Forward march to tip the scales back in favour of Norwich City

Dieu Mbokani is surrounded by Sunderland players. Picture: PAUL CHESTERTON

Dieu Mbokani is surrounded by Sunderland players. Picture: PAUL CHESTERTON - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City would hardly select Arsenal and Manchester United to revive their flagging Premier League fortunes.

Both may be shifting uneasily in the title shadow cast by Leicester City and Tottenham but Champions League qualification for next season is still on the agenda and the duo have a galaxy of expensive talent to help them achieve it.

Yet given the Canaries' lacklustre and nervy offerings against Crystal Palace and Sunderland Alex Neil may just fancy upsetting the odds when his squad return to action against Arsene Wenger's boys before hosting Manchester United.

City managed it, after all, at Old Trafford with a landmark 2-1 league win against the Red Devils during another fallow period for Louis van Gaal before the Dutchman's conversion to promoting youth.

Norwich were also full value for a battling 1-1 point against the Gunners at Carrow Road on another landmark occasion - Lewis Grabban's last meaningful contribution in a Norwich shirt.

Losing to Sunderland still feels less a defeat and more an open wound that stacks the relegation odds firmly against Norwich. Neil's men are now reliant on results elsewhere as much as their ability to rouse themselves.

The manager talked about the elements he can control in a ride which lurches from the ecstasy of beating Newcastle to the agonies that unfolded against Sunderland, prior to the Wearsiders' visit. In essence, those factors not hostage to fortune such as the mood of an official on any given afternoon or the bounce of a ball.

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Selection and who he entrusts to carry Norwich's colours into battle is one, how he sets his team up is another.

You would need far more column inches than those available here to dissect why Matt Jarvis was preferred to Nathan Redmond and then Robbie Brady in the second-half on Saturday or Steven Naismith retained as the link man to Dieumerci Mbokani instead of Wes Hoolahan. Neil's opinion is the one that matters and hindsight should not be employed to berate him now given the manner Norwich unravelled.

He will know there has been intense scrutiny on what he got right and wrong as much as the performance of his players who crossed the white line before dramatically fading after a bright start.

But what the Sunderland defeat and the loss at Crystal Palace have in common is a regressive streak to City's forward play. The urge to go long and look for Mbokani has dominated Norwich's forward motion. It should hardly be a surprise City have failed to score in either game. There is a predictability to how the Canaries have set about the task in advanced areas which has been comfortably nullified by well-organised backlines.

Given we know Neil is a disciple of a more refined, possession-based philosophy it can only be the perilous nature of the corner Norwich have been backed into fanning such a direct approach.

The desperation for points and results is not conducive to easy on the eye football Norwich played at times earlier in the season when stress levels were drastically reduced and chances for upward mobility plentiful.

Such a testing environment is not going to radically change now, but against teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United City may discover more favourable conditions to inject greater variety back into their forward play. Neither opponent is programmed to press the Canaries with the desire of a Palace or a Sunderland. Whether it is changes in personnel or mindset, Neil and his squad must spend this invaluable time at Colney ahead of that trip to the Emirates honing a formula to mix the physical threat of Mbokani with the craft and guile of a Hoolahan or Naismith and the pace and direct thrust of a Redmond.

Neil often talks about the search for balance. Norwich need to tip the scales back in their favour.