‘Norwich City’s stubborn display at Leicester left me so frustrated’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There are moments in a season when events conspire to make you think the writing could be on the wall.
For Leicester fans, winning in the manner they did against Norwich probably feels like the kind of crucial victory title-winners in waiting manage to grind out. For Canaries' fans, coming so close to getting a result at the league leaders only for all their side's hard work to be undone in the 89th minute might seem like another defeat closer to impending relegation.
Despite all of Norwich's defensive failings in recent weeks, executing a masterclass to keep a clean sheet against the league's highest scorers would have suited the unpredictable nature of this Premier League season so far.
The fact our opponents were Leicester City, who had just 18 points at this same stage last season, was enough to make you think stranger things have happened.
For almost 90 minutes at the King Power Stadium, Alex Neil's plan to nullify Leicester's threat was effective. Norwich looked by far the most defensively organised they have done this campaign and managed to keep their shape so well, protecting John Ruddy's area to restrict Leicester to a couple of long-range efforts.
Claudio Ranieri's side looked lethargic and bereft of ideas as the final whistle approached, yet one lapse in concentration was enough to allow them to create a chance, and that's all a team of such quality need to score, and with it win the game.
City, though, had only themselves to blame for not already being in front.
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Cameron Jerome spurned two brilliant chances, hesitating when through on goal to allow Kasper Schmeichel to collect and then glancing a free header wide from inside the six-yard box.
Leicester hadn't conceded a league goal at home since December 14, but it was Norwich's lack of quality in the final third as opposed to their resolute defending that earned them a clean sheet. Late on Matt Jarvis found himself in acres of space on the left-hand side, but took too long to shoot and was tackled in the area. Moments later Leicester were afforded the same space on the right wing, the one time Norwich switched off in the match, and instead they made their one clear-cut chance count.
As good as the defensive performance was for 89 minutes, going forward City were guilty of attacking with a lack of purpose and intent at times. Perhaps a reluctance to commit players forward was a factor in that, but even so players looked short on confidence and unable to pose a threat from most corners and crosses that were often placed too close to the goalkeeper.
Neil's reluctance to make attacking substitutions came in for criticism once more but with the game level and City playing for a draw he clearly felt it would be a risk to change personnel. Even so, with Jerome's impact on the game diminishing long before he was taken off, Dieumerci Mbokani looked like a better option from the bench given his strengths, while Patrick Bamford may have snatched at a half-chance that fell to him seconds before full-time due to the fact he had been on the pitch for only three minutes.
As crushing as the result was, it's no shame to lose away to a team whose win put them five points clear at the top. What's more frustrating and much harder to take is our inability to have produced this same level of performance at the back against weaker teams, relegation rivals and when trying to protect precious leads. That's what might really cost us come May.