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Robin Sainty, INCSC chairman
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Lacklustre is not a word that I would normally associate with Norwich City this season, but it is difficult to think of a more appropriate adjective to describe the performance at Blackburn.
While it would be easy to say that Rovers had more to play for than the Canaries, I suspect that that will offer little consolation to the thousands of fans who made the long trip up to Lancashire to watch a game which became increasingly turgid as it meandered towards the blessed release offered by the final whistle.
There had been a fair amount of speculation before the game about the possible effects of the two sides’ relative positions.
Would City relax and turn on the style while Blackburn became paralysed by tension, or would the need for a win give the hosts the extra yard? While the early exchanges certainly saw City looking comfortable, once Blackburn scored the Canaries seemed unable to raise their game.
Junior Hoilett’s stunner obviously came at the worst possible time, but it was disappointing to see City failing to get up a real head of steam at any point, particularly with around £750,000 at stake for every League place gained.
Having said that, the players don’t go out with the intention of underperforming and there have been so many highs this season that we should keep days like Saturday in perspective, even though the worrying run of away games without a clean sheet continues.
There is no doubt that City have conceded too many goals for comfort this season, something that could have seen us in trouble had our strike force been less prolific.
However, one of the problems that City have had defensively stems from the numerous changes to the back four.
Zak Whitbread has been in and out, Daniel Ayala looked impressive before his season ending injury and Ryan Bennett only arrived in February. With Elliott Ward out for over half the season, and the loss of Marc Tierney before Christmas it is clear that there has been little chance to bond a consistent unit.
In fact, the longest run of consecutive games in which City have been able to name the same back four is eight, while the longest run of any centre back pairing is 11. Even then, one of those players was Russell Martin in a stand-in role, and we are now on the 10th different central defensive partnership of the season.
Clearly, any unit in a football team benefits from a run of games, because players develop a better understanding of each other’s style, but it’s particularly true of defences.
Arsenal’s outstanding back four of the 90s is a perfect example, with an almost telepathic understanding developed from playing and training together over a number of seasons.
Injuries have robbed Paul Lambert of the chance to have a consistent defensive group, and I think, because of that, there may be less transfer activity in this area than some may expect, although tighter defending is bound be high on the list of priorities for the coaching staff.
However, what happens in midfield will also be relevant to the defence because City’s attacking style has sometimes left the back four exposed and, particularly in the post-Christmas period, we have often seen no defensive midfield ball winner in the starting line-up.
The Holy Grail would be a tough tackler who can also be creative, something all the top teams have. While players like Gareth Barry, Scott Parker, Alex Song and Cheick Tiote are difficult to find on a limited budget, perhaps Lambert can uncover yet another unpolished diamond from the lower leagues to develop. If he can do that, it will not only enhance City’s midfield, but also strengthen the defensive unit at a stroke.