Norwich City seem intent on doing it the hard way
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
For a man who professes he wants to move on Paul Lambert appears to relish inflicting fresh misery on Norwich City.
Which is a convenient way of overlooking the large part the Canaries played in their own downfall on another afternoon where that palpable undercurrent of frustration burst to the surface at Carrow Road.
The vocal support City rode so skilfully on their journey from the depths of League One is being constrained at present by an inability for this current crop to express the undoubted quality within their ranks.
Laboured efforts at Hull to overcome a side shorn of one man for an hour set against the complete abdication of any apparent ambition at Tottenham and now this latest blank against Villa are clearly testing the collective patience of a fan base whose loyalty is never in question.
Chris Hughton was castigated for his removal of Nathan Redmond, but his honest post-match appraisal was rooted in sound logic. Redmond had found it difficult to leave the same indelible imprint against the Villans that lit up Norwich's previous Premier League home win over Southampton. The overwhelming majority of City's best attacking work was sourced on the opposite flank through Russell Martin and Robert Snodgrass – the latter having an afternoon of stifling inconsistency. You sense it was less the tactical dimension that appeared objectionable to those on the terraces as the symbolic exit of one of the most creative weapons in Hughton's armoury.
The Canaries' support crave adventure but too often in recent times feel they get circumspection.
Much of what Norwich did was admirable in its intent after City recovered bravely from the blow of spurning an early penalty. Libor Kozak's 30th minute strike in the midst of the visitors' most dangerous spell of the contest was another red line. The hosts should be commended for the manner they responded to such adversity. Bar the odd brief counter-attacking flirtation after the interval, the game lapped incessantly around the vicinity of Brad Guzan's penalty area. Yet the reality was Norwich pounded away through hope rather than rock-solid belief to convince those in attendance they could convert multiple sights of goal into tangible reward.
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City's struggle was magnified by a bizarre penalty tussle between Snodgrass and Ricky van Wolfswinkel in which all the available evidence during and after the game suggested the manager had expected the Dutchman to take the spot kick.
Whether Snodgrass felt confident enough to accept the onerous responsibility misses the point. It hints at a lack of precision and preparation that contradicts the meticulous planning which characterises Hughton and his backroom staff.
Scrambled thinking was similarly prevalent for Villa's winner; a goal which owed as much to Norwich's lack of awareness as it did Andreas Weimann's threaded pass, Gabriel Agbonlahor's retrieval work or Kozak's finish.
Weimann has proved a troublesome opponent previously after his brace in the Capital One Cup win last season on Lambert's first return, but the Austrian international was granted the freedom of City's right-flank to gather Guzan's lengthy throw and drive at the heart of a central defence that in the defining fragment of this game looked like it had never played together before.
Sebastien Bassong's attempted offside call floundered on Michael Turner's decision to try and track the runner. Agbonlahor then reacted quicker than Turner after John Ruddy had manfully defied the Czech striker; left subsequently unmarked to slot the follow-up.
Both in conception and execution it was a nightmarish flashback to the worst defensive excesses that Hughton had successfully eradicated at this stage last season. With City struggling to find any rhythm in the final third it hardly needs stating the debilitating effect of any brittleness infecting their work at the back.
One can only hope the early prognosis regarding Bassong's hamstring injury is a favourable one.
Guzan's obduracy was the dominant theme funnelled through his early penalty save and the late one-handed tip over from Gary Hooper which almost apologetically lapped towards the American's goal after City's home debutant was unable to apply the requisite power to Javier Garrido's inviting centre.
Hooper's cameo brought an injection of energy and sustained attacking endeavour that is a cause for optimism for the games ahead when the former Celt is fully match-fit. Van Wolfswinkel was afforded greater room for manoeuvre simply by the presence of another forward option to occupy Villa's backline.
The Dutchman arguably spurned more sighters in one outing that he had in the entirety of his Premier League career to date. His chested close range finish and flashing volley were only fractions from putting a completely different complexion on the outcome. But in a game of fine margins, City remain mired the wrong side of the line.