Horror show leaves all plans in tatters

PUBLISHED: 11:26 10 August 2009 | UPDATED: 16:24 10 September 2010

Chris Lakey

SLIDESHOW: There was a theory, mad as it sounds now, that Norwich City players would take strength from playing in front of a full house at Carrow Road. No one ever said those same players would turn up with rabbit ears on and play as if they were startled by the sight of floodlights.

There was a theory, mad as it sounds now, that Norwich City players would take strength from playing in front of a full house at Carrow Road.

No one ever said those same players would turn up with rabbit ears on and play as if they were startled by the sight of floodlights.

Carrow Road was to be a fortress - instead it turned out to be a house of horrors as City succumbed to what next week may well prove a very average Colchester side, although on Saturday, that's all you needed to beat a City team of whom so much was expected but so little delivered.

Players like Matt Gill, Michael Nelson, Owain Tudur Jones and Grant Holt are more used to playing in front of crowds that could fill the Barclay Stand only at a push, although the fervour inside the ground at 3pm should have been more familiar to some players who really should know better.

But it was goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos who suffered the worst case of stage fright you will ever see: playing in front of bigger crowds in Australia clearly isn't quite the same as playing in front of English fans.

Especially ones who were led to believe that this was going to be a successful season, that a quality squad had been gathered, that good times were just around the corner.

Perhaps it's time for an apology here: I believed it too. Having seen every minute of pre-season it was hard not to.

But when it mattered, the players did a disappearing act far too reminiscent of a previous team which went missing at Charlton on the God-awful final day of last season. So apologies if you were misled by what we believed was not hype but genuinely deserved optimism.

What Saturday has done, apart from ruin all the good PR work City had done over the summer, is make a Carling Cup first round trip to Yeovil tomorrow hugely significant.

If City lose there - and end their stay in the west country with another league defeat, at Exeter this weekend - then Bryan Gunn could have no complaints about anyone questioning his ability to lead the side.

And that's why a competition which, despite the denials, has been ignored by a succession of City managers suddenly becomes vital as a way of restoring a confidence that, between Wigan nine days ago and 5pm on Saturday, has gone AWOL.

Victory would, perhaps, confirm Gunn's post-match view that the defeat by Colchester was “a major blip”. Win at Exeter and a few more fans might agree, but fellow promoted sides Brentford (away) and then Wycombe present equally difficult challenges and will no doubt be buoyed by City's opening day disaster. More blips and we're on our way to an epidemic.

So where did it start to unravel?

After 10 minutes you'd probably have been fairly confident that City were going to win: they'd attacked at every opportunity and looked ready to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Then came a shock to the system when, by their own making, City conceded. Jon Otsemobor tried to clear, but the ball hit a Colchester player. He then tried a right-footed clip back to Theoklitos, but the pass was well short. Kevin Lisbie, on loan from Ipswich and therefore booed at every breath, nipped in and made it a 50-50 situation. Lisbie may or may not have got a touch, which confused the issue for Theoklitos, but the keeper made up his mind to punch. Mike Tyson he wasn't. He flapped and missed - and Lisbie nipped in to tuck into an empty net.

It should have been a plain old common or garden blip; instead it became that major blip, because from then on the defence didn't trust Theoklitos. Eventually they came to distrust each other.

Three minutes later and it was skipper Gary Doherty's turn to provide the support act, as he struggled to keep pace with Lisbie as they chased Clive Platt's headed flick. Lisbie checked, turned Doherty with frightening ease and then shot. Theoklitos got down to his left but managed only to palm it into the path of Platt.

Two cock-ups of major proportions, a defence that was suddenly trying and failing to cover for him, and suddenly the blip started to grow.

Think that was bad? It was nothing.

Just six more minutes passed before it was 3-0: Platt at the back post to tap in Simon Hackney's cross. Theoklitos and his defence were ball watching. It was like a stranger from afar had appeared in their midst.

Another three minutes and it was 4-0, Dean Hammond stepping up to lift a free-kick over the wall.

Four goals inside 12 minutes - and you have to say the problem was because the goalkeeper had lost the trust of a defence which, even without a dodgy keeper to worry about was having problems of its own.

Gunn was by now on the touchline, a target for a couple of fans who somehow managed to make it from the Snake Pit to the Colchester dug-out before being apprehended on the pitch.

