May 21 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Paul Lambert is a pragmatist. That much is clear by his willingness to change starting personnel and tinker with formations.
Go into a Premier League contest against Manchester United with the same road map as Stoke and unless you have the luck of a EuroMillions winner you will come unstuck in a big way.
That formula has carried the club out of the Football League and barring, what Tony Cottee succinctly described to me earlier this week as a ‘complete catastrophe,’ will keep them in the Premier League again.
Wigan counterpart Roberto Martinez touched on it when he highlighted Norwich’s unpredictability as a key plank in their survival bid. Lambert has a squad which can wade through muck and nettles or coast serenely amongst the aristocrats if the mood dictates.
That hints at a highly-refined strategy which is proving just as robust in the top flight.
City have not hit the collective heights in recent games, but do not take the odd off day as an indicator of a sudden loss of confidence or self doubt with the finishing line in sight. Or even a deeper fracture in their ability to harness substance with style to produce positive results.
Look back over the entire campaign to date and how many games can you remember the Canaries sweeping the opposition aside? None, for me. Not even this weekend’s opponents, Newcastle, who were buried under a sustained aerial assault at Carrow Road, but carried plenty of latent attacking threat in the form of Demba Ba at the opposite end.
All those Premier League wins and draws have been interspersed with sheer hard graft. Norwich have even played poorly in parts and emerged with something to show for it.
Fulham and Blackburn could both have justifiably left Norfolk with three points before they were ground into submission. Wigan the same.
If the Latics’ had a set of strikers with the craft and guile to match their build up play Norwich may have headed to the north-east looking to end a run of three consecutive league defeats.
That is not to overlook a potent late onslaught from Lambert’s side which, but for Ali Al Habsi’s athleticism, could have tilted the contest in their favour.
Nor to downplay the proper context of the current Premier League table – a far more accurate measure of City’s success at merging substance with style.
Wigan appear unable to counterbalance the two. Pleasing on the eye, undoubtedly, but lacking the cold-eyed assassin up front to consistently plunder the goals that would carry them clear of trouble. Norwich’s passage to safety looks far more straightforward.
Their failure to find an antidote to the Latics’ rhythmical passing game following consecutive league defeats served only to underline what had gone before for the Canaries.
Norwich challenged two of the most difficult Premier League opponents you can find – for contrasting reasons – and came up short on each occasion.
City scaled the heights against the champions; plumbed the depths against the Potters and emerged pointless. Which is the only statistic that would worry Lambert. Not Wigan’s possession figures. Or the number of times Stoke launched aerial batteries into Norwich’s penalty box. Or the vibrant, passionate, thrilling football that took the Red Devils to the last seconds of stoppage time. Lambert has said it in the past, but it is worth fresh reflection. Even on Norwich’s best days at this level, it still may not be good enough.
The men on duty against United gave everything to the Canary cause. They succumbed because the Reds possess the sort of offensive riches that is largely the exclusive preserve of the elite.
Sir Alex Ferguson could turn around and motion to Ashley Young to get warmed up, get on the park, and wreck havoc down the left flank. This, an England international sold for nearly £27m on the open transfer market so far in his career. Young’s stoppage time cut back was despatched by Ryan Giggs in the game’s defining moment. A man who, in his prime, would have traded for a fee that makes Young’s combined price tag look, frankly, parsimonious.
That is the reality of the Premier League and its uneven landscape. If City emerge with plaudits and no points against the best then it should come as no surprise when they do drop below such high standards, they come up short against the rest.