There’s still a case for the defence to answer if Canaries are to seriously threaten play-offs
PUBLISHED: 16:30 30 January 2017
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Back-to-back wins, a clean sheet and now just two points from the playoff places. If it wasn’t for players rejecting moves to East Anglia the past week would have been a near perfect one.
Supporters of most teams would relish the prospect of facing a side without a win in nine under their new manager.
But in a season where it has felt like another disastrous result is never far around the corner, Birmingham’s woeful record sounded like a typically poor one that this Norwich side might just inadvertently help to banish at Carrow Road.
The away side’s performance though proved true to their form under Gianfranco Zola. Toothless in front of goal and wasteful in possession, it turned out to be a comfortable victory for City which was masked by a modest 2-0 scoreline.
It seems harsh to complain after such a win, but the passage of play preceding Cameron Jerome’s opener highlighted why the root of Alex Neil’s problems still lie in a fragile defence.
Moments before Jerome brilliantly won the ball on the halfway line and waltzed his way into the Birmingham penalty area, Lukas Jutkiewicz rose unmarked and guided his header against the bar as Norwich defenders stood and watched.
It was a wake-up call that wasn’t heeded as later in the first half Craig Gardner was afforded the same freedom in the box only to see his effort sail over. Another unmarked player, another let off.
Norwich were guilty of missing gilt-edged chances of their own. The link-up play in midfield was some of the best we have seen this campaign, even if the same quality was found lacking in finishing. Steven Naismith may have rued a hatful of chances, but his continued involvement in attack was a far cry from some of his performances earlier in the season where he struggled to have any impact.
But we know City’s weakness has never been scoring goals, it’s keeping them out at the other end and those two moments highlighted that it’s an area that still requires massive improvement if Neil is to turn two consecutive wins into a play-off push.
Either way, after five wins in the last six games at Carrow Road it feels as though we have some kind of form to rely on when on home turf at least.
It’s the next two fixtures away from home though that pose a far bigger test. Six defeats in the last seven away Championship fixtures screams relegation form, not that of play-off contenders.
City have suffered two more defeats on the road than any other team in the top half of the table this season and it’s a hoodoo Neil desperately needs to address to ensure this new found confidence from positive home results isn’t drained as soon as the squad leaves Norfolk.
You have to go back to October for the last away victory in front of the live TV cameras - that came at Molineux courtesy of Robbie Brady’s winner. Ironically the Irishman could be preparing for a Premier League fixture by the time City depart for Wales at the weekend.
It’s difficult to see how the club will turn down an offer reportedly in the region of £9 million from Burnley or another interested party. With Harry Toffolo being loaned out, Neil says that he will only let Brady go if he can find a replacement. Yet with two targets turning down moves to the club in a matter of days faith that City will actually be able to do so is waning.
With deadline day looming, it’s been another window where serious questions have to be asked as to how we conduct business and why we struggle so much to get deals over the line when other clubs do not. Unfortunately that’s a far more deep rooted issue than improving a run of bad results away from home.