Red card realities, a Derby dilemma, Cameron Jerome's hundredth howler and the shape of things to come - Michael Bailey's six things learned from Norwich City's goalless draw at Brentford to see off 2016
PUBLISHED: 09:55 02 January 2017 | UPDATED: 07:57 03 January 2017
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With Norwich City signing off their 2016 in the fitting style of a blunt goalless draw at Championship strugglers Brentford, Michael Bailey plucks six talking points from his new year turkey.
1 – Happy New Year, City fans
There was one ridiculous axe to grind on Saturday – the idea that a 5.30pm kick-off would be a good idea on New Year’s Eve.
That was ever-more frustrating when it became clear all those neutrals desperate for a late 2016 football fix, would also have the 5.30pm kick-off option of Liverpool hosting Manchester City.
Hopefully we’ll get to see Sky’s viewing figures at some point.
So after a year to truly test the patience of all in yellow and green, it seems only right to start with a salute to the 1,200 City supporters who decided Griffin Park would be the best place to spend a final few hours of the year – and this wasn’t just about the numbers.
From before kick-off through to Russell Martin jogging off as the last man on the pitch following his post-match interview, the City fans sung and made the most of their evening.
There has been criticism from some quarters over a sense of entitlement at City – but the fans on Saturday just wanted to enjoy a football match, maybe regardless of what happened in it.
And for that, they deserve better in 2017.
2 – The shape of things to come
Formations don’t win games, players do. But on Saturday, formations did at least win a bit of favour.
It wasn’t the first time Alex Neil has opted for City to play a back three of course – but by my reckoning, it was the first time it also featured two strikers and a third forward sat behind.
With Ivo Pinto playing the wing-back position he usually did before moving to Norwich, with centre-backs that have often looked more comfortable as a trio, with Robbie Brady excelling as left wing-back, with the shield of two defensive midfielders and attacking intent from three forwards backed by excellent wide support and legs, City’s shape matched their strengths.
And don’t take my word for it. Russell Martin agreed – maybe he would, given he tends to play in it. He’d be happy to play in it again on Bank Holiday Monday too, despite it primarily being done to match-up Brentford. Derby’s front three would bring a different problem.
Any issues City had came in personnel, not shape. Wes Hoolahan should have relieved Alex Pritchard at some point.
But Alex Neil seemed to count out a Derby three-peat – a decision he desperately needs to get right.
3 – Robbie’s red is a reality check
Few things are more frustrating than covering a Championship game live, that’s also being televised live – for one reason: Championship press boxes tend not to have any way of showing replays. We’re not as badly off as referees, but not far off.
It took until 2017 before I’d seen a replay of anything from Griffin Park – primary focus being Robbie Brady’s red card, City’s third dismissal in five away games. Crazy.
From our pinkun.com live coverage and social media, I knew the views of many City fans – plus what I saw in real time. Now I’ve seen it again, I still feel my initial view was right: it was harsh but probably defendable. Serious foul play is a red-card offence, and current laws define it as: “Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball...using one or both legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent.”
You’ll notice it’s a definition that doesn’t include the word ‘intent’. It also means any sliding tackle runs the same risk. The reality is, you can’t run it any more.
4 – Cam notches 100 (no, not misses)
It should really have been a celebration – Cameron Jerome’s 100th Norwich City appearance.
One of only two Canaries players to score at Wembley; the man to help City win at Old Trafford; such a key figure should City engineer any success from this season.
It was in only his third league appearance for the Canaries after his £1.5m move from Stoke, that Jerome’s stylish double helped City to a 3-0 win at a better Bees side than the one Norwich competed with on Saturday.
This time around, the 30-year-old had a nightmare – and it was hard to watch, given Cameron is a genuinely likeable guy.
A City record of 30 goals from his 100 appearances isn’t bad but while Robbie Brady probably should’ve had a go himself from one first-half chance, there were four others that should have at least given Daniel Bentley far more to think about.
Jerome has six goals this season. His last one came in the 3-1 win at home to bottom club Rotherham, back on October 15.
Creating so many good chances was a genuine positive come the turn of the year. But you know what comes next.
5 – Griffin Park found its apathy
League One football being played in the Championship – that was the verdict of one Brentford fan who opted to compound his football evening on Saturday by ringing Talksport. And yes, he was talking about his side – not their visitors.
The Bees were a sizeable improvement on the side smashed at Carrow Road – but that was always going to be the case. They certainly couldn’t have been any worse.
All they need now is for Scott Hogan to stop talking about where he could end up before February arrives and concentrate on where he is at the moment.
Ryan Woods was the Bees’ top performer – breaking up play and covering so much of the pitch before everyone else. Especially Robbie Brady.
But make no mistake, this is far from the side City faced two seasons ago under Mark Warburton – who would later apply alongside Alex Neil for the vacancy at Carrow Road.
Dean Smith is under pressure, but Griffin Park didn’t feel able to muster much on Saturday and as such, City got an easier ride than they may have expected – if not feared.
What does that say about Norwich?
6 – There could be a Derby dilemma
Ignoring the how, what, where and why, one of the last sights I saw in 2016 was one of the saddest – Alex Neil walking off, head down, as most of the City fans near him chanted for him to get the sack.
That may not have been the entire reaction he got, but it was the second half of it – and the only part I saw.
It’s so hard not to compare that to the scenes at Wembley when Alex Neil could do no wrong; perhaps even to the summer’s end of season dinner, when there was only vocal support for the City boss to stay on and take City back to the top.
We could get anything at Carrow Road when Derby visit. From riled reactions to events following defeat at Reading, to the slightest of recoveries at Griffin Park, and a visit from an in-form team – with a midfield hero returning home.
I know he’ll get stick for it but Russell Martin is right to ask for open minds ahead of kick-off . He deeply believes City will respond in kind once that first whistle goes.
Hell, City are almost the underdogs now – and we all love one of those.
By the same token, Monday has the potential to be truly toxic. We’ll just have to see what we get.