Yet another story of what might have been for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It's hard to put Saturday's heartbreaking defeat into context when most of us would never have expected such a close contest.
A gallant display deserved much more at the Etihad than an increased number in the 'lost' column of the table and a suspension for our captain.
Norwich City must be careful not to allow this season to become one of 'what ifs'. Eleven games in and already City should have had a draw against Crystal Palace, should have hammered Stoke, should have beaten West Ham and should have had a point at Manchester City. Those six points would have seen Norwich in 10th place on Saturday evening.
It's not quite as simple as that of course, but if a similar pattern continues for the remainder of this campaign we're much more likely to be lamenting how City 'should have' stayed up come May.
Other than the result, there were plenty of positives to be taken from 90 minutes where Norwich, for the most part, frustrated the league leaders.
Alex Neil came in for criticism following his naive tactics at Newcastle, but his unconventional set up on Saturday almost worked perfectly. Playing three centre halves and two wing backs while deploying Robbie Brady on the right was unlike any formation this Norwich side have played, but sitting seven players so deep contained a Man City team who've scored eight more home goals than any other Premier League team.
To those outside Norfolk, Neil's managerial credentials may be questioned given Norwich have now lost four matches in a row. Yet the Scot is first to admit he's on a learning curve, one which he is clearly benefitting from given his formation and selection at the Etihad which should have yielded a very credible point.
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Youssouf Mulumbu backed up his promising performance in Tuesday's League Cup defeat at Everton with an assured league debut, while a goal, albeit an unmissable tap-in, for Cameron Jerome should boost his confidence which had clearly been lacking in recent weeks.
It's ironic that John Ruddy's error came in the same match that England's Joe Hart made an uncharacteristic one to gift Norwich the equaliser.
What makes Ruddy's worse is the fact that he had the chance to make amends for his drop, but elected to run after the ball instead of shouting at his defenders to clear their lines, leaving Russell Martin with little choice as the last man.
Ruddy's number one status has never been close to being relinquished since he joined the club five years ago. While that's testament to his consistent performances that have earned him international recognition, his displays in recent weeks have called into question whether he should always be an automatic choice.
Declan Rudd handled himself well midweek against top flight opposition. It's disappointing that he won't be tested in the same level of competition after City's exit, but could it be time to give him an opportunity to start a league fixture?
Two years ago Hart was dropped by Manuel Pellegrini for the 7-0 win over Norwich after some high profile errors. Costel Pantillimon took his place in the Premier League for almost two months. Hart returned in the December of that season and kept 10 clean sheets on the way to winning the Premier League title.
Clearly there are contrasts between that scenario and the one Norwich find themselves in now, but the point remains that players need competition to maintain high levels of performance. Goalkeepers are no different. If an outfield player's performances dip, it's no surprise if someone else is preferred ahead of him and Neil finds himself with a decision to make on Saturday.
Rather than congratulating themselves on almost achieving a good result, the Norwich players should be angry that they didn't quite manage it.
The saying in business is turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, and in terms of performances versus points that's easily applied to football. After all, its points not plaudits that will ultimately decide City's fate this season.