Norwich vs Swansea: Scrappy, streetwise and so thoroughly deserved
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After bemoaning Norwich City's points haul from promising performances, it was perhaps time that we collected all three after a below-par one.
It was no surprise to see a nervy display at Carrow Road, given City's run of four league defeats, and not for a while has a scrappy 1-0 victory felt so good. What feels almost as satisfying is that for the first time this season there was no analysis to be given, in the stands or by pundits, of how and why Norwich had conceded another poor goal after a resolute performance earned a much-needed clean sheet.
Alex Neil said after the game he felt it necessary to change the playing style to do just that, which made it an effective performance as opposed to a vintage one.
Given John Ruddy's high-profile error seven days previous, I couldn't have been the only one expecting a barrage of Swansea shots and crosses to test his resolve at every opportunity. Instead, for all their possession, a lack of confidence in attack and strong defending in the final third prevented them carving out a single shot on target.
As good as Swansea's ball retention was, City were wasteful in possession, particularly in the first half, perhaps a result of over-cautious play that limited attacking options. Cameron Jerome looked an isolated and frustrated figure leading the line, even more so when he was unable to guide a header six yards out on target and convert the best chance Norwich had created.
The introduction of Dieumerci Mbokani little over 20 minutes from time changed the game. His attacking threat was far more potent than Jerome's and it took only a matter of seconds for the Congolese striker to win a free-kick.
The first real moment of positivity came shortly after when Robbie Brady forced a good save from Lukasz Fabianski. It was from the corner that Mbokani set up Jonny Howson to score the team's first headed goal of the season.
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Mbokani has been involved in three of Norwich's last five Premier League goals, and considering Chelsea's current predicament I'd fancy his chances of giving the likes of John Terry the runaround if he's given the nod over Jerome in a fortnight's time.
Neil said afterwards the side's confidence had never been in question, but in truth City looked a different team after they scored.
Being unable to see out the game has been one of our downfalls this campaign. One of the most pleasing aspects of Norwich's performance was how we went about doing so. Mbokani and Gary O'Neil in particular were brilliant at employing a few streetwise tactics to run down the clock.
Mbokani's aerial presence is an asset in both boxes, and he made sure he made contact with a Swansea player in making a crucial clearance, enough to allow the physio to run on and stop play just when Garry Monk's side were piling on the pressure deep in injury-time.
Afterwards, when O'Neil found himself in a shooting position on the edge of the box, instead of hitting it with his weaker foot he made a wiser choice and passed it across the box to retain possession. When Swansea won the ball back he smartly accepted a yellow card for a late challenge to halt what could have been a dangerous counter-attack.
So many times we've seen teams do similar in getting results against us and it's simply naive not to do the same when the situation is reversed.
Andre Wisdom made only his fifth start in all competitions – bar the cup defeat to Everton on penalties he's been part of a winning side on every occasion. His performance could well merit a start Stamford Bridge where Norwich will start the match ahead of the champions in the table. Another scrappy win there would do just fine...