Norwich fans must be guaranteed the Millwall capitulation was just a horrible one-off
PUBLISHED: 18:46 27 August 2017
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As a mixture of boos and expletives rung around the away end at The Den on Saturday afternoon I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a sinking feeling that what we’d just witnessed might not be a one-off.
This wasn’t just a case of a bad day at the office. It was one of the most abject Norwich City performances in recent history. An abhorrent defensive display made sure City were torn apart by a winless Millwall side who all over the pitch looked stronger, fitter, and hungrier than their counterparts in yellow.
James Husband said afterwards he was “disgusted” by the performance. Even more disgusted were the Norwich fans who’d travelled more than 100 miles to watch Angus Gunn pick the ball out of his net three times in 28 first-half minutes.
That anger and frustration was directed by the majority at one player in particular. Russell Martin may have been one of many to have had a shocker on Saturday, but to greet his every touch on the ball with a chorus of boos is about as classless as it gets.
Given the obvious vitriol coming from his own supporters, Farke’s decision to haul Martin off 14 minutes into the second half in a like-for-like change seemed a strange one. He could have protected his captain from the indignity of running off to sarcastic cheers by replacing him in the dressing room at half-time.
Martin’s poor display wasn’t down to a lack of effort. It’s become clear that he has limited capability at this level to effectively defend as one half of a centre-back pairing.
The question is, how is Martin still considered the strongest option Norwich have in that position? Why have better players not been brought in to replace him? His partner Marcel Franke looked just as woeful, while Christoph Zimmerman started on the bench.
You wouldn’t need to have seen a single Norwich match last season to realise where City’s problems lie. The answer could be found by glancing at the goals against column of the table. Yet with four days left of the transfer window, Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke have not improved the one area of the team that so obviously needed it.
The result so far is a defence that looks just as susceptible, who away from home seem unable to defend as a unit, and five games in have conceded more than any other side in the league.
Despite Farke insisting Millwall’s long ball tactics and the need to win headers was made clear pre-match, time and again Norwich failed to read the danger that fans watching from the upper tier could see coming from the opening exchanges. The issue wasn’t even rectified in the second half, with the fourth goal another free header from a corner.
City’s defensive humiliation didn’t start and end with a back four who again lacked both organisation and direction. An unbalanced midfield was constantly overrun, with Mario Vrancic and James Maddison failing to provide any sort of cover when the ball was lost. Josh Murphy was Norwich’s brightest spark going forward, but he left an already struggling Husband continuously exposed. On the other flank, Wes Hoolahan was never going to be able to pull the creative strings and inevitably drifted inside to no avail.
Alex Neil’s Norwich side were often accused of lacking identity. While it’s clear Farke has instilled a possession-based philosophy from back to front, the two managers share a flaw in that their teams seem unable to mix up their style of play. So many times the counter-attack was on for Norwich, only for whoever was in possession to slow play down and pass backwards instead.
Supporters appreciate that this is a work in progress, but nothing wears patience thinner than humiliation. As the travelling supporters chanted “We want our money back” more in jest than expectation, I think every single one of us would instead prefer the powers that be to put some money into the transfer coffers and focus efforts on signing some recognised quality to improve this City team.