Norwich City’s defeat at Wigan left me feeling as hollow as my Easter Eggs
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Easter is such a cruel time of year for football supporters.
The fact that a load of giant chocolate eggs are handed out just as the season reaches its most stressful phase might be the real reason that so many fans look the way they do. Pie manufacturers are off the hook at last.
Who didn't feel like comfort eating after Norwich City's 1-0 defeat at Wigan? The stuffing has been gradually falling out of what had felt like quite a comfortable cushion over the past few weeks. Four points above the relegation zone with seven games to go is a situation not beyond salvation but far too close to take anything for granted.
It doesn't take one of Gary Neville's whizzy Sky Sports screens to work out what the Canaries' main problem is. In fact, go and get one of your Easter eggs (if you've got any left after that Wigan-induced binge). See how blunt it is up top? Well that's what Norwich City have been like lately.
Watching City fail to muster a single shot on target against a Wigan side whose defensive record this season has suggested that Frank Spencer might be on the coaching staff was so frustrating.
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The obvious temptation is to gnash teeth and point an accusing finger at Chris Hughton for only starting with one striker and being 'too negative' but, having been at the game, that does not stack up.
Norwich City did not park the bus at the DW Stadium. There was attacking intent and plenty of it in the first half. Four forward-minded players in Kei Kamara, Wes Hoolahan, Robert Snodgrass and Elliott Bennett all started and that ought to have been enough to cause problems for an often hapless Wigan.
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They had no trouble getting the ball into the final third but wasted so many promising positions with a poorly executed final ball or a rushed shot which threatened the corner flag more than the goal.
This is a column that prides itself on reporting from places where no others dare and I can tell you that the mood in the Press Room toilet at half-time on Saturday was one of real concern from those who cover The Latics every week. I don't want to give the impression that I'm the sort of person that will strike up conversations with strangers in places like that, how terribly un-British, but I overheard a number of northern mumblings about Norwich being much the better side.
Don't be fooled into thinking that City would have automatically been more creative if they had started with two out and out strikers. Chris Hughton tried just that in the last home game against Southampton and a quick look back at the stats from that game reveals just two Norwich shots on target, one of which was Grant Holt's saved stoppage time penalty.
To me Saturday's paucity of real goal scoring opportunities had more to do with profligacy from the players than the tactics of the manager. Although it would have been nice to see a change made earlier than the 80th minute.
The most alarming fact about City's recent run is that they have scored just four goals in their last 11 games. Hoolahan's got two of them in the 1-1 draws against Tottenham and Sunderland and there was the dramatic last six minutes against Everton when both Kamara and Holt struck to seal an unlikely 2-1 win. But that's been it since January 5. Goal of the Month is becoming an all too literal concept for City fans.
Without the meaner, better organised defence that Hughton has produced this season we might really be in trouble. The pre-emptive signing of Ricky van Wolfswinkel suggests the City manager is well aware of what this summer's big project is, assuming that Norwich do battle over the line between now and mid-May.
The fact remains that City are 14th, four places clear of the relegation zone, and have home games against Swansea, Reading, Aston Villa and West Brom among their final seven to sort themselves out. It looks much healthier when you put it like that.
Hearing the news of Martin O'Neill's sacking during the drive home from Wigan on Saturday night was a much needed reminder that plenty of other teams have work to do to ensure they stay up. Sunderland pressed the panic button after a narrow home defeat by Manchester United.
I blame the Easter eggs. They play havoc with your blood sugar levels when you're stressed.
• PATIENT CURETON LEADS LIST OF RETURNING CANARIES
Lee Camp's appearance in goal for Norwich City at Wigan was the spark for this weekend's game to play to pass some time in the car on a long away trip.
It came six years and four months after his last start for the Canaries during a loan spell in December 2006. City lost 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday at Carrow Road and started the game with a front two of Peter Thorne and Ryan Jarvis. With all that's happened since, that makes it feel like ancient history.
So which players have had to wait as long between starts for Norwich? Robert Fleck lasted just over three years at Chelsea before returning to Carrow Road in September 1995 but two other strikers make Camp look like a Norwich City first team regular.
Alan Taylor left City in 1979 after playing just four league games. He returned via Vancouver, Cambridge, Hull, Burnley and Bury to represent Norwich in the top flight in 1988.
The dubious honour of most patient Canary though must go to Jamie Cureton. Having come through the youth ranks he was let go in October 1996 and had a prolific career in the lower divisions. He peaked in the Colchester United side which did so well under Geraint Williams and was top scorer in the Championship in 2006-07. This prompted Peter Grant, on the lookout for a Rob Earnshaw replacement, to splash out on him and Cureton pulled the yellow and green shirt on again almost 11 years after being shown the door.
Has anyone ever beaten that for a gap between Norwich City appearances?