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Monday, February 11, 2013
You get to a certain point of the year – Norwich City have made a needlessly-early exit from the FA Cup and don’t look as if they’re going either up or down – when you start looking towards the end of the season.
And for much of Saturday afternoon that moment cannot come soon enough.
It wasn’t that the performance in the Fulham game was bad – we’ve seen enough of those in recent years and this one simply doesn’t compare – rather that the match itself was completely uneventful.
When even the scoreboard gives up the ghost after 61 minutes you started to suspect there was not much danger of a goal.
While you have to make allowances for the possibility of preparations being made during the week for a more attack-minded front pairing of Grant Holt and Lucciano Becchio, the lingering feeling from Saturday was that it was left rather too late for an all-out assault for victory.
Fulham do have quality to spare in their squad, as Chris Hughton was wont to point out afterwards, in his usual over-polite and complimentary-to-the-opposition manner, but they are the kind of club that sometimes are really up for games and sometimes aren’t. And Saturday was one of their indifferent occasions.
With that amount of quality to call upon they should have been able to push on and win. Instead, they rather looked as if they had settled for a point long before us.
If this game was in isolation then you could shrug off City’s cautious approach.
But it was a repeat of the Newcastle match in that we seemed to adopt an attitude of concentrating on not conceding and if we managed to score, well, that would be an unexpected bonus.
We ought to stay up with at least a couple of places to spare, but we’re making it incredibly hard for ourselves at the moment.
If there’s a working title for the 2012/13 NCFC season’s review DVD it must surely be “Edging our way towards survival, one point at a time”.
Yes we have still got Southampton, Reading and Villa at home and Wigan away as the four fixtures in particular that we should be looking to win, but on recent showings you wonder whether all four will end up as draws.
It’s not encouraging, and that’s without any of the above-mentioned four teams finding a bit more form between now and the coming weeks.
Like a certain team at the foot of the table manging to win yesterday, for example.
Three points for Aston Villa almost leaves you to wonder: “Where is our next victory going to come from?”
On Saturday night a solid point against Fulham didn’t look too bad; it looked the fairly regular occurrence of late of no-one being able to do any better than us.
But having started the weekend seven points ahead of the drop zone and ended it only six to the good a few doubts will now start to surface again, especially with us facing two of the top six in our next couple of games.
Are we going to try to be more adventurous in either of those outings? Because if we hadn’t been able to hold out against either Arsenal or Manchester United the table would make a lot more grim reading for the Canaries now.
At times on Saturday you were willing the City bench to just try something else; anything to push men forward and attempt to get behind the Fulham defence.
An all-out approach in the first half against Tottenham earned an unexpected point, but that was in effect cancelled out by our safety-first approach on Saturday.
You couldn’t fault the efforts of Robert Snodgrass or Wes Hoolahan, while Bradley Johnson appeared to be taking a 10-pin bowling approach to matters of trying to knock down all the opposition with a ball.
Kamara’s cameo showed he is certainly athletic enough, but it was asking too much for Mark Schwarzer to suffer a second late torment at Carrow Road, havinbg previously been in goal for Middlesbrough in that 2005 epic 4-4 draw.
Oh for a fraction of the entertainment we saw that day.
Never mind unforgettable, Saturday was rather a ‘never-to-be-remembered’ occasion.
• HARD TO REMEMBER HOW THIS RANKS IN THE DULLNESS STAKES
So, Saturday’s game… the most dull since when, exactly? It’s hard to tell really, because I instantly put such games out of my mind.
I’m tempted to say Newcastle on January 19, but in recent years my bench mark has been the 0-0 draw at home to Walsall in September 2009, an afternoon so boring it left the EDP to reflect: “You wonder if the golden-goal tickets they sell at Walsall are done by the minute or the day.”
You’d love to say that Saturday was a complete one-off, but there will be more to come, if not this season then certainly next.
Football might be an entertainment business in some supporters’ eyes, but the Premier League variety is all about survival, not excitement. There will be more than one manager around who would happily see all 38 games pan out like Saturday’s as you’d be really unlucky to go down in most seasons with 38 points and a non-negative goal difference. It says a lot about Saturday that apart from some half-chances for Luciano Becchio that the biggest noise in the first half came when Kei Kamara began warming up in the 38th minute. And when a tedious first half edged towards its end an additional four extra minutes proved that you can really have too much of a bad thing.
At that point it was plain that both camps had settled for a point.
Saturday’s game was the sort of tactical struggle loved by coaches, but you wouldn’t want to see too many more when you’re trying to sell expensive match tickets or justify an above-the-rate-of-inflation increase in season tickets.
All most people want is to see us get to around 40 points as quickly as possible, and ideally before the final couple of fixtures. Do that and West Brom at home or Manchester City away can be as boring as you like.
• EXPENSIVE AWAYDAYS LOSING THEIR ATTRACTION
The news that some tickets for Old Trafford are to go on general sale is probably good news for City fans… in the short term.
The way this season is panning out, on the road at least, is probably putting quite a few people off away games – and that’s quite apart from Manchester United ticket prices of £44-54 making a trip for what is almost certainly a comfortable win for the champions-elect add up to at least £100 for many people.
The novelty value of away trips appears to have run out at the end of last season.
I always thought that Manchester United and Arsenal would be the only fixtures for which demand would exceed supply this time around.
And if the visit to the Emirates Stadium is switched to midweek because Arsenal reach the FA Cup semi-finals the chances are that it won’t be too hard to lay your hands on a ticket for that match either.
But it could all be a very different story next season.
If there are more clubs like Chelsea who operate on a sale-or-non-return basis for away tickets, are City going to want a repeat of having to hand out club-shop vouchers to shift every last seat of a large allocation?
No, you suspect they’ll ask for a smaller amount, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be left with any unsold tickets on their hands that will have to be paid for out of the Carrow Road coffers.
Both Liverpool and QPR of late saw significantly fewer away fans than last season .
That’ll certainly be the case at Wigan – Easter Saturday won’t have the same pulling power as the opening day of the season after six years away from the Premier League – and probably the likes of Stoke and Sunderland as well.
Those cast-away ticket stubs may yet be needed next season after all.