Norwich City’s defeat to West Brom as Hughton-esque as we’ve seen since he left
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
I never thought for a second that this week's blog would be more difficult than that which followed events at St James's Park, but it is.
Changes were called for and changes were made. Both full backs from the Newcastle game paid the price for our capitulation as Ryan Bennett came into the defence, Brady was restored at left back and Russell Martin found himself in the right back berth that many feel is his rightful position.
If the idea was to make us more resolute, I guess that conceding one instead of six is a huge improvement. The problem is, the change in personnel partnered with a more conservative directive for our full backs left us blunt in attack as they noticeably applied the brakes 30 yards from the opposition goal. The lack of numbers high up the pitch left us short of options, found Hoolahan again dropping to a depth he's largely ineffective and subsequently when we did get a ball in the box, Mbokani had about as much support as the tax credit cuts on a council estate.
If we take the changes at face value, Ryan Bennett did ok, he'll probably think he's done enough to carry on. Brady is simply a better footballer than Martin Olsson, however, his impact was negated by the reluctance to get involved high up the pitch and Russell Martin had his worst game in a Norwich shirt for an aeon. This perhaps goes some way to disproving the 'he's better than Whittaker at right back' theory and frankly, on this showing he's far better at centre half. That said, he may well find himself pushed even further wide next week, all the way to the bench. It's difficult to imagine that this performance will get a 'same again lads' from Alex Neil but by the same token, I hope he doesn't make changes simply to appease the disgruntled as it rarely works.
There appeared an element of that in the selection but it's difficult to argue against shuffling the pack when you've just had your back doors kicked in by the league's bottom club. The biggest problem I had was that we abandoned the ethos we've played to since Day One of the season. We've looked to get numbers into advanced areas, overpower teams high up the pitch and create plenty of chances. Yes, as I pointed out last week, it leaves us extremely vulnerable to the quick counter but the way we played on Saturday left us toothless up front.
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Saturday was as Hughton-esque a performance as we've seen since he left and the comparative stats between his final game and Saturday are startlingly similar, in fact, Alex Neil should probably be thankful that there were no clappers for the supporters to launch.
We enjoyed 8pc less possession than we did under Hughton, we had four more shots but one less on target – yes, less attempts on target – though we did force significantly more corners in this season's encounter. Of course, the most important statistic is the one that shows an identical result but more worrying was just how similar the games felt.
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We didn't look like scoring, we had some decent spells of pressure but I never felt that West Brom were panicked or hanging on. As injury time approached, the feeling was that the fourth official could have held up a 2016 calendar rather than the 'minutes board' and if we'd played until the end of it, we still wouldn't have rustled the onion bag.
Solutions still appear elusive. We look like we are searching for a balance that might not exist. We could have Cafu (the real one) playing at right back but while Nathan Redmond continues to go walkabout and leave 2 on 1, we'd still get done by a simple overlap (not that I feel all our shortcomings are down to poor Nathan). Then comes the question as to whether we can really play Wes and Redders in the same team without sacrificing something defensively? Do we need more discipline in the midfield? Added conservatism certainly wouldn't aid us offensively and goals still win games.
We are bang in trouble, January will be a huge month and it's still a painfully long way off. We now have a daunting run of fixtures, in some ways that might relieve the pressure as expectations will be lowered accordingly. One thing is for sure, irrespective of the chosen personnel, I hope we revert to the way we HAD been playing because Saturday was the least I've enjoyed a game all season.
Truthfully, it's all about surviving by any means necessary and I suppose I'd accept a more cautious outlook if it was guaranteed to garner the required points. Problem being, most of these players played in a team that tried that; and failed.
For the first time, Alex Neil seems a little bemused and there have been the first murmurings of discontent with both he and the board (again). I think we've got a cracker and we should back him with all we've got, both in January and in the stands.
We expected a reaction, perhaps we got an over-reaction. Still, Man City up next in the league at the Etihad, what could possibly go wrong?
• Blog post written by Duncan Edwards