Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City flatter to deceive on Premier League duty again at Leicester City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City should strive to follow Leicester City's lead in the Premier League, but the desire to emulate the Foxes' great escape borders on the masochistic.
This time last season Leicester were in so much negative equity Nigel Pearson's squad had to embark on a remarkable run of seven wins and a draw from their last nine league games to beat the drop.
Pearson may have been jettisoned for the wily Claudio Ranieri, who uses a public cloak of eccentricity to mask his razor-sharp tactical brain, but the foundations for their improbable title charge are rooted in that response to adversity 12 months ago.
Leicester may have a billionaire benefactor but their rise and rise this season is being spearheaded by a cheap import from French football and a former non league striker who was scoring goals against King's Lynn six years ago.
Similar pre-conditions exist for Norwich to chase the dream, given the relative size of both clubs, but this latest episode was ultimately another false dawn.
City's capacity to flatter to deceive is now a character trait inhibiting any upward mobility. Yet again there was so much to admire at the King Power stadium in Alex Neil's bold tactical approach, the imaginative use of personnel and the manner in which a team leading the pack looked no better than a side scrapping for their lives.
Cast your mind back to Norwich's very first Premier League game this season, when the euphoria of that epic Championship promotion success was still tangible and the possibilities for further growth seemed boundless in the August sunshine. Norwich pummelled Crystal Palace, yet lost 3-1 at Carrow Road. Set aside the injustice of Cameron Jerome's disallowed late goal, for apparent dangerous play, and one clear lesson emerged in the post-mortem. Norwich needed to be better in each penalty box; more ruthless up front to take numerous chances and more miserly at the back to repel inevitable bouts of pressure against better opponents and a higher grade of player.
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What transpired in the East Midlands seven months later suggested that charge still holds true against a set of players now supplemented by a productive January transfer window. There is no lack of effort or application or desire, which was underlined by the reaction of the 3,000 plus who travelled to Leicester, but perhaps the brutal reality is Norwich is simply not good enough.
Not only from month to month, or game to game, but even within any given 90 minutes. For 89 they repelled everything Leicester could muster, which in truth, was very little direct threat on John Ruddy's goal, such was the disciplined nature of their collective work. But what use is that when two players get attracted to Riyad Mahrez, who slips in the overlapping Marc Albrighton with time and space to fire in a low cross that left Ryan Bennett trying to subdue not only Vardy but the unmarked Leonardo Ulloa?
It was another cheap concession in a long procession, compounded by Norwich's failure to convert a number of promising situations at the other end. Jerome headed wide four yards out after a perfectly-timed dart and leap to meet Robbie Brady's corner. The striker had already lost an earlier duel against Kasper Schmeichel when freed by the re-energised Nathan Redmond, who more than most appeared to relish the attacking licence afforded him in Neil's latest innovation. The England Under-21 starlet also tested Schmeichel prior to the interval before unleashing a swinging late shot that had the Dane beaten only to veer wide of his far post.
Even after Ulloa's dagger, the newly-introduced Patrick Bamford slashed a chance wide from 16 yards to salvage a point that may still have felt like loose change.
Taken in isolation, Norwich's display against the title-challenging Foxes offered huge grounds for optimism, but it is not a one-off, it is a link in the chain of missed opportunities. The lack of conviction in the key moments continues to undermine any attempt at extricating themselves from peril. Norwich remain capable of producing in sporadic bursts, but that quest for consistency looks beyond them.
For those who feel the Canaries can harness the level of productivity shown against the Foxes to survive over the fraught run-in, the overwhelming body of evidence suggests for every Leicester or Manchester United there is an Aston Villa or Bournemouth lying in wait.
Those epic mood swings, that chronic inconsistency is Norwich's greatest challenge.
They can do it, they have done it, albeit in one brief growth spurt around the turn of this year, but the current trend is a corrosive one.