Great going forward, terrible at the back...Norwich City's display against Leeds confirmed what we already knew
PUBLISHED: 20:00 30 April 2017 | UPDATED: 17:29 02 May 2017
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Back in June, after Garry Monk had just been announced the new head coach of Leeds, I took on a bet offered by an overexcited colleague from Yorkshire.
After a few minutes running on about how this was to be their season, he offered me a £10 bet that his beloved Leeds would finish above Norwich come May.
While I was in no doubt Monk was a great appointment, he was the seventh manager in just over two years through Elland Road’s infamous revolving door. There was no telling how long Monk would be given to succeed, or indeed even put up with working under Chairman Massimo Cellino.
Even if Norwich didn’t make the play-offs, I thought there was no way Leeds would finish higher. With that in mind, I laughed at his suggestion and instead doubled the stake to £20. Eleven months on, operating on a budget the fraction the size of City’s, it was Leeds who were the only side with anything to play for in the penultimate game of this entirely underwhelming campaign.
Despite Norwich somehow clinching a draw from the jaws of victory on Saturday, handing over that crisp note which I managed to delay until April’s payday won’t feel quite as bad knowing City effectively ended their play-off dream.
Quite how this Norwich XI, six of whom had been in the team who rolled over at relegated Rotherham three months ago, produced some of their best football in a cauldron-like atmosphere against a team who had everything to play for is just another question mark over what has been a bizarre season.
It was another of those performances which reaffirmed what we already knew about this team. They can be fantastically effective going forward, but a lack of concentration, organisation and leadership continue to plague City when the opposition manages to get a foothold in a game, even when there is a three-goal deficit to make up.
It isn’t just the back four that needs urgent improvement. The collective effort into defending from the front, and in particular at set pieces has been severely lacking for two seasons. In last week’s column I wrote that Norwich had to build a team around Alex Pritchard. Doing so would mean making sure there is a strong enough defensive unit to stop the ongoing trend of leaking goals away from Carrow Road.
While Pritchard put in an eye-catching performance and notched up another assist on Saturday, it was the endeavours of Steven Naismith and Nelson Oliveira that gave further hints of just how exciting City’s forward line can be when it clicks.
Oliveira’s brace makes this his most prolific season yet as a professional. A return of 11 goals in 27 Championship appearances (with only 15 of those starts) means he has proven to be a valuable signing.
Naismith may have endured torrid spells of form since his arrival, but at Elland Road he showed glimpses of the player that ran Liverpool ragged on his debut last season with a sublime goal to boot. He has the ability to affect Championship games, it’s a case of whether he will be able to thrive with a new man at the helm.
While that nasty streak in Naismith’s game may have crossed the line on Saturday, he’s one of very few players at Norwich with an aggressive tenacity about him that if used to his advantage is an asset in this league. A seventh red card of the campaign though proves indiscipline is another underlying flaw in this squad that must be ironed out under the new regime.
While things on the pitch remain as frustrating as ever, Stuart Webber meanwhile is going about his business and hired two new recruits to a revamped scouting team. A sign that as everyone winds down and this season comes to a close, his work at Colney is about to begin in earnest.