The chants of the disbelieving visiting fans competed with those of the disbelieving home fans.

“Can we play you every week,” sang Colchester. Better not, it won't be this easy.

Yes, the visitors were clinical and, yes, they were good. But such was the ineptitude of the Norwich performance that it was hard to actually gauge how good Colchester were.

By half-time it was 5-0, Platt flicking on Marc Tierney's throw in and Lisbie - all 5ft 8in of him - getting above Nelson to head home.

City fans applauded when Doherty managed to steer a ball back which Theoklitos held - what does that say about this game?

Gunn decided not to make changes for the second half which, given the lack of penetration from midfield, was surprising - although at 5-0 maybe he felt there was nothing to gain.

Tudur Jones tried manfully but with Gill doing little he was on his own. I'd wager that Simon Whaley made fewest mistakes on the day - because he got fewest touches. Rarely has a player been so anonymous.

Wes Hoolahan was trying, but Colchester had him sized up early on and he was never the influence we thought he would be.

If anyone thought the second half would be one of those where Colchester sat back, they'd reckoned without City's Red Sea approach to defending: Lisbie got clear through within two minutes of the restart and then Ashley Vincent shot over when he should have scored.

Grant Holt worked his socks off, but was inevitably feeding off scraps before Gunn gave him some aid by introducing Cody McDonald as a strike partner instead of Chris Martin, with Tom Adeyemi replacing Gill in the middle.

That both young subs would be among the better performers on the day speaks volumes.

McDonald pulled one back on 71 minutes, benefitting from a lovely cushioned header by Holt, but five minutes later the five-goal margin was restored when sub David Perkins hit a fine volley past Theoklitos.

Adeyemi showed some lovely skill to get in a shot which Ben Williams smothered, but the salt joined the wound in the final minute when Kem Izzet, making his 300th Colchester appearance, jinked his way past Nelson and pulled it back for Scott Vernon to tap home.

It was the final indignation.

So was it a blip? Was it just one of those bizarre results which always happen on opening day - and which you dread happening to your team?

And how do City get over it?

t RATINGS:

Michael Theoklitos 2

Terrible debut: his early mistakes set the ball rolling. After that, no one trusted him.

Jon Otsemobor 3

Had a good run early on, but was the catalyst for the first goal and the confidence simply drained away.

Gary Doherty 4

Better in attack than defence: left gaping holes at the back, and Lisbie turned him inside out. Sunday morning stuff.

Michael Nelson 3

Couldn't cope either in the air or on the deck with Lisbie and Platt. Got the nod over Askou but will struggle to keep his place.

Adam Drury 5

Arguably the least-worst of the back four. Wasn't a comfortable afternoon by any means, but showed signs of ability.

Simon Whaley 4

Made fewer mistake than most, but only because he so rarely got a touch. Hard to recall an input.

Matt Gill 4

Neat, but no thrust to his game. He's better than this -no one can be worse - but couldn't impose any authority.

Owain Tudur Jones 5

Struggled fighting a lone battle in the middle.

Wes Hoolahan 5

Obviously not at his best, but how could he be? Still the only one who looked capable of setting something up.

Chris Martin 4

Given a chance, but after a lively start, faded out of the picture. Perhaps threatened the goal just once.

Grant Holt 5

A valiant battle in the circumstances and perhaps escape the wrath.

Tom Adeyemi (for Gill, 58 mins) 6

In at the deep end, but a good half hour or so.

Cody McDonald (for Martin, 58 mins) 7

Scored, looked lively.

t MATCH FACTS

SHOTS ON

Norwich 6, Colchester 9

SHOTS OFF

Norwich 8, Colchester 5

FOULS

Norwich 12, Colchester 16

CORNERS

Norwich 7, Colchester 1

OFFSIDES

Norwich 0, Colchester 4

ATTENDANCE

25,217

REFEREE

Rob Shoebridge (Derbyshire)

MAN OF THE MATCH

Cody McDonald

SCORERS

Norwich: McDonald 71

Colchester: Platt 13, 19, Lisbie 10, 38, Fox 22, Perkins 76, Vernon 90

YELLOWS

Norwich: Doherty, 62, foul on Lisbie

Colchester: Tierney, 60, foul on Hoolahan; Fox, 65, ungentlemanly conduct

TIME ADDED

3 mins/3 mins

Norfolk's trusted business finder

Most Read