Norwich City need to quickly learn the art of springing a surprise
06:30 24 October 2014
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Be honest, this is exactly how we expected Norwich City’s season to pan out isn’t it?
Subdued both on and off the pitch
1: What I found most disappointing about Tuesday’s game was that it had all the ingredients of a mouthwatering tie – under the floodlights, ‘orrible Leeds United, a large and vocal away crowd – yet for whatever reason the 90 minutes felt so flat and left me disappointed not just about the result, but the game as a whole. Even given our recent struggles to win at home, I’m not really sure why Norwich fans were so quiet?
A case of supply and demand
2: Last week’s BBC Price of Football survey, which found ticket prices have risen by more than twice the rate of inflation in the last two years, made for fascinating, though not exactly surprising, reading. On the same day I spotted an advert for tickets to the Leeds game against Leeds at £40 a pop. Staggering really for Tuesday night entertainment. It’s the simplest of economics however – a classic case of supply and demand. Those prices will only start to fall when the numbers attending do the same.
No sense in a Hooper loan
3: It was good to see Neil Adams dismiss any notion of Gary Hooper going on loan to Bolton. While the striker has become the latest target for some of the boo-boys, people should give him a bit of time to come back from injury. The guy’s striking talent at this level has been proven time and again. City just need to work out how to get the best out of him.
But Bennett deal could help City
4: Elliott Bennett, on the other hand, could do with a month or two away for some first-team football. Since returning from injury he’s not reached anywhere near the high standards of recent years.
Hopefully that’s simply down to ring-rustiness rather than anything more serious – but a successful run of games in League One could see him return to become an integral part of the squad for the second half of the season.
At the start of the term I predicted a fifth place Championship finish for the Canaries – and felt I would be happy for such a turnaround just one year after relegation. From the forecasting elsewhere this appeared to chime with many people’s views.
What is always harder to predict, of course, is whether that placement would lead to promotion following the lottery of the end of season play-offs.
This prediction was based on several factors; including a fear of ‘relegation hangover’, the inexperience of our manager, an assessment of the talent in the squad, the competitiveness of the Championship and an expectation that clubs would either raise their game or attempt to shut up shop against a team perceived as bigger, having just come out of the Premier League. It should come as no surprise therefore to those who expected such an outcome, that the season would bring with it both periods of repeated success – and times of struggle. And 13 games in, the Championship is playing perfectly to type with Norwich, lo and behold, sitting in fifth spot.
Yet even though many of us would have taken such a position before the season had begun, a couple of months in why does it now feel like a reason for disappointment?
The answer to that is that one thing pretty much every football fan is guilty of – getting that little bit carried away when the going gets good. It makes it harder to deal with the times when the going gets bad. How many of us have readjusted those earlier predictions within the last couple of weeks while the Canaries sat pretty at the top of the table? I know I did.
But the last four games, and the two paltry points that have come with them, have brought many of us down to earth with a bump – and been a reminder of why this is widely regarded as such a hard league to get out of.
It’s also made it crystal clear that you don’t get out of the Championship through luck – you have to earn that reward.
Over the course of 46 league games, Neil Adams and his team will face all manner of hurdles to try and overcome. If they do, promotion will be granted, but also deserved. And it’s clear the current challenge is how to conquer teams who have made it their tactic to put many men behind the ball, soak up the pressure and try and take the rare chances that may arise on the break.
The Canaries are caught in a vicious circle with clubs realising that such a tactic has a decent chance of bringing rewards, not just at Carrow Road, but even when City are the visitors.
Leeds on Tuesday, Fulham away and both Rotherham and Charlton at home were the football equivalent of the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. Different teams – similar game, similar outcomes.
It’s telling that in the last four games our opponents have mustered just 23 attempts at goal, but have taken eight points compared to City’s two. For the four games prior to these, the attempts tally was 58, but these led to just one point, compared to Norwich’s 10.
These teams clearly think you can let Norwich play the ball in front of you, side to side, up and down, allow them the opportunity to have long shots at goal – and still be in with the chance of snatching a point – or possibly three – with a classic counter attack.
And Norwich are struggling to overcome this. They’ve lost the art of springing a surprise – and even the substitutions are failing to impact the game. The best management teams will find a way around this. They will still secure the three points, forcing opposition managers to find a new tactic.
Norwich haven’t found that solution – and currently deserve their position amongst the chasing pack. Solve the puzzle and that pack will be chasing City once again. This is a massive test of Adams’ pedigree as a football boss.