March 11 2014 Latest news:
Monday, October 29, 2012
There was one moment on Saturday when it became apparent that the Canaries ought to get something out of the trip to Villa Park and continue to stay one step ahead of their supposedly “bigger” rivals.
It was when the teams were announced and the home line-up wasn’t exactly crammed with big, recognisable names.
A year ago I didn’t think there was any great disgrace in being able to hold onto a lead against a more daunting side including useful players of the calibre of Stephen Warnock, Richard Dunne, Emile Heskey, Gabby Agbonlahor and an in-form Darren Bent.
On Saturday City faced more of a “Who’s that?” than “Who’s who” level of opposition. Only Agbonlahor was left, and even he didn’t last a full 90 minutes, while even the possibility of scoring a winner against Norwich couldn’t raise a former Ipswich star out of his torpor.
The only real signs of quality possessed by a patched-up home side were Ron Vlaar and Brad Guzan.
The rest, by and large, looked a bunch of has-beens and never-will-be’s who – on this showing – can be bracketed with Reading, Southampton and QPR as clubs who will do well to stay up this season.
The NCFC Paul Lambert would have thrown caution to the wind in the second half and gone all out for victory. The AVFC version went all defensive for a while with a mixed bag of substitutions on the basis that one point was better than none at all.
Yes, perhaps we should have gone on to win after Joe Bennett’s sending-off, though that’s not only down to the lack of striker options available since August – if we had a guaranteed week-in, week-out scorer we would already have possibly turned our four draws into wins – but also the quality of crossing, which was absolutely shocking.
It’s not the first time we’ve been unable to kill off a game this season, but it’s a point which was much better for us than Villa.
The draw means that we’ve been able to build on the Arsenal victory, and suggests that we’re not going to suffer from “second-season syndrome” as much as some pundits would have you believe. We’ve only been truly outclassed against Chelsea (understandably), Fulham and Liverpool; in our other six fixtures we have not looked out of place.
Meanwhile, Villa are still looking for any kind of spark to get their new era going.
Bearing in mind how awed Lambert appeared to be in the presence of Martin O’Neill in February you’d think it’s unlikely to happen at Sunderland this coming weekend.
But while Midlands eyes were focused this summer on climbing the table, our focus continues to be about keeping out of the bottom three.
This season remains all about staying up, paying off debts and being able to share in next year’s television riches.
On the evidence of the first nine games we should have scored more than seven goals and but for the presence in the Premier League of the American duo of Guzan and Brad Friedel we’d definitely have two away wins to our name.
But Saturday’s display was that of a team who deserve to be no better than 16th in the table, and I’d be more than happy with that position come the end of the season.
We can’t take our chances, and probably still don’t know our ideal starting line-up, but that’s perhaps more acceptable when you’re a club like us in our position.
It’s one more point towards survival and on a weekend when Wigan were the only winners towards the foot of the table.
If the two sides are still in this area of the table come May then Aston Villa won’t be in the slightest bit daunting – whatever players they field, and whoever is occupying the opposition managerial dug-out.
• CITY CAN MOVE ON - LAMBERT MAY BE MOVED ON
I never really understood why anyone thought that there would be a red-hot atmosphere at Villa Park on Saturday.
It certainly appeared to be a surprise to the Sky team, whose pundits ended up spending most of the build-up talking about the home side’s struggles rather than any lingering animosity between the two clubs outside their boardrooms.
But it’s not hard to see why. It’s a bit like when Norwich have played Wolves over the past 10 years – it’s always meant far more to Canaries fans than opposition supporters.
Villa Park didn’t exactly come across to neutral viewers as a cauldron of seething hatred.
The Paul Lambert entrance wasn’t anything like his arrival onto the Colchester touchline in January 2010, and his reception from his former supporters a lot more muted, though still clearly audible.
As has been the case at Molineux in the past, for the Villa crowd Saturday was all about getting an all-too-rare victory; the identity of the visitors didn’t really matter.
As far as we were concerned it was a chance to gain some closure.
Had we been turned over by a struggling Villa side then the anti-Hughton brigade would have been out in force.
As it is the new Norwich regime proved more than a match for the old one, leaving me to wonder this: Is Paul Lambert the new Mike Walker?
Both achieved far, far more than they should have done with a limited squad, only to be then tempted away by a seemingly bigger outfit with problems that perhaps proved far more insurmountable than first thought.
And if history does repeat itself and Lambert was to match Walker’s short stay at Everton he might not even be in charge of Villa by the time they come to Carrow Road in May – a game it’s impossible to imagine not being screened live by either Sky or ESPN.
• CANARIES ARE FACING CRUCIAL TWO MATCHES
It’s not understating things to suggest that City’s 2012/13 league prospects will be largely shaped by the next two games.
Stoke at home is likely to lead to a series of match reports as unlikely to feature terms such as “free-flowing”, “eye-catching” and “fluid” as those of last season’s 1-1 draw.
But facing Tony Pulis’s side should not be quite the same daunting prospect that it was at the dawn of our Premier League stay, and, besides, they are maybe not quite the same force of old.
And then it’s Reading away. If they can’t beat us on November 10 – after facing QPR as well this weekend – then they’ll be starting to wonder if they’re ever going to win again, as we already were this time eight years ago.
Four points from these two games and our survival hopes will look a lot more brighter, particularly if Villa and Southampton continue their current stuttering form.
Less than two, however, and a record of one win from 11 games is going to make for a long, hard winter.
• CUP CHALLENGE
The Capital One Cup then…
If we give it a go and are beaten – well, these things happen.
But at least don’t make it as abject an exit as was the case in last season’s Leicester FA Cup tie.
And the fewer changes from Norwich and Tottenham’s weekend league line-ups the more value the ticket prices will provide.
Any more than, say, 15, in total and it’ll be the most expensive reserve game ever staged at Carrow Road.