There’s no need for Norwich City fans to panic
Saturday may well have been the hottest day of the year, but every Norwich City fan who'd sweltered in the Putney End of Craven Cottage returned home under their own personal thundercloud.
During pre-season the mood on social media sites and forums spanned the whole gamut of emotions from blind optimism to a conviction that, without a competitive ball being kicked, we were already doomed.
For some, Paul Lambert had retrospectively become such an infallible deity that Chris Hughton would not even be afforded the usual honeymoon period, and as I walked back towards Hammersmith tube station on Saturday afternoon I could almost hear the sound of knives being sharpened.
There has been some inevitable disquiet in pre-season about Hughton's apparent preference for playing a lone striker, and inevitably much of the post game analysis revolved around this. Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that Lambert regularly used a single target man away from home, and played a five man defence at Fulham last season.
Clearly the game plan was for Snodgrass, Surman and Pilkington to get forward in support of Holt, but in practice the captain was left isolated up front until Morison's half-time entrance. It would be very easy to simply blame the formation but to me there were two other key factors in how the game developed.
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The first was the fact that Fulham were happy to drop off and let City pass the ball laterally without challenge, while defending effectively against any attempts to get behind them, particularly in wide areas. The second, which was even more important, was the vastly superior ball retention of the home side, which allowed them to dictate the tempo of the game. While City repeatedly gave the ball away even when under no real pressure, Fulham were comfortable on the ball and were able to use their pace up front to stretch the Norwich defence.
Generally speaking, if you can control possession you will control the match, and so it proved on Saturday. While the intense heat was debilitating for both sides, anyone who has played the game will know that it's much easier to run when you have the ball than when you're trying to get it back.
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Depressing as it was, however, it's important to try to keep Saturday in some sort of perspective. Firstly, let's not forget that the final third of last season saw more tepid performances than sparkling displays as sides started to learn how to counteract City's style. We were one of the leakiest defensive teams in the League, something that Lambert would have had to address had he stayed, because relying on outscoring your opponents isn't a viable long-term strategy. Whoever was at the helm would have had to address our problems at the back, and reorganising defences with new personnel always takes time.
Secondly, Chris Hughton, a hero to both Birmingham and Newcastle fans, hasn't become a bad manager overnight, nor have City become a bad side. At this stage it's reasonable to see Saturday as a very bad day at the office all round.
Clearly Hughton has a vision of how he wants the side to play and the fact that players are still coming into the squad means that it may take a little while longer for everyone to be singing from the same song sheet. While that's frustrating for supporters who'd like to pretend that Lambert never left, Hughton's track record suggests that his approach will ultimately bear fruit. He certainly won't be panicking, and neither should we. However, if City continue to be as profligate in possession as they were on Saturday, any system, and the personnel therein, will struggle to produce the results that we all want to see. That, however, is an issue for the players to resolve.