There was no shame in losing to a Leicester side who look set to be this season’s Burnley, and for the game to be decided by a couple of ‘if only’ moments was, for me at least, an indication that David Wagner must be doing something right.
Wagner’s men will not face many sterner tests than they did last night.
In the final analysis, the Foxes were worthy winners but I’m not sure the gulf in class was as devastating as some have suggested. The margins, for all of Leicester’s supposed superiority, were still fine.
Sure, they were better than us in the key moments, which is why they won the game, but I’d suggest a team that’s able to bring Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Wilfred Ndidi, and Jamie Vardy on from the bench should be better than us.
If anything, it begs the question, how the hell did they manage to get relegated in the first place?
The ‘if only’ moments were obvious. If only Jack Stacey hadn’t misplaced a relatively simple pass to Gabriel Sara; if only Christian Fassnacht hadn’t leaned on Stephy Mavididi in the box; if only Kenny McLean’s shot had been an inch lower.
But games are full of those moments and are decided by them. The trick is to come out of the right side and so far this season we’ve just about managed it.
Not so last night against a team that player-for-player was a little bit better than us.
And, of course, against the good sides, you’re tested and pushed to your limit. You’re not given carte blanche to do all of the things that you’re good at and Leicester, particularly in the first half, didn’t allow us to hit that relentless rhythm that at times sees us overwhelm our opponents.
It takes a little more than that to unpick a Premier League defence, which is essentially what we were up against last night. Guile and invention are also needed, qualities that we don’t readily associate with this group – at least not in a plentiful supply.
It didn’t help that – for all the right reasons – Wagner opted to play an extra midfielder in the shape of Liam Gibbs, which left Ashley Barnes ploughing the lone furrow of a solo striker.
While it denied the Foxes the freedom in midfield that they enjoyed last Friday night last Southampton, and so served its purpose, Barnes was restricted to few touches and for most of the first half cut a forlorn, frustrated figure (even more so as he trudged off later on with what sounded like a worrying knee ligament injury).
That was the tactical trade-off though and had City gone in at half-time level, Wagner would probably have considered it a worthy one.
But back to those fine margins. The stray pass from Stacey and equally stray arm from Fassnacht undid a lot of the good work.
From thereon in it was always going to be a struggle with the ongoing risk that with Norwich pushing for an equaliser the Foxes would have increasingly open spaces to work in in an attacking sense.
And so it came to pass, but not before the champions-elect had been given a thorough examination by the Canaries in the second half.
While the football was more staccato than we have been used to, partly because Sara and McLean were not allowed to dictate the tempo, the desire, and appetite to chase, close down, and harry were undimmed, and through sheer effort, they took themselves to within just the diameter of a crossbar from pulling level.
Shane Duffy too can consider himself unlucky not to have notched when his close-range header was parried away by Mads Hermansen.
Unfortunately, it was the closest we would get to a goal and there was a horrible inevitability that having survived two scares, Leicester’s quality would generate chances at the other end. Vardy missed one when he should have scored by virtue of a ghastly first touch but not so Kacey McAteer when Dewsbury-Hall put one on a plate for him.
And that was pretty much it.
What is worth noting though is that last night, Wagner’s substitutions had a positive impact on the game last night – not something that’s been the case too often this season.
Barnes struggled but, in similar circumstances, Adam Idah made some headway against two outstanding centre-backs. Przemysław Płacheta – a half-time replacement for the ineffective Jon Rowe – also caused problems for the Foxes with his pace, and even Onel Hernandez, on for Fassnacht, was able to provide the usual energy but unusually some quality balls into the box.
Alas, quality in the final third was sporadic and was ultimately the difference between the two teams.
But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, on a disappointing night, there were still enough positives to suggest that our decent start to the season is more than a six-game wonder.
We have to just hope that Barnes’ knee injury isn’t as bad as first feared because without him our striking options are paper-thin. Time will tell.
Still 39 games to go, folks. Let’s not get too judgemental too soon.