Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s 3-1 Championship defeat at Reading
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Our Norwich City correspondent Paddy Davitt delivers his snap verdict from the Madejski Stadium
1. The kings of self-destruction - Carly Simon's 'Nobody does it better' reverberated around the Madejski at the final whistle. They got that right. Add Reading to a litany that just from memory in recent weeks includes QPR, Barnsley and Huddersfield. Back on level terms through Nelson Oliveira's cool finish, City's inability to defend set pieces triggered fresh carnage. Jonny Howson handled on his own line in a repeat of Martin Olsson's last-ditch effort at Loftus Road. Same outcome. Red card, missed penalty, but this time Reading slotted the rebound and the damage was done. Abject dereliction of duty from Alex Neil and his players. Again.
2. Soft centre. That's an understatement - Alex Neil has put his faith in Seb Bassong and Ryan Bennett at the expense of Timm Klose. A physical barrier is how the Scot justified that in recent weeks. There wasn't much sign of resistance in the manner Bennett lost Yann Kermorgant for the opener, compounded by John Ruddy's 'superman' act. The second-half penalty/red card all came from another free header after City had left Kermorgant free just after half-time. Five goals shipped in two games. That is not all at the feet or head of City's central defence but without a solid base, there is no prospect of an upturn.
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3. Losing positions - Only once this season have Norwich come back from a deficit to win a game in the Championship this season, a stirring second-half at Nottingham Forest. That cuts to the heart of a fragility and a losing mentality within this group that has run like a dark seam through this diabolical run.
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4. Tempo change - Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Norwich bossed territory and possession for large parts of the opening period without seriously threatening to turn up the heat on Ali Al Habsi but it took barely five minutes of attacking intent from Reading prior to the interval to make the breakthrough. Garath McCleary began to run at Martin Olsson. Ivo Pinto struggled to subdue Liam Kelly and from his free kick, Yann Kermorgant rose between Ryan Bennett and John Ruddy. Reading then retreated to comfortably repel a lightweight Norwich. It cut to the heart of game-management and there was only one team on the park who had that.
5. Freak injury - If Alex Neil was in any doubt the fates have conspired against him it was illustrated by Graham Dorrans' bizarre injury when he hobbled off after trying to prevent Reading from taking a quick free kick. Dorrans had looked confident and composed in possession with the Royals content to allow him time and space before he departed. Jonny Howson was switched centrally prior to his dismissal, which creates one more headache for a New Year's Eve trip to Brentford.