Booing was unhelpful ahead of inevitable tough top-flight spell for Norwich City
06:30 31 October 2015
I think we all realised that City would hit a bad patch at some point this season. The only real surprise has been how suddenly it has arrived and just how bad it appears to be.
Leaving Upton Park in late September after a near-perfect away performance against a very good side there was every reason to believe that, with nine points from seven games and two home matches interspersed with a trip to the Premier League’s bottom club to look forward to, City could reasonably expect to be in a comfortable position by Halloween.
Three defeats later the world looks a very different place and with three games in the next four against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, league points could be at a premium in the coming month.
I wrote last week that we could expect opposing sides to sit back and look to catch City on the break until such time as Alex Neil came up with an answer, and so it proved against West Brom, but what was really worrying about the performance was the fact that despite a noticeably more restrained approach to throwing players forward which limited the number of chances created, City still succumbed to a sucker punch.
The goal itself was horrible from a Canaries perspective as a quick break saw James McClean offered all the time in the world in the vacant right-back channel to pick out a cross of infinitely more quality than City’s much more numerous efforts that resulted in Salomón Rondón soaring above Sebastien Bassong to head home.
And once again it had been coming as City’s season-long struggle to defend effectively against balls into the box continued.
Just before half-time Craig Dawson had somehow managed to bounce a free header from four yards out over the City crossbar before Rondon had headed narrowly over as Bassong once again jumped like a man whose feet had been encased in concrete.
Defenders who are good on the ball are a great thing in principle, but unless they can do their fundamental job of keeping the ball out of the net it’s all just window dressing. Despite his limitations there were times on Saturday when I found myself yearning for Michael Turner, to whom a lost defensive header was a personal insult.
While City had swept forward regularly in the opening half-hour they created relatively few real problems for the typically obdurate defence that Tony Pulis had put his faith in, and it was only from wide positions that the home side were able to create opportunities, with any central passing becoming over-intricate and easily snuffed out by the massed ranks of striped shirts.
No one could argue that City are infinitely easier on the eye than Pulis’ team, but unless the Premier League start offering points for artistic merit this is starting to look like a long, hard season unless Neil can resolve his side’s defensive deficiencies.
My other big concern was the reaction to going behind. Rather than regroup and stick to the game plan the ball suddenly became a hot potato for too many City players, and the high pressing that characterised their early-season success was noticeable by its absence.
However, these are still the same players who started the season so well and while the last thing that City need today is a visit to the Etihad we must at all costs continue to back Neil, who is having to learn hard lessons but hasn’t become a bad manager overnight, despite the unnecessary booing at the end of the game.
At Wembley we all stood together. That’s easy in successful times, but the true measure of support is doing so when the chips are down.