Chris Goreham: Why I like watching Norwich City in ‘the wilderness’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 August 2018

Onel Hernandez consoles Jordan Rhodes at the end of City's 4-3 defeat to West Brom. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Onel Hernandez consoles Jordan Rhodes at the end of City's 4-3 defeat to West Brom. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Paul Chesterton

It was a landmark moment when Jordan Rhodes fired Norwich City into a 1-0 lead against West Brom.

As well as being the striker’s first goal for the Canaries it was also the 100th of his career in The Championship.

There wasn’t much time for Rhodes to raise his bat to the Carrow Road pavilion because that strike was just the start of negotiations on a chaotic day.

There may have been seven goals but I couldn’t bring myself to call it a ‘thriller’, the number of mistakes made it a contender for one of the worst 4-3 games of all time.

Those errors weren’t solely made by defenders. How many times in cricket have you seen a batsman carelessly throw his wicket away soon after clocking up a hard-earned century?

Rhodes’ poorly struck penalty was the football equivalent as he offered the West Brom goalkeeper a dolly of a catch and missed out on taking his personal Championship tally to 101.

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Our match summariser Darren Eadie put forward the theory that Rhodes would not have taken such a casual penalty had he not already scored in the game. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the next one.

At the very moment Rhodes was reaching his hundred Chris Woakes was building a century of his own at Lord’s to put England in control of the second Test against India.

It is a wonderful time of year to be a sport fan with the start of the football season and a summer of cricket in full flight simultaneously. It means there is always something to offer a welcome escape from reality.

This weekend saw the all-conquering Premier League hogging the national attention once more. The obsession with top flight football was best summed up by the recent advertising campaign for Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage which welcomed Wolves back after six-years in “The Wilderness”.

The dark, dingy and distant place from which poor old Wolves have come is The Football League. Sky seemed to conveniently forget that they show several live games from ‘The Wilderness’ on their own channels every week during the season.

I prefer to look upon the Championship as ‘proper football’. If the Premier League, with its galaxy of stars, oodles of cash and hyperbole is Twenty20 football then The EFL is like watching Test Cricket.

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It can be hard to watch at times but what it lacks in quality it often makes up for in intrigue and excitement. If you want to find the true measure of a player then see how they cope with the relentless 46 game slog that is The Championship. There can be no truer test of a player’s technique or a fan’s concentration than battling through an entire season at this level.

Norwich City ought to be well set to deal with those rigours. As well as the centurion that is Rhodes they have players like Grant Hanley, a dour Geoff Boycott of a defender, who is approaching 200 Championship matches in his career and Ben Marshall who played his 222nd at that level on Saturday.

It makes things like the batting collapse against West Brom that seemed to follow Rhodes’ penalty miss even more difficult to fathom. Some basic individual errors undermined the confidence of Daniel Farke’s new look side despite that experience.

Rhodes wasn’t the only one at fault. The way Tim Krul was beaten by Jay Rodridguez from distance to give the Baggies a 2-1 lead early in the second half proved that one old cricketing adage rings true on the football pitch; catches win matches.

Jeepers keepers

If the events at Norwich City over the weekend have reminded us of anything it is that being a goalkeeper can be the loneliest position on a football pitch.

Tim Krul’s sheepish wave of apology in the direction of the River End had the resignation of a keeper who had just experienced one of those days. Conceding a penalty, making a blunder of Loris Karius Champions League Final proportions and letting in four goals would normally go down as a nightmare home debut but most of the people at Carrow Road on Saturday were probably there for Michael Theoklitos’ debut in 2009 against Colchester which was so appalling it doubled up as his final game for the club as well.

Krul wasn’t the only Norwich City goalkeeper to concede at the weekend. Remi Matthews didn’t let in any goals but did admit defeat in his long running attempt to play first team football. At 24 years old, he was born a month before England’s number one Jordan Pickford and yet has had nowhere near the experience.

Matthews needs regular games but that can be easier said than done for a goalkeeper as John Ruddy and Angus Gunn found out at the weekend. Norwich City’s two previous number ones both found themselves on Premier League benches for Wolves and Southampton.

With all this in mind it’s always struck me as odd that former goalkeepers aren’t often used as pundits on shows like Match of the Day. It’s such a specialist position and yet a decent save is often written off by Alan Shearer as being ‘at a nice height for him’, while others are quick to blame the poor goalkeepers when things go wrong.

The former Aberdeen and Sunderland goalkeeper David Preece is one of the rare breed that does pop up on radio shows and podcasts a lot and his insights into goalkeeping are fascinating.

TV companies were careful to cover all bases on their sofas during the World Cup with many different countries represented, former referees canvassed for their take on the big VAR controversies and the overdue introduction of some of the top players from the women’s game. Yet I can’t think of a single former goalkeeper who was used in that role. With penalty shoot-outs playing such a pivotal role it seems like a glaring omission to me. Perhaps it’s time we stopped making goalkeepers feel lonely and welcomed them into the bosom of the football family.

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