May 23 2013 Latest news:
Monday, August 20, 2012
Norwich City fans probably don’t care much for trips to Craven Cottage.
Relegation there in 2005 of course marked the start of a downward trend that nearly finished the club.
Of course, the depth of emotion felt on Saturday wasn’t in that league…but to have that bubble of pre-season optimism that every fan feels unceremoniously burst was difficult to bear.
City fans have been spoilt over the last three seasons and they have grown used to not seeing the Canaries capitulate like this.
There wasn’t the merest hint of a comeback like last season when Aaron Wilbraham netted in a 2-1 defeat at the Cottage.
Many people suspect that after last season’s 12-placed finish that the only way is down for the Canaries – it’s what prompted Paul Lambert to jump ship to Aston Villa.
Saturday’s display did not allay those fears unfortunately.
Hughton’s plan to outnumber Fulham in midfield relied heavily upon City having a decent amount of possession.
This would then give surprise inclusion Andrew Surman the chance to spring forward in support of Grant Holt and ensure the City skipper had enough support.
However, starved of the ball thanks to the talents of the likes of Moussa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz, the City pair only combined effectively once in the first period and when this didn’t bear fruit the writing was on the wall.
The warning signs were there for City in the 10th minute when the lively Alex Kacaniklic skipped past Russell Martin down the left flank before standing up an inviting cross to the back post. Fortunately for City, his opposite winger Damien Duff had not gambled on the cross and Marc Tierney was able to head clear.
With Holt ploughing a lone furrow up front there wasn’t enough pressure on the Fulham back line, who were more than capable of bringing the ball out of defence looking for a runner to spring City’s offside trap.
Brede Hangeland’s long ball over the top in the 12th minute caught Michael Turner ball watching but fortunately Duff’s first touch allowed the summer signing from Sunderland to recover and snuff out the danger.
City weren’t so lucky midway through the half though when John Arne Riise, who had previously brought a good save out of John Ruddy, pinged a long diagonal pass that picked out Duff once again. Tierney appealed for offside in vain with Ryan Bennett playing the Ireland international on and he showed composure in poking the ball past Ruddy.
It was one-way traffic for the rest of the half as City retreated desperately hoping to reach the sanctuary of half-time just one goal behind.
It was a forlorn hope.
Hughton, a manager who prides himself on having a solid defensive base from which to build, will be fuming at how easily Mladen Petric lost his marker to glance home Duff’s in-swinging corner. Jonny Howson did his best to clear off the line but replays showed the referee’s assistant had made the right call in signalling the ball was over.
Just as perhaps Lambert would have done last season, Hughton decided to shuffle his pack at the break. He had to. City were never going to carve out the chances necessary to overhaul a two-goal deficit judging by their first half display. Surman was substituted in place of Steve Morison to try and provide Holt with some kind of support. The former Millwall man was charged with holding the ball up to allow City’s midfield to get forward. However, the quality in the supply line wasn’t there once again.
How City’s strikers must have looked on enviously at the likes of Moussa Dembele, Kacaniklic and Riise providing Fulham with the kind of attacking thrust the visitors could only dream of.
Petric, a free transfer from Hamburg during the summer, grabbed his second of the afternoon early in the second half to effectively end the match as a contest.
Picking the ball up 25 yards from goal, he was allowed to turn and strike a shot which took a big deflection off Turner to wrongfoot Ruddy and make it 3-0.
This was damage limitation now…but City couldn’t limit it.
The goal of the afternoon was provided when Dembele sauntered with the ball on the edge of the box before feeding Petric, whose deft flick released Kacaniklic through on goal.
The young winger got the goal his industry down the left flank deserved by sliding the ball past Ruddy and it was now starting to get embarrassing for the Canaries.
Bradley Johnson’s long range effort almost caught out Mark Schwarzer but the Australian managed to scramble the ball away with his legs and this was as threatening City got in the second half.
Fulham showed what kind of strength in depth they have when Hugo Rodallega, another free signing from Wigan in the summer, came on to win a penalty when he was brought down by Turner from behind.
Referee Michael Oliver must have been taking pity on Norwich at this point as, despite denying a goalscoring opportunity, Turner wasn’t even cautioned.
It was perhaps punishment enough to see Steve Sidwell ram home the penalty past Ruddy.
Thankfully, the sequel to The Nightmare at Craven Cottage was over.
City fans will just be hoping they at least have the chance to make it a trilogy in the Premier League next season.
In the first of a three-part series dissecting the Canaries’ successful battle to retain their Premier League status, Norwich City writer Paddy Davitt turns the spotlight on the goalkeepers and those men deployed to thwart some of the best striking talent in the global game.