Don’t let Simon Hooper’s performance cloud the real issue of the day for Norwich City boss
08:40 15 August 2015
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Simon Hooper seems destined to haunt my opening days.
Last season I had the dubious pleasure of watching him referee City’s game at Molineux. On that occasion he failed to punish three clear yellow card offences by Wolves players in the first 20 minutes and then, clearly panicking about having lost control of the game, booked the first City player to commit a foul of any consequence.
Mr Hooper’s reward for a less than stellar season in the Football League last season was to be given control of the League Two play-off final, yet in his very next game he was deemed fit to officiate three levels higher, a decision that provoked criticism from such high-profile ex-referees as Mark Halsey and Keith Hackett as soon as it was announced.
And that’s the most maddening aspect of Saturday’s fiasco; his peers could see it coming. By the way, I’m not suggesting that Hooper has any sort of bias against City; rather that he has been offered power far beyond his competence to wield it. As the Roman philosopher Posidonius put it “Swords should never be placed in the hands of children”.
But that’s enough about the referee, because Alex Neil will be well aware that the real issue to be tackled from last week’s game is how, having dominated possession, City found themselves 2-0 down in the first place.
The two biggest areas of concern cited by fans and pundits alike in pre-season have been whether City would be sufficiently clinical in front of goal and resilient enough in defence; Saturday’s events did little to allay those worries.
Both goals will have the coaching staff tearing their hair out (metaphorically in Neil’s case). In each case there was a lack of awareness and inability to identify and react quickly enough to danger and that must be rectified quickly, particularly if chances as inviting as that presented to Lewis Grabban earlier continue to be spurned.
Sloppy defending and missing gilt-edged chances while on top are hardly a blueprint for Premier League survival, let alone success, but it’s important to keep a sense of perspective.
One game into the season is hardly the time for over-reaction, but there was certainly plenty of that in the usual post-game phone-in on Radio Norfolk. In fact the very first caller declared that the game had proved that Alex Neil was “completely out of his depth” and should be sacked.
Now, if that’s going to happen after a game in which City had 62pc possession and the sympathy of the national media, I fear to think what will happen when the team actually play badly.
Today’s opponents looked less than impressive at Leicester last weekend, but will be a different proposition at the Stadium of Light and it will be interesting to see whether Yann M’Vila is given his debut after being sent off for a headbutt in the Under 21 game against City last week. He is an unpredictable force, described by his manager at Rubin Kazan as having “cockroaches in his mind”. Watch out for fireworks.
Regardless of what Sunderland may do, Neil will be aware that City can’t afford to offer the glass jaw that they did against Palace.
There were many positives from the game, with some excellent passing movements, but there are no points for pretty football. In the Championship, City’s quality allowed them to overcome moments of sloppiness, but they won’t have that luxury this season.
It’s an early start today, but it will be great to get back on the road. Last week has gone and a positive result today will completely change the mood for the better.
I see no reason why City can’t produce one, even without reinforcements.