Norwich City is guilty of a familiar charge
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The only curse Norwich City need to lift is the unfulfilled potential stunting their Championship growth.
Another depressing day at Craven Cottage slipped unobtrusively away with nothing to show for the Canaries' labours except fresh frustration and a sense, much like Neil Adams' first game in charge last season, of dashed entitlement given City's degree of control.
Norwich have now failed to score in the opening period of a league game since Bournemouth at Carrow Road on August 30. The last time they took the lead in a game was at Brentford on September 16. Those are not anomalies, they are damning statistics and Adams' post-match call to arms will resonate with the thousands who made the pilgrimage to the Thames desperate to see a first win over the Cottagers since 1986.
Take this latest shift in isolation and you would detect admirable traits in the weight of possession and territory, but there was also plenty that disturbed. Adams tweaked the formation and got the same outcome as Charlton and to a lesser extent Rotherham, after Cameron Jerome salvaged a point against the Millers.
Lewis Grabban struck the bar with a penalty, Josh Murphy hit the woodwork late on but no-one, least of all Adams himself, was fooled by the growing body of evidence after another disappointing Championship offering.
The free-flowing, vibrant Canaries of the opening weeks is long gone; in there place palpable hesitancy and a growing lack of confidence, both individually and collectively, that is baffling given the way they set about the task of reclaiming their Premier League status.
Too often since a hard-fought victory at Griffin Park, Norwich have been passive until sparked into a ferocious response by opponents who seem to expose a residual counter-attacking weakness, which was evident again at Craven Cottage after Michael Turner coughed up possession to spark a clinical incision finished coolly by Sean Kavanagh.
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Norwich's general approach play remains measured and precise. City once more worked Nathan Redmond and Murphy, after he had replaced the stricken Wes Hoolahan, into advanced positions behind enemy lines, but there was a sense of hope rather than expectation from an attacking unit that arrived in London with the best goalscoring record on the road in the division.
Grabban's penalty miss after Jerome had coaxed a rash challenge from Dan Burn was symptomatic of a predatory striker toiling to
rediscover the cold-eyed instincts that came so naturally during Norwich's early-season ascent. Grabban is by no means the only member of this Norwich squad to have slipped from such high standards.
After a controlled opening, when Hoolahan looked set to enjoy the time and freedom he has found so elusive in the confined spaces of Carrow Road, Fulham began to exert a growing measure of dominance in midfield. Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey were harassed into ceding possession in dangerous areas of the pitch, Scott Parker gradually brought Hoolahan under control and on the occasions when City did raid down the flanks the Cottagers' defended their penalty box with relative comfort.
It was a depressingly familiar pattern and Adams is astute enough to realise it requires either fresh personnel from an enviable talent pool or a revision to the way Norwich set about the task, to counter-act opponents who now accept they will have to forage on scraps and strive for productivity from slim rations.
It is to the credit of Rotherham, Charlton and now Fulham that they have all managed to grasp such a formula, as much as it is to the detriment of Norwich for failing to convert their dominance.
City's best moments in a genuine fallow period came at places like Cardiff and Brentford and Blackpool, when they punished teams displaying a greater attacking ambition with devastating counter-punches. But such fertile conditions are alien at Carrow Road and if Fulham's mindset is now symptomatic of what lies ahead on the road, City need to revise their battleplan.
Control without a clinical edge defines the Canaries' recent Championship activity. Adams and his coaching brains have to wrestle with that conundrum or risk a prolonged downturn. Against Fulham they could not even seek solace in the glut of chances created over those two previous home league games. The Cottagers punished Norwich for one slack interlude prior to the interval and then shielded Marcus Bettinelli for the most part until the woodwork intervened.
City's greatest foe right now is arguably themselves. That swagger so prevalent during the opening salvos of the Championship campaign has gone; the reassuring sense the management and players had embraced the weight of expectation is in danger of being lost.
Adams is right when he says they must find the pressing answers to stave off the inevitable pressure that is now starting to build.