Norwich City old boy Chris Martin picked holes in Canaries’ weak spots
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
If the 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield was for some a final realisation that Norwich City really did get the very best out of the returning Grant Holt, then Saturday's visit to Derby left Canaries fans with a longing sense of what might have been had another former striker stayed on the books.
Chris Martin, who left on a free transfer, was named Man of the Match and almost helped Derby to an undeserved victory at the iPro after a performance which served as a reminder of how much of an asset the Norwich Academy product would be for us again in the Championship.
Martin's work-rate up front for Derby was different class. He was involved in all of their attacking play, chasing lost causes and constantly making runs, dropping deeper if needed. In contrast, too often Norwich's strikers react badly to passes that aren't pinpoint - covering ground like Martin rather than shrugging shoulders would be far more productive.
Neil Adams said after the game that the plan had almost worked perfectly, and, despite conceding two goals, Norwich's organisation was impressive. The midfield four restricted Derby to few chances, and their goal was the result of a momentary lapse in concentration rather than one of those that feel as though they've been coming from the first whistle, as has been the case in several away fixtures this season.
Even so, it was a bad afternoon for Carlos Cuellar, who was tortured by Martin for 90 minutes. After consecutive clean sheets since coming back into the fold, he was horribly exposed on Saturday. Martin's powerful hold-up play and turn tied him in knots before providing the assist for the first goal, and a clumsy challenge for the penalty will have Adams re-thinking his centre-back pairing yet again for the visit of Millwall on Boxing Day.
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Much will depend on whether Adams has enough confidence in Cuellar to stick with him after he was at partly at fault for both goals. The fact that this was only his fourth Championship appearance would suggest Adams wouldn't think twice about making a change should he feel it necessary.
Ryan Bennett is fit enough to have been named on the bench on Saturday, while Ignasi Miquel is still without a league appearance. When Adams added Miquel, Cuellar and Jos Hooiveld to the squad it was thought that at last there would be much-needed competition in the back four.
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It's difficult to agree that this competition has had the desired effect in raising the game of the centre-halves; instead it's just proved the manager perhaps doesn't have as much faith as he should in his signings.
The way City twice fought back from going behind was encouraging, especially away from home – something we've not managed to do since coming from 1-0 down to beat Blackpool 3-1 in September.
The stats tell their own story – Norwich's 17 attempts to Derby's six shows how much we dominated and how hard Steve McClaren's side found it to break us down, particularly as the game progressed and the home side began to tire.
Playing four days after their League Cup tie against Chelsea was obviously a big factor, but in general this season it's been our second-half performances that have been by far the better.
Norwich have scored 28 of their 37 league goals in the second half, and did so again on Saturday. Going forward, City looked the better team. Jonny Howson and Gary O'Neil, in particular, linked up well – but again it was defensive errors that cost us.