‘Now’s the time for Norwich City to stop doing these things by halves’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
If Premier League points were awarded for good halves of football, Norwich City would be sitting in a much more comfortable position going into the Christmas period.
As in the Arsenal game, City emerged for the second half of Everton's visit bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Unfortunately, as in that previous game, they had spent most of the first period looking like rabbits caught in headlights. Attacking movements had foundered as an inability to move the ball quickly enough saw momentum dissipate, while the revamped back four looked close to panic whenever the Toffees exerted any sort of pressure.
In fact, had the visitors been four goals to the good at half-time it wouldn't have been an unfair reflection on how the game had gone, with Declan Rudd the only home player to have stood out.
While the second-half renaissance says much for Alex Neil's motivational abilities (although the introduction of Ryan Bennett certainly helped) City simply won't survive in the Premier League if they cannot maintain the required level of intensity for 90 minutes.
Despite some initial success from a more pragmatic style of play, City are still shipping goals at the rate of 1.75 per game, which, when combined with profligacy at the other end, is a dangerous mixture.
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At present, of the three promoted teams, City's approach is looking the least effective.
Watford looked at their squad, decided it wasn't good enough and brought in 16 players, while Bournemouth, despite being wracked by injuries to key players, have stuck with their high energy, attacking style and have been rewarded with the scalps of Chelsea and Manchester United in successive games.
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The Watford option was never going to be viable for City given their financial limitations, but they now seem caught between a decision to stick or twist in terms of their style of play. The obvious frailty of City's defence has forced Neil to temper his natural attacking instincts and pack his midfield, but, ironically, City's best periods against both Arsenal and Everton came when they took the game to the visitors, and that stick or twist conundrum is also mirrored off the pitch as the club decide how much to invest in trying to maintain Premier League status.
January must bring some significant upgrades to a squad which has produced just three wins from 16 games, because without them it is increasingly hard to see how City will survive.
With the Sky money only arriving in instalments I think that most of us realise that the club will have to balance the overriding need to strengthen against the dangers of heading back down the road that led to near extinction in 2009, and it is important to appreciate that spending big is no guarantee of success.
However, while the current squad is manifestly struggling in a league which is proving to be at its most competitive in years the trick is to sign the right players, not necessarily the most expensive ones.
One thing that certainly won't help is changing the manager. Alex Neil has a squad largely composed of players who were relegated 18 months ago augmented by one quality addition in Robbie Brady and a number of players unable to hold down regular first team spots at other clubs, a pattern so far repeated at City.
An objective view would be that despite an encouraging start the squad is in the bottom three on merit and I'm not convinced that any manager who would be interested in the City job could have significantly changed that.
Changes are clearly needed, on the pitch, not in the dugout, but before then players need to make their case to survive – and today would be as good a time as any to do so.