Six things we learned from Norwich City’s abject loss at Bournemouth
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If any Canaries supporters were on the south coast now, they would still be waiting for their side to turn up. Michael Bailey boils a painful afternoon down into half a dozen key talking points to address…
1 – We’ve been here before – and that’s the problem
I write this as someone who hates the vital word to this point and how it’s used in football – consistency.
Teams need to be consistent in performance and results – which effectively means picking up points regularly and looking better than their opponents more often than not.
You can say Norwich were very consistent in the second half of last season – and this season, they have been inconsistent.
Of course, the reality is basically switching the word ‘consistency’ for ‘good’.
Failings do take a while during a season to emerge. You need the pattern to form. And perhaps that was most worrying about what took place on Saturday.
Once again, a road trip in which City needed to perform went begging – and as a quirk of the fixture list, they have got plenty more of those to come over the course of the second half of the season.
Alex Neil named a reasonably attacking XI at Dean Court and aside from the awful performance, the holes that side left harked back to City’s identity crisis of October – caught in a no-man’s land of keeping it tight and opening things up.
One thing Norwich do not have is the luxury to learn lessons twice.
2 – Don’t do excuses – only gentlemen’s agreements
In reality, he should’ve been tucked up in bed. No one wants to be out in the cold watching a football match from the stands when you’re not feeling well.
Maybe it was really poor fortune for Lewis Grabban to miss his big reunion with Norwich City.
But then, given City’s apparent ease at letting their striker make that switch just a few days before taking them on, I’d really rather admire the fact that possibly, two managers came to an agreement on the quiet – leaving the story of the game to be played out in more amicable terms.
Not that any of it did Alex Neil any favours come the final whistle and his chances of enjoying the rest of this weekend. Credit here to the City boss for resisting any urge to bring out the big guns – excuses.
Maybe it was a mistake but he made only one change to the XI that started at Stoke and played mostly with 10 men. The only change was the banned and still very silly Gary O’Neil.
That’s two away trips over four days, compared to Bournemouth’s two home games with XI men over five.
Whatever you think, that’s exactly how it looked on Saturday too.
3 – It’s pointless casting player of the season votes in November
Robbie Brady has featured a lot in this series so far this season – much of it early, to back the fantastic impact he made following his £7m arrival. But it’s not been at that level for a while now – which is both a shame and entirely natural.
We got to one point last year where supporters had almost posted their votes for Brady as player of the season. Not yet people.
In fact, the issue has moved on now to where the Irishman is best off doing his work.
The City boss made his thoughts clear before Saturday’s game, in suggesting Brady is better at full-back than as a winger. Certainly in attacking situations, when Brady is on it he offers a great outlet and supply line.
The one problem here is that those levels have dropped in recent weeks – possibly since December. With all those Ireland games, it feels like a rest might be needed – but then, Brady was one of those to sit out the FA Cup weekend.
Perhaps the key point here is the opening goals at Bournemouth and Stoke both saw Brady beaten at the far post, while his shanked clearance played a part in the Cherries’ second.
It’s good having flexibility and options but at present, a Martin Olsson-Brady left wing looks attractive too.
4 – Being outrun is one thing – being outworked is quite another
There was pride in it earlier in the season when the trend first emerged – and that was absolutely fine. Norwich City were running around less than everyone else and, quite rightly, it was an indicator suggesting Alex Neil’s men were as organised as they come.
Likewise, running around can often mean you’re having to chase the ball – it doesn’t necessarily mean you are running around at the right times or in the right directions.
That’s as far as the statistics will take you. And then Saturday happened.
What was obvious to anyone watching was that Bournemouth outran Norwich – but this time it directly translated to outworking them too. The Cherries harried and pressed. They had more than enough men behind the ball long before City had broken properly – and then players overlapping in attacking support that appeared to overrun Norwich more than was comfortable.
If it really wasn’t lethargy, it represents a real problem for City – because there’s no point in being organised if you can’t put in the ground work.
5 – Like in the summer, Benik would have been worth it
Let’s get the details out of the way. Norwich City bid £10m in the summer to take Benik Afobe to Carrow Road, said the Wolves press, at a time when Wolves wanted approaching £15m. Wolves dig their heels in on the basis of having a real push at promotion and everyone moves on.
Come January, Wolves are miles off the Premier League, Afobe has had an indifferent campaign being played here, there or not at all – and Bournemouth succeed with a £10m bid to take the 22-year-old to Dean Court.
Whether it was the overall package, the fact City had been put off by what they’d seen since the summer or Bournemouth simply had more financial muscle, Saturday’s evidence pointed to a striker that would have been ideal for Norwich.
Yes, there is still rawness to his game – but that’s the beauty of signing a player at 22, yet still with good pedigree and experience.
Afobe held the ball up well when he came short, caused havoc when he ran in behind, should have forced a red card and took his one clear chance. He looked such a handful, it’ll be interesting once Callum Wilson is fit.
6 – City really annoyed their promotion rivals last season
While the world of social media is the last place to look to if you want to gauge general football opinion, it does seem a few fans of Watford, Norwich and Bournemouth haven’t entirely got on since sharing promotion.
Since last January, Norwich looked a class apart. They proved it at Wembley of course – but they also beat leaders Bournemouth with 10 men at Dean Court and steamrolled Watford at Vicarage Road.
Well it seems all that riled the Canaries’ rivals on their return visit – possibly understandably at Watford given that fortuitous penalty City were awarded. Watford have kicked on in general since going up, and perhaps City just got caught in that this season – although Norwich’s performance still offered plenty of concern.
That was, until Saturday when City’s efforts on the south coast really upped the ante with the frown lines.
The newly promoted teams and their mini-league in the Premier League usually plays a big part in who survives – with Watford’s visit to Carrow Road finishing City’s contribution in the spring.
You would like to think for the first time since 2012 all three teams will stay up – especially as at the moment, Norwich offer most concern.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey