Connor Southwell: Was this the start of the long march back to the Championship?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 December 2019
Norwich City writer Connor Southwell gives his verdict on the Canaries’ Premier League defeat to Sheffield United
The outcome of a season can be decided within a five minute period of a football match.
In the Premier League, the margins are small and moments decisive. When George Baldock's strike nestled into the back of the net, any ounce of belief within Carrow Road quickly evaporated.
That's not to say Norwich City's season is over nor does it guarantee a long march back to the Championship, but with 11 defeats in 16 top-flight games, the evidence for that outcome is becoming increasingly compelling.
Their inability to bypass opponents press, restrict the amount of goal scoring opportunities they concede and the constant exposure of their soft underbelly means questions surrounding their future at this level remain.
City are neither one thing nor the other. They don't possess the quality to finish games off at this level and are also not capable of digging in and winning games in an ugly fashion. If that trend continues, this could become a long winter for the Canaries.
Yet, the frustration will be that this could have been so different. The Canaries were the victims of their own downfall once more.
Confidence oozed out of a first-half display that in itself was befitting of the level City are operating at. Sheffield United offered the Canaries too much space and were uncharacteristically lethargic in their play.
Mario Vrancic set about dictating City's passages of possession in the opening period as he sought to take advantage of the space presented to him by the Blades.
In numerous ways, the Bosnian seemed to embody the nature of the City performance. Classy, capable and adept in the first-half but lost, frenetic and overpowered in the second.
As Alex Tettey rifled home an effort that fell kindly to him following Christoph Zimmermann keeping the attack alive, there was a tangible sense of belief. Once again, City found themselves at a junction within a game, how they managed the periods that followed would dictate whether they could extract points.
The Blades' first-half lacked the elements that have made them such a formidable prospect so far during this campaign. City's offensive players were gifted space between the lines to affect the game as they pleased.
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An expectance of the same following a half-time discussion which contained Chris Wilder was ingenuous, not anticipating a response is where any accusations of naivety can be pinned against them.
United's level increased. They pressed with greater purpose, using City's central defenders as triggers to suffocate the space once the hosts had possession in their defensive third.
For the Blades, it was an instant response that contained intensity, quality and commitment. Within Wilder's warriors is a set of unrivalled intangibles. As a unit, when they turned it on, they were devastating. After two goals and a rapid turnaround, it was about consolidation and they made their way through a repertoire of game management tactics.
White flags were being waved from on the pitch as City seemed devoid of ideas and were reactive with their approach.
Despite a late Todd Cantwell strike which was wonderfully saved by on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, City offered little in terms of offensive output.
Dispirited, dejected and defeated. Once again they find themselves tasked with producing a response. The realists are predicting a long march back to the Championship and even the optimists are struggling to see a miracle unfolding in NR1.
Fundamentally, the debate boils down to whether it's a lack of confidence or quality that is seeing the Canaries struggle to get to grips with the intensity of the Premier League.
Currently, the scales are tipping towards the latter, with sides shifting through the gears and constantly landing heavy blows. Aston Villa, Manchester United and numerous others have all pushed the accelerator and left the Canaries gripping on for grim death.
These were two teams who enjoyed promotion from the Championship last season. Both deployed radically different styles and posed different threats. One side is capable of naming ten players who embarked on that journey and compete effectively, the other is Norwich City.
Onto Leicester City, which in itself possesses the potential to be another City fans are forced to watch through their hands.