Phelan has plenty to be getting on with at Carrow Road
09:16 29 November 2014
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Brighton can now be added to the litany of indifferent teams leaving Carrow Road with a point, although the reality is that it could easily have been three.
Once again Neil Adams shuffled the starting line-up with Gary O’Neil, a player who deviated from the usual bland sound bites after the Forest game to suggest that “people just need to be reminded of their duties and what it takes sometimes”, finding himself among the City substitutes with an apparent groin problem.
Carlos Cuellar, who had been excellent at Forest, also joined O’Neil to make way for the reintroduction of a ring rusty Jos Hooiveld, whose clumsy challenge on Adrian Colunga to concede a penalty nearly cost City the game.
Nevertheless, quite how City managed to move from a position of total dominance to being behind with minutes left is difficult to comprehend, but after an initial flurry of chances at 2-1 up the familiar inability to close a game out reared its ugly head again.
The speed and conviction of attacks began to slow, while the diamond formation which often saw Bradley Johnson wide on the left when he might have been better employed alongside Alex Tettey screening the back four, left Brighton plenty of inviting midfield space to work with.
What was also worrying was the apparent lack of energy from the City technical area as the game visibly started to slip away.
For much of the second half there was little sign of animation, but at least Gary Hooper was finally allowed an opportunity and couldn’t have made his point more effectively. One chance, one goal is what differentiates genuine strikers from other forwards. Why Hooper has become a forgotten man in Adams’ squad is unclear, particularly when Lewis Grabban has been so palpably lacking in form and confidence for weeks, but perhaps he will now have a more active role to play.
Mike Phelan’s arrival couldn’t come quickly enough for many fans who hope that he will bring some focus to what is increasingly looking less like a defined strategy and more like an exercise in randomly trying different things in the hope that something will work.
However, let’s not forget that, like Adams, he has no previous experience as a number one so is something of an unknown quantity, despite his impeccable coaching pedigree.
It would be wrong to expect too much too soon, but it must be hoped that his input can reinvigorate a squad and management team that appear to have lost their way since the heady days of September.
Adams himself now seems unrecognisable from the manager who showed such decisiveness and clarity of purpose during City’s early-season successes. While I applaud his desire to play attractive football at all times, there have to be concessions made to the state of the game and the need to be defensively solid.
It’s one thing to have an attacking philosophy, but to consistently leave yourself wide open to the counter-attack is naive in the extreme and City have now developed a glass jaw that would have given Audley Harrison’s a run for its money.
It does seem that as wins continue to be elusive there is a tendency for City’s discipline to break down in the latter stages of games, with players deviating from the script in an attempt to make something happen, the fatal short corner at Forest being a prime example.
On Saturday the City midfield was again caught upfield en masse, resulting in Johnson having to haul down Gary Gardner to earn a second yellow card, yet the formation should have involved a holding midfielder preventing an opponent from having an unchallenged run at the back four.
There’s certainly plenty for Phelan to get his teeth into.