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Friday, November 2, 2012
How are the mighty fallen. Paul Lambert’s first encounter with his old club ended with a chorus of boos from the Villa fans after a performance that smacked of negativity and lack of conviction from both players and manager, while Chris Hughton’s name rang out from the Norwich City faithful.
Only the hardest heart would have felt no sympathy.
If Lambert had expected a torrid reception from the Yellow Army he must have been pleasantly surprised. I heard no abuse directed towards him and even the inevitable chant of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” after City’s equaliser seemed tongue in cheek.
As far as the game was concerned, Villa barely had a kick for the first 25 minutes, only to cash in on a bit of ball watching by the otherwise excellent Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner.
However, the fact is that City should have made their possession count long before that. Time after time Villa were opened up only for poor finishing or a sloppy final ball to offer them a reprieve, to the obvious frustration of Hughton. One must assume that a proven goalscorer is top of his January shopping list, and, indeed, given the improvements in all other areas of the pitch, that may well be the only item on it. However, an inability to put teams away when dominating is becoming a bit of a recurring theme.
Hughton will take comfort from the fact that chances are being created, as illustrated by the sponsors Man of the Match award going to Villa keeper Brad Guzan, but there are no points on offer for that, and City cannot afford to throw any away by not finishing teams off.
Villa were always on the back foot and were pummelled for the best part of half an hour after the sending off. However, they escaped with an undeserved point (Lambert’s suggestion in his post match interview that the game was 50/50 was, frankly, laughable) despite City having 20 efforts at goal.
Phil Dowd, yet another referee who is nowhere near as infallible as he thinks he is, hardly helped City by ignoring a stonewall penalty and failing to send off Chris Herd for a second bookable offence, but the fact is that those decisions shouldn’t have mattered.
Having said all that, a point away from home is never a disaster and I have to admit that I came away feeling a little sorry for Lambert, who looks like a man whose self belief is eroding fast. There was no sign of the gambler’s instinct that endeared him to City fans and his tactic of long balls to Christian Benteke reeked of conservatism, although the Belgian looked the most impressive of the Scot’s summer buys. Karim El Ahmadi looked unwilling to get too involved in the physical side of the game, and if Ron Vlaar is the answer, then I dread to think what the question was. Lambert must be praying for the return of Richard Dunne from injury.
The overall impression was of two teams heading in different directions. Villa looked shambolic, with no obvious leadership on the pitch and pitiful support from the stands, where many empty seats were evident.
City, on the other hand, are developing a lovely passing rhythm with good width. Unlike earlier in the season players are getting to the byline, although Hughton will be disappointed with the quality of the final balls being delivered.
With games against Stoke and Reading coming next there is a perfect opportunity for City to put a good run of results together and to start to climb the table.
There’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do that, just as long as they can start to turn domination into goals.