to sign back up with us? Gibbs will be good but is better higher up the pitch as is Sara and Nunez. McLean, for me, is not the answer. Sorensen, not seen him play well enough there for us but he is amazing if you play him anywhere else. 2nd thing that needs sorting this summer then.
If we want to press like Burnley (and I think we do) then Teemu is a bench player at best and Dowell too, he is just too slow. Sara is a bit leaden footed but has lots of other good qualities but the press is not one of them. The best high pressing midfielders are probably Gibbs and McLean. Sargent needs to lead the line and the press. I’m still hopeful of a playoff birth but as Gary’s table of results against the better teams leaves me doubting we will. It’s the hope that kills us!
A,disappointing afternoon Gary.
I was so looking forward to the game that Saturday couldn’t arrive quickly enough. However, the combination of Burnley’s razor sharp start and our sloppy play soon crushed the optimism.
McLean had already made one major error when Krul intervened to gift a goal to the visitors. It was truly an horrendous error and one which must surely cost him his place in the line up. It simply wasn’t good enough. His handling and kicking game left much to be desired for the rest of the afternoon.
So poor was our display that it was almost impossible to select a man of the match. I settled on Núñez, whose all,action cameo put his colleagues to shame.
At least we don’t have to face Burnley again this season, they are streets ahead of every other side in the league.
MYSTIC KEV says
They gave McLean mom what a joke got 4in most papers just a joke
Jon B says
Talk about a reality check Gary against a Burnley side who seemed to be in third gear.
The next few games will tell us much more about if Wagner can get a better tune than Smith from the same players.
Tim Ball says
I was disappointed Gary, that’s an understatement by the way ! , but not really surprised.
Dean Smith had to go even I realise that, and much sooner than he did, but as I have said before he was not the only problem. Recruitment has been poor, even SW must admit that.
Burnley however have done similar to what we did under Daniel Farke, with a mixture of bargains and the loan system. Brownhill mentioned that Vincent Kompany had them in a week earlier for pre-season training than the rest of the championship, it is certainly paying dividends.
Krul or Gunn ? I really feel for Angus as he had done nothing wrong. So hopefully he will be given another chance fitness allowing at Bristol on Saturday.
I still think Hanley and Omobamidele are easily good enough for this league though it must be said they didn’t look themselves on Saturday. I still think we need a proper no 6 in front of them, Kenny did very well in the Preston and Coventry games but I am not at all convinced he can do this role against the better teams.
Let’s not crucify Krul, who as you say Gary has been brilliant for us, or pile pressure on Wagner.
I bet our manager learnt far more yesterday than he did against either Preston or Coventry.
David C. says
Another good article Gary. I made comments during the earlier part of the season more than once, (when most comments were that with the squad we’ve got we should be top two) that we are where we are because of the squad we have, which at the very best is mid table championship. Burnley will do well in the prem’ without much addition which is the difference between them and Norwich during our two title winning seasons walking away with the championship playing eye catching football, scoring goals but tellingly leaking goals as well but getting away with it, we all knew we were doomed to failing because our defence was so poor, buying players for millions such as Gibson for an example, our defence is crap, has been our achilles heal for seasons now, but Gary you know as well as I that the real problem with Norwich is Webber and until that position is rectified there’ll be no improvement. Another point I made month’s ago about our squad was that we wouldn’t even make the play-off’s and I’m sticking by that – new manager or not, but I believe Wagner ( any manager ) is an improvement on Smith again though, you can only work with the tools you’ve got.
David C. says
I meant to add in relation to Webber’s recruitment is that of the money he’s spent trying to replace Skipp and Buendia who were our architects, he could have had Billings but wouldn’t pay him the wages
Graham Hilder says
It seems utterly obvious to me that our main problem is midfield, Gabriel Sara must be the most one dimensional footballer ever to come out of Brazil, Kenny McLean is our best midfielder and that says it all really.
I think the best solution would be to play Sorensen alongside McLean to at least have some solidity in the middle of the park and play a lone striker because we are so wide open it’s absolutely laughable.
MYSTIC KEV says
McLean is part of yhe problem can’t tackle and physically weak despite plenty of effort he’s had his time here .
Could I have your email address for an article please Gary? You did post it for me once, and I cocked it up. Sorry and thanks, please.
Gary Gowers says
Hi mate … email@example.com