Norwich City need to switch on from very beginning
11:04 16 September 2011
During the last few days the subject of Mark Halsey has been done to death, so I don’t intend to dwell on his undoubtedly inept performance on Sunday, simply because, in my view, it masks the real reasons for our defeat.
Having said that, even a neutral onlooker would surely question whether, had Leon Barnett smashed his elbow into Wayne Rooney’s face in front of the Stretford End, Mr Halsey would have proved quite so myopic.
It doesn’t take much to fuel conspiracy theories, and four penalties in four games is ample kindling, but if we are going to be truly objective we should look no further than the gifting of an early lead and a lack of penetration.
Having started the season so promisingly we suddenly looked like a side that didn’t totally believe in itself.
However, rather than talk too much about City I’d like to concentrate on the visitors, because I believe we can learn a lot from them in the art of “winning ugly”, a phrase that Paul Lambert has used several times this season.
Albion came with a game plan of being hard to break down, compact in the middle and using the pace and manoeuvrability of Long and Odemwingie to ensure that we could never feel comfortable at the back.
I genuinely believe that they would have played no differently had we not gifted them the lead, and that a draw was their primary target. However, having got ahead they showed what has to be done to grind out a result at this level.
It wasn’t pretty and it bent the laws a long way, but whenever we got up a head of steam another player went down and stayed down, Foster took forever over a goalkick, or, more impressively, their midfield and front two put together a decent spell of possession to ease the pressure on their back four.
They did little to threaten another goal, other than Dorrans’ thunderbolt, but they didn’t need to, because they knew a clean sheet would guarantee the points. That doesn’t mean that they sat back and invited pressure, just that they didn’t overextend themselves and get caught on the break.
In fact, the BBC stats for Sunday’s game show that Albion had the lion’s share of possession and, significantly, more efforts on target. I don’t recall Foster being required to make a save of any note.
Of course, possession in itself guarantees nothing, as Liverpool found out at Stoke, but any manager or player will tell you that it’s always easier to run when you have the ball than when you’re trying to win it back.
Don’t misunderstand me, City in full flow is a thing of beauty. However, whilst sticking to your principles is admirable it doesn’t mean that the good guys always come out on top. Just ask Blackpool.
Paul Lambert has already intimated that we need to be more pragmatic in the Premier League, and the most urgent requirement is better concentration at the back.
In League One and the Championship we were often less than secure in defence but could outscore opponents, but that approach is no longer viable. A staple cliché of team talks is that you start every game with a point.
We have to give ourselves a chance, which means not having to come from behind, something we’ve had to do in three of our four games.
If we can do so we have a platform on which to build. Of course, if we fail it could be a long season, but time is still on our side. This is not the time to lose faith.