Poor display, fine result

STEVE GEDGE Who was it exactly that coined that cliche about teams who play badly yet still win....?They certainly didn't have this game in mind, whoever it was, that's for certain.


Frustration upon frustration - that's been the story of the last 10 days for the Canaries. After allowing themselves to be decidedly second-best for long spells at both Hull and Rochdale, they duly respond with easily their best football of the new season -and then let their visitors mug them for not just two points, but all three.

Throw in a totally underwhelming Carling Cup third-round draw into the mix and it was the worst possible way to start the first of this year's internationally-enforced mid-season breaks.

Had City managed to hold on for a point, that blank fortnight might have dragged a bit, but not to the extent that it will now following Roger Johnson's late, avoidable winner.

Okay, these things happen, but how the Canaries could have done with a fixture tomorrow night - anywhere, against anyone - to just get Saturday's defeat out of their systems as quickly as possible.

Instead, they now have to sit and brood on this defeat and contemplate how to finally get the better of recent bogey side Crystal Palace - no wins in their last seven meetings now, remember - and negotiate subsequent trips to in-form Charlton and Wolves.

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Followed, in due course, by a trip to Manchester City Reserves. And that was another disappointment suffered on Saturday. Had City been paired, say, at home to Sven-Goran Eriksson's side, it might have been a different matter. Or against any other Premiership side at Carrow Road for that matter. But this is hardly a tie to get any pulses racing, unless of course, you happen to be one of the Canaries' ex-Manchester City contingent.

But back to Cardiff.

Last week, I was asked by a paper in south Wales to fill their opposition fan's slot and say what I wanted to see from my team.

My response? A much better first-half showing and for City to take the lead. Well, both of those wishes were granted on Saturday, but City still finished with nothing to show for their (considerable) efforts.

Yet, personally, I felt it was at least an encouraging display in parts. City started well, and, if anything, Dion Dublin's disallowed goal seemed to spur them on rather than frustrate them. Simon Lappin's opportunist strike wasn't the mark of a side who now find themselves 20th in the Championship table.

You can't really say that there was a particular weak link in the side in terms of work-rate, and no one had an absolute individual stinker - yet the fact remains that poor defending gifted Cardiff both their goals. About the only thing to be said about the first one was that if the otherwise outstanding Dublin can make a mistake like that then no one is going to be immune to errors, whether they are a scapegoat or not.

And the positioning for the second one just gets worse and worse the more you see it on television. Ultimately Cardiff took the chances that came their way courtesy of the opposition. City didn't, on a day of no great creativity by either side.

Apart from the two goals conceded, you have to also say that there's something not quite right in midfield. Whatever it is, there's an element just not gelling there.

When you look back at the Canaries' close-season signings there's none that was a cause for concern or set off any internal alarm bells, but it's taking a long time for people to get to know each other. And while Julien Brellier in particular is showing slow, steady improvement, you do sense at times the Canary back four still preferring to bypass the uncertainties of midfield and instead lump the ball forward in the hope that Chris Brown is going to be able to flick it on for Jamie Cureton to do something. But when that wasn't possible, there seldom seemed someone close enough backing up in midfield to mop up the ball instead.

As soon as Cardiff scored, City's recent self-doubts began to re-emerge and it was surprising that it was another seven minutes until the long overdue introduction of Darren Huckerby finally happened.

By this stage Cardiff had more width, whereas the Canaries seemed more bereft of ideas. Had the visitors' second goal come a bit earlier, there would have been an even more overwhelming case to bring on Chris Martin just to try something different, but City elected to stick with what they had got.

On another day perhaps the Canaries would have been given a penalty rather than a free-kick on the edge of the area when Glenn Loovens handled in the second half - but that just added to the overall depressing mood come the final whistle.

And if Cardiff snatching a late winner didn't come as a total surprise, then neither did the mixed form of their hyped-up big names.

Robbie Fowler might have made all the difference on his previous visit to Carrow Road - scoring twice in Manchester City's 3-2 Premiership win two and a half years ago - but on Saturday he was totally, totally anonymous.

And it has to be said that the only way that either Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink or Trevor Sinclair particularly caught the eye was late on when their considerable experience was used to run time down by taking the ball into corner areas and keeping it there.

Admittedly Sinclair did get in the occasional cross, but the trio did not provide much of a return overall for Cardiff's great outlay - especially when you consider that their two goalscorers came to Ninian Park for the (comparatively) chicken-feed transfer fees (by the Bluebirds' standards) of £275,000 and £350,000.

Every time Norwich face the Bluebirds now and we start hearing fresh stories about their great ambition etc, I think back to City's visit to Ninian Park in March 2004 and a pre-match pitch signing of an agreement with the local council to authorise work on their new ground. That stadium is currently on target to be opened in the early months of 2009.

If the current work in progress on the pitch at Carrow Road takes that long then we really do have problems, but maybe a few weeks won't matter quite so much in the great scheme of things.