Happy Hammers are proof that things are well in Norwich City’s camp
10:00 03 October 2015
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The exuberance of the West Ham players’ celebrations at salvaging a point and the level of disappointment felt by City fans as we left Upton Park tell you all you need to know about how far the club has progressed under Alex Neil, writes Robin Sainty.
While it could be argued that West Ham are currently in a false position, this is a side that had just beaten Manchester City at the Etihad and could have topped the Premier League with a win last Saturday, yet they were second best to City for long periods.
What’s so impressive about the Canaries these days is that, after the frenetic, shoot-out style of the Paul Lambert era, the ultra conservatism of Chris Hughton and the constant line-up and formational changes of Neil Adams, we are now seeing a side that looks at ease with its game plan and comfortable in possession, but with the patience to wait for an opportunity rather than try to force one.
Long balls are used sparingly, with the centre backs pulling wide whenever John Ruddy has the ball, and if they are covered then a midfielder is usually available centrally.
Moves frequently start slowly as opponents are manoeuvred around by the ball being switched across the back until space opens up that can be exploited, at which point the quality on the ball and the speed of thought of the midfield unit come into play.
Of course, there are still issues to address. Neil will be unhappy with the lead-up to both West Ham goals, and the sloppiness that crept into City’s passing in the latter stages of the first half, but the error-free footballer has yet to be invented and it would be a boring game if he (or she) ever was. How many goals are actually scored without a mistake of some sort being made?
I’m less worried by the lack of goals from the lone striker as the system encourages City’s attacking midfielders to arrive in the box in numbers and all of them are proficient when a chance presents itself. In fact, the number of players who are more than capable of finding the net actually makes City more dangerous than if they were reliant on one 20-goal-a-season striker.
It was clear from Neil’s post-match comments that he realised how much his players had given and whilst it’s easy to highlight defensive mistakes, the reality is that City could, and probably should, have made the game safe well before the end.
Ultimately, despite the failure to secure all three points, there were many more positives than negatives on Saturday.
The games don’t get any easier, though, and Leicester are the surprise package of the season so far, showing a similarly free spirit to the Canaries, so today’s game could well be a thriller.
It will be preceded by two other events, with the league-wide protest at the spiralling cost of watching football, organised by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), as well as the club’s collection for child refugees.
While the FSF are focusing on the cost of tickets for away fans, my own view is that for real change to occur two things have to happen.
Firstly, any restructuring has to be league-wide and, secondly, it must ultimately benefit all fans, not just those who travel.
Also, none of us could support anything that put Norwich City at a disadvantage.
This is a complex issue generating many differing opinions, but while many clubs, including City, are already discounting some away tickets, with the cost of watching football in the UK the highest in Europe, most fans would agree that a wider initiative is needed if more people aren’t to be priced out of watching the game we all love.