Second half against Everton proves Norwich City can win at Old Trafford
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When you begin to curse the fortunes of teams around Norwich rather than celebrating one of their results, you get the feeling it could be a long second half of the season.
For the second Saturday in a row, a Bournemouth win felt like a sucker punch, albeit not quite as painful after Norwich at least won a point.
One win in 11 games. The type of statistic pundits love to refer to when discussing relegation candidates, and a run of form that if it continues will end in just that.
After the relentless Everton attacks in the first half, the Norwich players were lucky not to be going into the dressing room with an embarrassing scoreline hanging over their heads, an observation clearly felt by most at Carrow Road judging by the somewhat premature boos at half-time.
As vast as City's improvement was in the second half, quite why we couldn't compete like that from the first minute is a concern. It took an Arsenal goal to spark us into life in our last home fixture, and again careless passing, sloppy defending and poor decisions on the ball were repeatedly punished by an Everton side who played some of the best football by an away team at Carrow Road this season.
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This was the 14th different starting XI Alex Neil has fielded in 16 games. The inclusion of fit-again Wes Hoolahan was a relief given Norwich's lack of creativity at Vicarage Road. While he is guilty of trying one twist and turn too many at times, his impact can't be underestimated.
Norwich have picked up only one point when Hoolahan hasn't started, but the Irishman needs help. Nathan Redmond's early season form has petered away, and on Saturday his end product was poor. Without a prolific striker, City are going to have to create more chances, especially if those like Cameron Jerome's golden opportunity to make it 2-1 continue to go begging.
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As much as it hurts to criticise a player so pivotal in last season's promotion, who helped to deliver one of the best days many of us would have enjoyed as a Norwich fan, Jerome's meagre goal return in a league he has racked up a lot of experience in unfortunately shouldn't come as a surprise.
This is a striker who had managed to reach double figures in only one Premier League campaign, when he scored 11 goals for Birmingham in 2009/10. In 177 top flight appearances for Birmingham, Stoke and Crystal Palace, Jerome scored 30 goals at an average of one every 5.9 games. On that ratio, two goals in 16 games shows he is performing to a level we perhaps should have expected.
Jerome, Dieumerci Mbokani and Lewis Grabban have scored five goals between them this season. Russell Martin has scored three. It doesn't take a genius to work out what the first priority should be come January 1.
Playing well and drawing won't keep Norwich from relegation. The circumstances on Saturday required a lot of luck to keep us in the hunt for anything after a dismal opening 45 minutes, but in the end Norwich could easily have won. The same could be said for fixtures against Stoke, West Ham and Arsenal.
I don't like to use the phrase that a team has forgotten how to win games but it seems apt to describe Norwich's current plight.
The last time a newly promoted Norwich went to Old Trafford, Paul Lambert's side performed superbly and were it not for wayward finishing could even have won. Since then, City have played there as if full of trepidation and with a 'happy to be there' attitude have lost 4-0 on each of their last three visits.
As Bournemouth have shown, United are in a fragile state at the moment. Rather than bemoan a relegation rival's positive results, Norwich should take motivation from the Cherries' back-to-back wins in games against opponents that are automatically categorised as 'bonus games'. If we produce a performance akin to that in the second half on Saturday, there is no reason to fear them.