How Fulham taught us all sorts of very tough lessons
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In the last six days we've seen the best and worst of Norwich City. An apparently irresistible force against Reading somehow transmuted into a side devoid of inspiration and riddled with errors against 10-man Fulham as the Carrow Road crowd got a taste of the sort of performance that has been all too familiar to City's travelling fans.
Alan Irvine's snort of derision when asked after the Reading game whether that performance had been the result of 'the Stuart Webber effect' was hardly surprising since the new Sporting Director had barely crossed the Colney threshold at the time, but a week on it was apparent to all that nothing has really changed on the pitch, despite the bloodletting off it.
In fairness, the victory over Reading was exhilarating because City moved the ball quickly, as they had in earlier romps against Brentford and Nottingham Forest, but the reason they could do so was that Reading, having conceded in the second minute, were forced to play a more open game, leaving space for City's creative players to exploit.
While it was the most Pyrrhic of victories given that City's play-off chances had already been extinguished, nonetheless it was a much-needed antidote to the gathering gloom that had been building amongst supporters between the dismissal of Alex Neil and the announcement that Webber was officially a Norwich City employee.
Against a much better organised Fulham, City made their task much harder by themselves conceding an early goal which stemmed, as has so often been the case this season, from an unforced error, but was also down to poor tracking back from the midfield, and then proved incapable of unlocking a resolute defence.
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I think that most of us have lost count of the number of times that City have been the masters of their own downfall this season, and Ryan Bennett's brainless and totally unnecessary foul to concede a penalty was just the latest in a long line of glaring errors in which every one of their defenders has at some point been complicit.
However, Fulham's third, which saw two attackers outwit no less than eight City players, was shocking even by the subterranean standards previously set, particularly when contrasted with the unbreachable white line at the other end which had steadfastly resisted City's second-half pressure with no sign of buckling until Cameron Jerome's late goal, even after which the visitors were able to regroup and see off a late charge from the Canaries.
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Ultimately, even the best prepared and organised side will concede at some point, but spirited teams will dig in and fight back harder. That, however, has not been the case with City this season, particularly away from home, where one goal has usually led to another as the white flag has been raised.
It is difficult to envisage this City squad holding out with 10 men against decent opposition, let alone finding the energy to score more goals themselves.
While Fulham's timewasting and play-acting, abetted by a disinterested referee, were distasteful it shouldn't detract from the quality of their football, their discipline, or their resolve, all of which are areas in which City could learn from them.
Still, at least there's another game today with City away to a top-half side. What could possibly go wrong?