Michael Bailey: Sharp Sammy, no Cam do and the Alephant in the room – Six things learned from City’s Bolton defeat
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Short memories, uncomfortable pain – MICHAEL BAILEY brings his six of the Bolton best as Norwich City slip to a third straight Championship defeat.
1 – An accident waiting to happen
If I was a manager coming up against Norwich City at the moment, I know what I’d say.
Yes, they will have the ball and try to move it quickly – but track them, concentrate and then wait. Because sooner or later their level will drop – and if that happens while the game is still goalless, we can get ahead and then almost certainly avoid defeat. Maybe even better.
It worked for Derby, and it worked on Saturday. Whether it was by design or not, Bolton were able to stay in the game until City became a little sloppy – at which point Phil Parkinson’s side upped their own tempo, really got at their visitors for the first time and picked up two goals that decided the contest.
Football’s history screams out how important the first goal is, yet on Saturday City looked far too relaxed about getting it – after which, a lack of runners beyond Jerome constantly held them up.
They have eased their faults before this term – they now have new ones to address.
2 – There’s an Alephant in the room
As always, stats can prove anything if you use them in the right way – so here’s my latest go at it.
Alex Tettey has played six league games so far this season, picking up three bookings. Obviously.
In his time on the pitch – which started after Millwall had scored their fourth – City conceded one goal, which came in victory at Reading. When he started, City were unbeaten – notching 13 points from a possible 15.
In August without Tettey, City picked up one win from their first five games. Since the muscle injury left Tettey on the sidelines after Reading, City have picked up one win in five games.
The body of evidence is much more useful now, and it’s becoming painfully clear both Tom Trybull and Harrison Reed look better players when Tettey’s ability to smell defensive danger is behind them. It underlines the crying shame of Louis Thompson’s injury woes – but also City’s desperate need for Tettey’s swift return.
3 – Cam can but now he can’t
City’s top four shooters read as follows: James Maddison (37), Nelson Oliveira (30), Josh Murphy (28), Cameron Jerome (26). And the goals from those shots? That would be Oliveira (5), Maddison (3), Murphy (2) and Jerome (1).
For those who like averages, it works out as Oliveira scoring every six shots, Maddison every 12.3, Murphy every 14 and Jerome… well… every 26.
We all wanted Jerome’s goalscoring form to kick in following his excellent winner at Reading – but it hasn’t happened. Maybe the recent load has been an issue – but that sometimes borders a little too close to an excuse.
What happens between now and 2018 has to be different. With no cup exploits, the load should ease. Oliveira needs to return to fitness – Jerome has proven to need forward competition breathing down his neck.
His first-half miss was costly on Saturday. City can’t afford for the same story to continue indefinitely.
4 – If you want one, then count the cost
Following on from what Jerome needs to deliver – and he did assist Josh Murphy on Saturday – are the January calls: surely the Canaries have to go out an get another striker?
Let’s spell it out. Yes, City could bring in a striker. I know they’ve been looking at possible forward targets since the summer. But if they do, it will need to be funded by selling someone first.
So ask yourself, what sort of striker do you want to sign? Because if it’s a proven Championship one, then the cost could be cashing in on the likes of James Maddison.
The calls for Under-23 recruits to be tried are understandable – but given Daniel Farke’s proven willingness to play young talent, if they’re nowhere near it now you have to assume they aren’t ready.
For me, Murphy and Watkins shouldn’t be written off – but there needs to be more success in terms of how they are used, if they are going to be considered genuine striker options.
5 – Survival mode suits Sammy
It was only the opening game of the season and perhaps a tad harsh they had to play it out on live TV – but Bolton looked relegation fodder from the outset.
That it took them so long to record their first win wasn’t a surprise – but their improvement since come the weekend certainly was.
Having finally been allowed to sign some free agents, Bolton have recruited pretty wisely and clearly given themselves a chance – none shining more than Sammy Ameobi who to be honest, City couldn’t handle all afternoon. He certainly made Marco Stiepermann look like a forward filling in at left-back – and uncomfortably at that.
Unbeaten in five with a second win in the bag, I noted a Bolton colleague’s match report included a lot of references to “for once” and “first time”. Just the sort of thing that frustrates from a City perspective.
So let’s just hope it wasn’t solely City’s doing that the Trotters trotted on for once.
6 – It’s now buy-in or stew time
It’s a curious paradox that after a loss like Saturday, the man in charge tends to get most stick – despite there being tactically little wrong, and all his changes made with 25 minutes still to play for the second game running. Good changes too.
In reality, most of City’s issues came from those playing on the pitch: their mistakes, their decisions, determination and character.
Yet the recriminations really are Farke’s from here. The priceless part of what he did after August was how it bought everyone into what he wanted to do. He left out big characters, made big calls – and results backed him up.
This time round, it has to be the same again. The effort and determination to put things right, to evolve, learn and revaluate things he maybe thought were well on his side.
That is what will return City to winning ways and keep the buy-in despite three successive defeats. Anything less focused, and it really will prove a fortnight of stewing with worse to come.
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