‘Norwich only have themselves to blame for a disastrous Sunderland defeat’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Refereeing decisions may not have gone our way at Carrow Road on Saturday but the sad truth is Norwich had only themselves to blame for a disastrous defeat.
Were we unlucky not to be given a penalty for a second consecutive game? Was Jan Kirchoff's tackle on Seb Bassong in the build-up to the second goal really fair? Either way, forgive me if I think it's a bit rich to be cursing our luck.
We had our rub of the green when Jonny Howson's handling of the ball allowed him to set up Martin Olsson for the winner against Newcastle. We then had the fortune of facing teams either side of us in the table. If we could have hand-picked our own fixtures to give us the best possible chance of pulling us out of the mire and dragging other teams further in it, Crystal Palace then Sunderland in consecutive weeks would have been it.
The first goal in Saturday's game was always going to be crucial, it has been for Norwich all season. Given that the best we've managed after going a goal behind has been a draw this campaign, Alex Neil's somewhat cautious approach in terms of team selection and tactics was disappointing.
It seemed the team was set up to avoid defeat rather than win, with a preference for relying on the long ball over the top. Dieumerci Mbokani and Steven Naismith again didn't get the same joy as they did against Newcastle and were intent on playing for a free-kick at every opportunity, which did nothing to help persuade Andre Marriner to consider later claims for more blatant fouls.
In the biggest game at Carrow Road since the play-off semi final, much of the opening half was similar to how Norwich started against Ipswich last May. Nerves getting the better of some players, a lack of cutting edge, a few misplaced passes. Exemplified by the fact that Andre Wisdom's clumsy tackle on Fabio Borini came about after his own poor cross into the penalty area was cleared and Sunderland were able to break.
The decision to keep Nathan Redmond on the bench and persist with Matt Jarvis meant that we posed little threat down the right-hand side. Neil could have rectified that at half-time when a goal down, instead Robbie Brady was sacrificed.
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Bizarre considering he'd created our only chances of the half, crossing for an Mbokani header, then to Howson for a volley and also going on a run past three players before whipping in a ball that was almost turned in by a Sunderland defender.
It was another performance and result that exposed our lack of leadership. While Gary O'Neil and Howson worked tirelessly especially when chasing the game, we didn't have an individual that came close to matching Lee Cattermole or Kirchoff who dominated the midfield.
Sunderland's game plan was clear. Playing the long ball over the top for Jermain Defoe and Fabio Borini to chase and Norwich did little to combat it. Timm Klose's absence couldn't have been felt more deeply as Bassong dithered on the ball and was dispossessed, perhaps unfairly, by Kirchoff ahead of the second goal. Norwich huffed and puffed in the second half and on another day could have found a way back into the game had Vito Mannone and the defence in front of him not been so alert. Yet as has been the case so often this season, too much damage had already been done.
The problem remains that Norwich don't score enough goals for a team that concedes on average much closer to two goals than one per game. Three against Newcastle masked what has been an issue for most of the season. Defoe's 13 Premier League goals equal more than City's top two scorers combined. What we'd do for a finisher of his calibre.
Newcastle's victory over Swansea topped off a calamitous weekend for the Canaries. Much can change in this relegation run-in of course, but it feels like there has been a seismic shift in the amount of hope up in the north east. The question is whether Neil can stop it from becoming a decisive one.