West Ham opener – a familiar story I’m afraid

PUBLISHED: 09:16 20 February 2016

City fans look on as Dimitri Payet scores West Ham's first goal. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

City fans look on as Dimitri Payet scores West Ham's first goal. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

©Focus Images Limited +447814 482222

If I had to select one incident from this season to epitomise Norwich City’s unerring ability to shoot themselves in the foot when apparently in control of a game it would be West Ham’s game changing first goal last Saturday.

Not only did it involve a string of individual errors, but it also emphasised just how poor City’s defending as a unit can be.

If you watch the replays you will see that the move starts with a West Ham defender penned in his own corner by Cameron Jerome and forced to simply boot a clearance up the line. Andy Carroll wins an unchallenged header, then Sebastien Bassong isn’t quick enough to his man, who has the freedom to lay the ball off into the path of Victor Moses and the winger, having seen the potential of the situation quicker than his marker, Russell Martin, is in full stride with the defender trailing hopelessly five yards in his wake.

Timm Klose is never going to outpace Moses, but Robbie Brady does well to get across from the left to half stop the West Ham player. At this point Klose has the chance to clean up, but instead of committing fully to the challenge as Moses does, he goes theatrically to ground, apparently expecting the free-kick that might have been forthcoming in the Bundesliga.

Despite John Ruddy’s excellent save to keep out Moses’ shot, only Johnny Howson is anywhere near the loose ball and Dimitri Payet has no problem in converting, which raises the question of the whereabouts of City’s other centre back. Checks of the TV replay show Sebastien Bassong jogging into the penalty box only after Moses has checked back, broken through two challenges and forced the save, which hardly suggests a burning desire to rescue the situation.

However, there are other issues. Firstly, why was City’s back four square on the halfway line when West Ham had explosive pace available in the form of Moses? Also, why were three of them within five yards of one another on the right touchline so that one ball effectively took all of them out of the game?

Inevitably, people will reasonably ask why the coaching staff haven’t eliminated such mental aberrations but as Dean Ashton pointed out on radio, coaches and managers can’t think for players in a game situation. Having said that, it does raise the question of whether a specialist defensive coach might improve matters.

Certainly something needs to be done to improve City’s concentration levels, which are still not consistently high enough, as evidenced again by the equaliser when Mark Noble ran 20 yards completely unmarked before picking his spot.

Like many people I watched Leicester’s ultimately futile attempt to hold on against Arsenal with 10 men on Sunday and was struck by how disciplined they were. I genuinely don’t believe that Leicester’s defenders are significantly better individually than City’s, but as a unit they are currently light years ahead and are supported by a midfield that is not only tireless but also rarely gives the ball away cheaply.

While Alex Neil was right to emphasise how much better last week’s general performance had been, it can’t obscure the fact City’s defensive frailty and apparent lack of mental toughness when it comes to closing out games is pushing them ever closer to the relegation cliff edge.

I’d just like to finish with a quick reminder for anyone interested in what the Canaries Trust is all about.

On Thursday, February 25 we are holding our AGM in the Top of the Terrace at Carrow Road at 7.15pm followed by a question and answer session at 8pm with Iwan Roberts.

Admission is free to all so please come along and meet us!

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