Yes, we’ve got our Norwich City back, but we don’t want this one, thanks
06:30 25 October 2014
Autumn is supposed to be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but at Carrow Road it’s rapidly turning into one of frustration and growing disquiet.
City are currently throwing away points faster than an oak tree sheds leaves in a high wind and the heady optimism of August and September has almost totally dissipated. Hardly surprising when just six points out of 18 have been garnered against largely mediocre opposition.
As the Canaries completed a rather unconvincing win at Blackpool last month the travelling fans chanted “We’ve got our Norwich back”. What they meant was the exciting, buccaneering City of the Paul Lambert era where opponents were regularly outscored, but what we have now looks rather more Hughtonesque.
Throughout last season City were guilty of ponderous build-ups, lack of quality supply to the strikers and an apparent inability to come up with viable alternative strategies. Sound familiar?
Currently there seems to be some sort of unwritten rule that the ball must not be delivered into a dangerous area unless the move has first passed through both centre-backs and at least one full-back as well as the full panoply of midfielders.
Contrast that with Fulham’s goal on Saturday. A mislaid pass was intercepted and four players broke towards the City goal at full pelt with the ball moved quickly and decisively. Similarly on Tuesday, laughable defending was speedily punished, yet City seem to eschew such single-mindedness.
To his credit, Neil Adams has made changes to formations and personnel in the last couple of games. However, what’s worrying is the underlying tactical approach doesn’t appear to have changed.
Of course it’s debatable where the main problem lies. There is certainly a case for saying that, on paper at least, this is the strongest overall squad in City’s history, so are the players under-performing or is the manager failing to extract their full potential?
There will be those who will point to possession statistics to back up Adams’ belief that City are merely experiencing an extended run of bad luck, but what value is there in overwhelming control of the ball when there is so little end product? Once again on Tuesday less than a third of City’s shots were on target.
The fundamental problem, an inability to unlock packed defences, remains and still City build laboriously from the back allowing the opposition time to organise and settle into position. As I’ve said before, there is nothing inherently wrong with a controlled build-up as long as it results in a chance, but too often in City’s case it just meanders into blind alleys.
Defenders love the game to be played in front of them, but hate to be turned. However, in the early stages on Tuesday, when Leeds held a higher line, Cameron Jerome was on the shoulder of the last man several times looking for balls into the channel which never came.
While I’m not an advocate of the long ball game I do think it’s vital to keep opponents guessing about where attacks will come from. In City’s case there is no apparent desire to attack the heart of the defence and consequently cover on the wide players is constantly doubled or trebled, making it harder to reach the byline.
At the moment City’s predictability makes it too easy for opposing teams to sit deeper and deeper and so restrict the area they have to defend. In the latter stages of the Leeds match there were often 21 players in a third of the pitch. Try passing through that. What’s certain is that any honeymoon period for Neil Adams is well and truly over. Likeable as he is, the hard truth is that he has to solve his recurring problem and solve it quickly.