More patience needed ahead of daunting run for Norwich City
- Credit: PA
If someone had told me after conceding an injury-time equaliser at Upton Park that Norwich would fail to pick up a single point from home games against Leicester and West Brom and Newcastle away, it might have hurt a lot more than it did at the time.
When you consider those defeats since, an excellent performance that day seems a lot longer than just a month ago.
After a fantastic start to Alex Neil's reign, Norwich fans can be forgiven for perhaps being a little too optimistic with regard to our ambitions this season. Anyone that had earmarked a comfortable mid-table finish will have been brought back to reality after three defeats against sides expected to finish in the bottom half of the table.
We're more than a quarter of the way through the season and City have only scored first in three games, two of which we went on to win. The other was the draw at the Boleyn Ground in which we should have done.
With that statistic in mind, it's a difficult balance to get right for Neil. Attacking in numbers contributed to leaving Norwich so open at St James' Park, but with a susceptible defence could it be a risk worth taking at home considering we don't look capable of keeping a clean sheet?
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Unsurprisingly after such a horror show the previous week, Neil made changes to the back four. Ryan Bennett has played only nine matches since suffering an injury in August 2014, yet was still favoured over Norwich's sole defensive recruit Andre Wisdom. It was only his second league start under Neil, a worrying sign of the lack of competition that plagues any potential defensive solution the manager has at his disposal. While Norwich looked more defensively solid than in recent weeks, Saturday also proved how dangerous an over reliance on Seb Bassong will be. While he's comfortably our best centre half, Bassong was outdone for the goal. Against a West Brom team that had already kept five clean sheets, it wasn't just keeping out goals that required a lot of work though. Ultimately a typically resolute performance from Tony Pulis' side restricted City to few chances.
Ironically, it was an exact repeat of the result that proved the final straw for Chris Hughton in April 2014, when Norwich finished the season relegated having scored the fewest amount of goals. West Brom are the Premier League's joint lowest goal scorers so far.
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While I'd never advocate the return of a Hughton-style approach to football at Carrow Road (Norwich have scored half the amount of goals we did in the 13-14 season in just 10 games), some sort of balance has to be restored if we are to mount a credible survival challenge this campaign.
The panic button was hit that day, by which point Norwich only had five games left to save themselves.
Thankfully, the situation now isn't comparable. There is much more time for patience, and it could be an absolute necessity considering three of City's next four fixtures are against Champions League clubs.
A daunting prospect maybe, but with so much of the season remaining, Neil has already shown what this Norwich team are capable of and if given the resources in January then fans should be hopeful of avoiding a repeat of what happened two years ago come May.
Neil is now facing his first sticky patch as City manager and couldn't wish for a more difficult fixture as he tries to correct it on Saturday at the Etihad, which has already been written off as a damage limitation exercise by many.
Rather than this signalling the start of City's unravelling, Neil deserves our full backing in making sure it's nothing other than a poor run of form. Even last season's Premier League champions have been unable to avoid that.