Paddy Davitt verdict: Witch hunts and scapegoats will not keep Norwich City in the Premier League
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Witch hunts and a thirst for scapegoats will not keep Norwich City in the Premier League. But changes are inevitable after the epic scale of the Canaries’ collapse.
"That gloriously uplifting festive spurt increasingly appears like a mirage in a season threatening to career downhill."
Only Russell Martin can explain what compelled him to play a blind back pass on the halfway line, punished by James Milner, in a critical phase of a Premier League game like no other this season at Carrow Road.
Martin was predictably the main culprit in the immediate aftermath of this shocking defeat when emotions were at their most raw. Fresh from another uncertain display in a more accustomed right-back berth the previous weekend at Bournemouth this was a bridge too far for many City supporters.
But to make one of the club’s longest-serving players the poster boy for all that is wrong with the Canaries right now is ridiculous. It also absolves the rest of his defence and those in front of the back four if there is a desire to draw out the post-mortem and prolong the blame game.
Timm Klose would need to be a cross between Franz Beckenbauer and the late, great Bobby Moore to cover the glaring deficiencies and the abdication of personal responsibility that engulfed a young man in Declan Rudd still making his way at this brutally unforgiving level of football.
Ryan Bennett arguably deserved better than to be jettisoned entirely from the matchday squad but for those who continue to champion him as the missing link perhaps they should glance at the spiralling goals against column and Bennett’s contribution in recent weeks. Only Sunderland have shipped more than Norwich after this defensive debacle made it 11 goals in the last three Premier League outings, 43 in their 23 league matches to date.
If Alex Neil’s men have to score two or more to get anything from a top flight game is it any wonder the searing focus on Martin continues unabated. This is about more than the man who lifted the Championship play-off trophy at Wembley, or Klose or even Bennett for that matter. There is a deeper malaise, a structural frailty, a lack of leadership, a lack of self-belief that ruptures to the surface too often from this set of Norwich players. What happened against Jurgen Klopp’s Reds was only unique in its scale. We have been here before, in the second half at Newcastle, when Norwich looked to be the dominant force before they capitulated.
Klopp has only been in this country a matter of months but, prior to his first trip to Norfolk, the German spoke of Norwich’s propensity to concede ‘easy’ goals. City’s capacity to surrender will not have gone unnoticed among their rivals on the Premier League circuit.
Neil has often spoken about how hindsight is a wonderfully elusive tool harnessed by the critics and those who prefer to focus on the negatives. He stands or falls by anticipating trends, second-guessing opponents and trying to equip his men with the ability to adapt in real-time.
There were no signs of that after Wes Hoolahan’s early second half penalty put Norwich 3-1 ahead. Neil’s planning may have been hampered by the untimely absence of Alex Tettey, but the lack of protection his chosen midfield afforded a dazed defence thereafter deserves scrutiny.
Jordan Henderson ran off the back of Graham Dorrans to sweep home a cross within two minutes of Hoolahan’s spot kick. On such details are games decided at this level. Go back further to the Reds’ opener, when Nathan Redmond failed to close down Alberto Moreno quickly enough to allow him to pick out Milner, who slipped in Roberto Firmino played onside by Robbie Brady. The Irishman’s deployment at left full-back is another divisive social media staple. His weak clearing header in the 95th minute was punished by Adam Lallana following similar concessions at Stoke and Bournemouth.
A tame FA Cup exit to Manchester City may well prove a blessing in disguise. The upcoming free weekend, ahead of Tottenham’s visit, affords a greater period of reflection and dissection. That gloriously uplifting festive spurt increasingly appears like a mirage in a season threatening to career downhill. Norwich’s implosion will sting, yet the scars must heal quickly. There were positives to be salvaged once the pitchforks are put down.
Steven Naismith was bright and inventive, a quality operator who clearly fancies the scrap and can only improve with regular match action.
There was encouraging signs of a telepathy with Hoolahan that embellishes City’s attacking output. Dieumerci Mbokani’s instinctive back-heeled finish again underlined City do possess a striker capable of scoring goals in the Premier League. But it will take more, so much more, to steer this ship to safety over the final stretch.