Norwich City lucky to draw against Wigan - but these things happen
16:06 14 March 2012
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
And so the curse of the opposition chairman getting involved strikes again.
Remember almost a year ago to the build-up of the visit of injury-hit Doncaster? On the day of the game Rovers chairman John Ryan appears to be angling for a call-off and declares: “I think it will be grossly unfair on the rest of the league and unfair for us to play Norwich with so many injuries. Against Swansea last weekend, we did not have a single shot on goal.”
The only element of doubt was how many the Canaries would score. In the end it was one – exactly the same that Doncaster managed.
Fast forward to last week and Wigan’s pretty spineless defeat at home to Swansea and enter another chairman not exactly known for sitting in the background.
“That was our worst performance in four or five years,” said the Latics’ Dave Whelan.”I will have a meeting with him [Roberto Martinez] on Monday morning and ask him some questions about the performance and his selection.
“We had three quality players on the bench and I want to know why.”
One year on and it was exactly the same outcome against a completely revitalised line-up.
Frankly we were lucky to get one point – given that two of the above trio started, one scored and Diame then came on and could have put the game out of our reach.
(Of course this tactic doesn’t happen if we try it. Witness the 3-1 defeat at Plymouth in 2006 which prompted the board statement: “We are determined to achieve success at Norwich City and to that end we expect this situation to be rectified at our next home game on Sunday and at our next away game.” We then lose 4-1 at home to Burnley.)
This wasn’t a case of anyone taking Wigan too lightly; rather that City just weren’t good enough on the day.
The visitors are fighting for their lives and put on the kind of show that will probably become their trademark over the last nine weeks of the season, whereas we just never got going. We scored early on and then slowed down the tempo during the rest of the first half, before allowing Wigan to take control after the break.
Yes, we could have won it with Steve Morison’s late header, but frankly we were lucky to end the game level.
There’s no getting away from it: this was a game to forget, but in Paul Lambert’s time in charge this is a very very rare home lapse.
In the great scheme of things I can live with it. We’re now 14 points, rather than 13, clear of the bottom three with only 30 still to play for. It’s possible that two of the bottom five might scrape together five victories in the unlikely event of us losing all our remaining fixtures, but three? It’s not going to happen.
Perhaps we’ve just been too complacent against struggling teams here – witness Blackburn at home and QPR until our tactical nous got the better of Neil Warnock’s.
And yet we were eventually able to see Bolton off. That victory has to be the template for when Wolves come here on March 24. If we haven’t won by the time that game finishes then people will have a right to be concerned.
If we have, then yesterday joins draws at home to Doncaster, Preston and Walsall in the file marked ‘These things happen’.
• PREPARING NOW FOR THE NEXT SCRAP FOR SURVIVAL
They say that it takes the first 10 fixtures to give an indication of how a season is likely to shape up.
Well, with 10 to go, it’s now time to look at the bottom of the table and wonder how it might impact upon next year. And with that in mind – not to mention how Saturday’s results went – I wouldn’t be at all sorry if QPR and Wolves were to finish in the bottom three.
It’s not just because of anything to do with obscene amounts of money sloshing around in the Premier League or past meetings.
Rather because of all the clubs in the bottom five I look at these two and think that they will make sure, one way or another, that they are not in this position in a year’s time should they somehow manage to avoid relegation.
Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan… you can imagine they will all be there or thereabouts again near the foot of the table next season if they manage to beat the drop in the next couple of months. But the other two will probably spend big to make sure they are a lot higher up the table.
Not only might that push us closer to the bottom, but also it would have an effect on what we might be able to do in the transfer market.
You can almost imagine the reaction at the other end of the line at, say Huddersfield, over the summer when the Canaries eye a bit of squad strengthening. “Well, thank you for your inquiry about Jordan Rhodes, Mr Lambert, but we’ve just taken a call from a Mr Fernandes offering him £60,000 a week.”
It’s not that I’m being unduly pessimistic about City’s prospects for 2012/13, but I’ll take every advantage going.
I don’t think we’d suffer from the self-inflicted second-season syndrome which struck both Bradford and Ipswich, but three years into the Lambert-Culverhouse era it wouldn’t be un-natural to think: “It’s got to end some time.”
Even if we didn’t totally lose our way form-wise, we might get a rash of early-season injuries or endure a series of QPR-like red cards
Momentum and money respectively might carry Southampton and West Ham on next season if they are promoted, or they might not be able to adapt to the step up.
The more financial basket-cases or teams with off-field disharmony in the Premier League in 2012/13 the better, frankly.
Too many nouveau-riche outfits or clubs with more money than sense – I mean, West Ham wanting to sign Carlos Tevez on loan – and the resulting transfer inflation will put even seemingly less coveted players like Burnley’s Jay Rodriguez out of our reach.
• TRAVELLING LATICS ARE A RARE BREED
Did I hear figures of 180 or even 252 away fans at Carrow Road yesterday being mentioned?
As a proportion of your average home attendance – even making allowances for generous amounts of away support – that’s little short of embarrassing.
In fact, all things considered, it probably has to be among the very worst visiting followings at Carrow Road, irrespective of the strict arithmetic involved.
I mean the last two totals of Wimbledon – when they were still Wimbledon – supporters here in 2003 were 66 and 54, and I find it frankly hard to believe that they had that many full-ticket-price-paying followers by then. They don’t count as a proper club, then or now.
Frankly, Brentford (194 fans here for a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie), Stockport (205 at Easter 2010 when they were rock bottom of League One) and Bristol City (176 for a Monday-night Sky fixture a year ago this week) deserve far greater praise for their support than Wigan.
I can’t help but think that if they can carve out results like yesterday’s that Wigan might yet return here on league business next season. But I wouldn’t be sorry if they didn’t, because the total lack of away-support atmosphere yesterday gave the game something of a League One feel at times.
Should the visit of Wigan be replaced by the likes of, say, West Ham, Southampton or Cardiff next season the atmosphere at Carrow Road would be very, very different.
• PLENTY TO PLAY FOR
Well we might not have reached the magical 40-point mark, but I am already looking forward to next season’s Premier League and there’s two things that spring to mind about the final 10 games.
Firstly, you wouldn’t want to take a largely winless run into next season: you want to finish on a high.
The one suspicion of the defeat to Leicester is that we went into that tie with a head of steam behind us and then promptly threw away that momentum. Since then it’s been very hard to start building confidence back up again, something that was clearly evident for spells yesterday.
We need to start preparing for next season with some good closing results from this campaign.
And there’s also no getting away from the prize money on offer.
So we’re eighth after the defeat to Manchester United, 10th after losing at Stoke, down to 13th by Saturday evening, but back up to 12th yesterday. That five-place difference is worth the small matter of £4m – and if you don’t cut the club debt with that kind of windfall what could Paul Lambert do with it?