Melissa Rudd: It's Norwich City's supporting roles which are frustrating
PUBLISHED: 17:09 01 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:09 01 April 2018
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As the Fulham fans belted out chants of "We are going up" at the full-time whistle on Good Friday, it was hard not to feel envious.
It still feels strange for a season to be petering out, and since the draw against Ipswich that’s exactly what it has felt like.
Perhaps City supporters have been spoilt. For seven of the last eight seasons, Norwich have either been vying for promotion or battling for Premier League survival at Easter time. You don’t have to look too far down the A140 to find another club who could only dream of enduring consecutive years of nervous excitement at the business-end of the season.
This time last year Alan Irvine was presiding over a squad of players about to be overhauled in the summer months as we eagerly awaited a managerial appointment. Twelve months on, and Daniel Farke’s remit now is to instil some sort of feel-good factor at Carrow Road before another period of upheaval as some of his star players inevitably depart before August comes around.
Against a Fulham team unbeaten in the league since December it was always going to be a tough ask. There is no doubt that the west Londoners were the better team. City matched them in the first half, but their class showed in the second. Three chances, two goals. Game over and Norwich could have no complaints.
Except for Farke perhaps, whose post-match comments painted a different picture. He cited statistics to back up his claim that his side were the better team. “We won more duels. We had more shots on target, more chances,” the head coach said.
What statistics fail to show is the kind of ponderous build-up play that has stalled City’s attacking threat all season long. The instinct to play sidewards and backwards when a forward pass is sometimes a far better option, the inability to get in behind opposition defences and move the ball at pace.
Those defending the Farke style of football will often claim it to be a far better alternative than so-called ‘hoof ball’. But that’s to suggest that lumping the ball forward and hoping for the best is the only other alternative when it’s simply not the case.
For the majority of supporters it’s about wanting to see Norwich do what they have become good at, keeping the ball, but moving it with a bit more purpose, speed and incisiveness while getting players forward to make the most of opportunities.
A couple of examples stick in the mind from Friday. Eight minutes in, Ivo Pinto did so well to outpace his man and travel to the byline, only to look up and find he had one outlet, an isolated Dennis Srbeny being marked by three Fulham defenders. Where were the yellow shirts in support, making runs into the box?
Compare that to Fulham’s first goal. Three players made different runs for Matt Targett crossing from the left, and when Aleksandar Mitrovic’s header was brilliantly saved by Angus Gunn, Stefan Johansen pounced to score the rebound.
When City did make a breakthrough and attack in numbers, the final ball either lacked the necessary quality or was the wrong option altogether.
Josh Murphy had done all the hard work in bursting through from his own half to the edge of the Fulham area, only to try an elaborate through ball rather than play a simple pass to James Maddison in acres of space to his right. It is that mix of obvious talent followed by erroneous decision making that leaves fans so frustrated by Murphy in particular.
For Fulham’s second, an advancing Tom Cairney played it wide for Lucas Piazon, whose first-time ball was deflected back into the captain’s path for him to finish with aplomb. Poor goals to concede from a City perspective, but another lesson that it’s always much more difficult to defend against teams who can switch it up in the final third and play the ball early.
In many ways, Slavisa Jokanovic’s style isn’t too dissimilar to Farke’s. His Fulham side have got where they are by controlling the midfield and dominating the ball. But in terms of Championship experience the two managers are miles apart, and as the Cottagers continued their push for automatic promotion it showed just how far off Norwich are from those lofty ambitions too.
A visit to QPR should be much more of an even contest given Ian Holloway’s side are five points below City in the table and have been inconsistent at best this term. The result at Loftus Road could be a better barometer to measure where Norwich rank among the Championship’s mid-table teams who already have one eye on doing better next season.