Toothless Tigers no test for City

STEVE GEDGE When City's visit to Hull was brought forward a day to Good Friday, there was a nagging doubt that it wasn't anywhere near enough and that it should have been advanced even more.

STEVE GEDGE

When City's visit to Hull was brought forward a day to Good Friday, there was a nagging doubt that it wasn't anywhere near enough and that it should have been advanced even more.

By another month, to be precise, back to a time when Hull's defenders were so inept they were passing the ball inside their own six-yard box straight to the opposition to set up disbelieving Ipswich players to score at will in a 5-2 away victory.

On the way up to the KC Stadium you did wonder whether they had learned from that debacle. Surely another bunch of East Anglian raiders would not be allowed to come away with such a haul of goals and give local headline writers an easy time?

We needn't have worried. Hull weren't quite as clueless as Barnsley - still, for me, the worst league side the Canaries have faced this season, and, overall, only marginally better than Torquay - but they were still brushed aside with minimum resistance despite all the theatrical impact of their entrance music being coupled with ominous menacing renditions of "Tiger, tiger, burning bright…"

Norwich at least started to erase the memory of the shambles at Colchester six days earlier, although it has to be said that they could probably have been just as poor again and might still managed to at least repeat last season's 1-1 draw at the Tigers, such was the quality gap between their last two opponents.

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Given City's all-too-frequent caution or disinterest on their travels over the last three seasons any away win is not to be sniffed at.

But while some - such as those at Birmingham or West Bromwich - are causes for optimism, if not outright celebration, winning at Hull isn't exactly a unique achievement, given that 11 of the 21 sides to have visited the KC Stadium this season have now managed it.

Yes, City scored a couple of nice goals, and but for some desperate defending and a disputed linesman's decision could have had a final total to match Ipswich's. True, there were some nice moves carved out, and April 6 could well go down as the day that Darren Huckerby snuffed out anyone else's chances of player-of-the-year glory.

But you do need to see the Canaries travel to more testing, worthwhile opposition to assess their future prospects. (Not to mention making lasting amends for the Colchester no-show.) For this season at least we may have to make do with quantity rather than quality. Leicester, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday should have precious little to play for when they face the Canaries. However, taking those fixtures as a whole, were City to take six or seven points in total then that might offer some hope they can yet rid themselves of the stop-start tendencies which have blighted their recent campaigns.

If, however, they follow up a win at Hull with only a point at Leicester and then serve up another of those 'we can't be bothered' first-half away showings at Burnley that leaves them with too much to do in the closing 45 minutes, then we're back to square one.

It was certainly a case of reverting to type at Hull that City were unable to keep a clean sheet, buckling near the end after conceding one needless free-kick too many.

However, in a way at least they made the most of their failures. It would have been all too easy for the Canaries to concede again in the four minutes of stoppage time as the Hull fans that hadn't streamed out early cranked up the atmosphere.

But they didn't, and even though that may be an indication of how far City's stock has fallen - that we're complimenting them for managing to hold on to win a match they looked to have already sewn up - at least they managed to avoid any of the defensive howlers which led to the goals at Layer Road.

At times on Friday you sensed City being dragged down to the level of their opponents, as has been the case against Southend and QPR this season.

You'd like to think the same thing happens today against West Bromwich. Okay, Tony Mowbray's men may have fallen back in the table and might have to settle for a second season in the Championship, but at their best they still represent one of the best squads the Canaries will come up against this season.

But this season City seem to rise to the occasion. How else do you explain the six points and two clean sheets against Birmingham, the 0-0 draw away to Derby, the total of just one goal conceded to Sunderland, and so on…

Line them up against a good side and City start to believe in themselves. (In the same manner that as soon as they concede to the likes of Southend and Luton you can see the doubts start to creep in… "We obviously can't be any good if teams like this have scored against us.")

Hopefully, this trend will continue today and I won't be as wide of the mark as Hull's ex-Ipswich striker Nicky Forster.

Asked in Friday's programme whether his past would make him a target for Norwich fans, he replied: "I don't know if I'll get too much stick. I don't think they'll remember too much about me as I was only at Ipswich for 12 months. They might boo me, I don't know."

No prizes for guessing what happened when he was substituted on the hour by Ricardo Vaz Te. Clue: it wasn't exactly what you'd call a warm round of applause.