Loss at Southampton was reminder of how brutal Premier League can be for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
For all the talk of a winless Southampton being weary after their Thursday jaunt to Denmark, it was Norwich City who looked like they'd been clocking up the air miles at St Mary's.
An uncharacteristically poor team performance was the latest bizarre twist in a week that's been full of surprises. On any other matchday, a Ricky van Wolfswinkel winning goal, even against a lower league team, would dominate post-match conversation. But Lewis Grabban made sure that wasn't the case on Tuesday.
A couple of failed bids for Wolves striker Benik Afobe later and with rumours of an imminent deal for Dynamo Kiev's Dieumerci Mbokani doing the rounds, Sunday's fixture almost took a back seat in view of the events of the past seven days.
City's live TV debut this season was preceded by an in-depth feature on Alex Neil followed by plenty of praise from the pundits who had been impressed by what they'd seen of his side so far.
Ten minutes into the game however and neutrals watching Norwich for the first time on Sunday must have been wondering if they had been talking about the same side.
Steven Whittaker's first yellow card was as silly as it was needless, and getting himself involved in another tussle just moments later ultimately sealed his fate. While Dusan Tadic's theatrical reaction in waving an imaginary card confirmed he played for the foul, Whittaker couldn't have too many complaints with replays showing his arm was across the midfielder.
Opinion amongst the fans has always been divided on the former Rangers man, not helped by some inconsistent performances. On other occasions though he's been unfairly singled out for blame. Sunday will do him no favours in that regard, but as pivotal as his dismissal was, in truth City had been by far the poorer team up until that point and lacked the energy and movement that had been so good against Stoke.
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Even so, Norwich did carve out a golden opportunity to score first. Just like against Palace and Stoke however, it wasn't taken. Although the calibre of the performance wasn't one City fans have become accustomed to lately, there were some unwelcome familiar traits.
Against Premier League opposition, conceding goals that are the result of individual brilliance is sometimes to be expected. Of the eight goals conceded so far this season though, none fall into that category. Each one has been avoidable and Sunday was no different. Neil has lamented lapses of concentration at the back, and yet again poor marking and static defending cost us dear.
Johnny Howson, who was caught in possession at the bye-line in the lead up to the first goal, doesn't have anywhere near the same impact on the game playing on the left and unless Robbie Brady is making constant runs forward we don't play with any natural width on that side of the pitch.
With Martin Olsson stepping up his comeback from injury with 45 minutes for the U21s in midweek and a fortnight's break before our next fixture, Brady may not have to fill in at left-back for many more games. Assuming Olsson's return sees the Irishman revert to left midfield I'd hope to see Howson back in the centre where he's at his best.
As disappointing as Sunday was, it's an early season reminder of how brutal this league can be when you put in a below par performance.
You can bet no one will be more determined to put it right than Neil, who said after the game that what he witnessed won't influence his business in the remaining hours left of the transfer window.
He'll no doubt be hoping however, as we will, that his premeditated plans to strengthen come to fruition.