Should Norwich City be beating teams like Hull? It’s not that easy...
- Credit: Robin Jones
I suppose it was always going to happen sooner rather than later, but Saturday saw a head on collision between expectation and reality at the KC Stadium.
There was almost a party atmosphere before the game as the hordes of City fans looked forward to a routine demolition of the newcomers. That started to dissipate inside the stadium as a defensive looking Norwich line-up was announced and then disappeared completely as the home side started to dominate proceedings, even after going down to 10 men.
While the WWLD (What Would Lambert Do?) faction inevitably and predictably grabbed the early chance to plunge the metaphorical knife between Chris Hughton's shoulder blades there was certainly a more widespread perception that Saturday might herald a continuation of the negative approach adopted away from home last season. It is, of course, much too early to be jumping to conclusions (although when did that ever stop football fans doing so?) but it was without doubt a very disappointing start to the away programme.
Nevertheless I find it sad to hear City fans saying, 'we should be beating teams like Hull'. The fact is that they have a more experienced squad than the Canaries in their first season back in the Premier League and in Tom Huddlestone they had the second opposing playmaker to dominate a game against City this season (anyone spot a pattern developing here?). I remember how much we hated fans of 'bigger' clubs regarding City as cannon fodder when we were the Premier League new boys and yet now we're doing it too. How quickly we forget.
Hull played as if their lives depended on it and were disciplined after the sending off, but they were largely able to hold out because City's passing was wasteful and, more importantly, because there was no one in a white shirt who had the inventiveness to unlock a packed defence. That to me is much more of an issue than the perpetual red herring of the single striker formation, or the use of four central midfielders, and the lengthy courtships of Ola Toivonen and Fabio Quagliarella suggest that it is recognised as such by the management team too.
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While the relatively comfortable Capital Cup victory over Bury provided a bit of respite in midweek the arrival of Southampton will provide another stiff test this afternoon. The Saints have been on an upward curve since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino and have won many admirers for an approach based on pressing their opponents high up the pitch and flooding players forward when in possession.
Pochettino has introduced a distinctly South American flavour to Southampton's playing style and when on song they play with great flair and speed. Much of this stems from how fluidly players switch positions, particularly in the final third. Rickie Lambert is often seen as the quintessential English centre forward but in fact his ability to interchange with Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez creates major problems for markers, problems which will only get worse with the arrival of Dani Osvaldo.
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While that will provide a stern examination for the City defence, it could also present a lot more opportunities to break quickly into space when the ball is won back than was the case against Everton or Hull. There is no doubt that City are currently better equipped to play on the break than to try to unpick massed defences, and in that respect this could just prove to be the right game at the right time.
However, if City surrender possession as cheaply and as frequently as they did at Hull it could be a long afternoon for all of us. Hughton will, justifiably, have felt let down by his players last week. Today is their chance at redemption.