A weekend of two halves for Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 16:19 01 May 2012
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This weekend for me was one of contrasting emotions. On Saturday, I watched a scouse supershow as Luis Suarez took over where Carlos Tevez had left off and tore my beloved Canaries’ defence to shreds at FFC (formerly Fortress Carra).
To say I was wet, miserable, and depressed when I returned to London would be an understatement. To make matters worse I arrived home just in time to see him do it again on MOTD. So I downed a swift half to drown my sorrows.
But on Sunday I exulted. Well just a little bit. I despise Chelski and everything they stand for, but their 6-1 demolition of QPR meant that my beloved Canaries were guaranteed another season of Premier League football. That has been the sole focus of our hopes and ambition ever since City clinched promotion at Fratton Park last year. Suddenly the world seemed a better place. So I downed another half to celebrate.
Back to Saturday; 26,189 people crammed into Carrow Road – an all seater record for the stadium and the biggest home gate of the season. As is his wont, Lambert rang the changes in his team. Naughton, Pilkington, Morison, Fox, and Johnson all started, at the expense of Russell Martin, Surman, Hoolahan, Vaughan, and Holt. Many fans scratched their heads at the decision to play only one striker at home, and to pack the midfield in this way. Ward was captain for City’s 200th Premier League game. Liverpool fielded a full strength side, despite the imminence of the FA Cup Final. Andy Carroll was a notable absentee, and did not even make their bench. Perhaps he was having his hair washed.
Pilkington ran at the Liverpool defence a couple of times in the opening exchanges, but City suffered an early blow after only eight minutes when Drury had to leave the field with a groin strain. Russell Martin replaced him at right back, and Naughton moved to left back. The Reds took the lead after 24 minutes when Fox lost the ball to Gerrard, and Suarez pounced to score from his skipper’s precise pass. Four minutes later the same player doubled the lead when Ward failed to control Naughton’s back pass. Suarez seized on the error, tore down the right wing, and unleashed an unstoppable shot past Ruddy.
Disappointingly little had been seen of the Canaries as an attacking force in the first half. Morison had won a couple of headers, but he had little support, and old man Carragher and the Liverpool defence were rarely troubled. With the Reds firmly in control at half time, Lambert sent on Vaughan in place of Fox. City did force three corners early in the second half, and Elliott Bennett tried a couple of long range shots, but Liverpool too were creating chances and Suarez and Downing both went close. Shelvey even hit the bar and shot over an open goal. Holt replaced Morison after 76 minutes, but with only eight minutes remaining Suarez completed his hat-trick with the best goal of the game, and one that must be a candidate for goal of the season. Ward lost possession on the halfway line, and Suarez was able to steal the ball from him. He spotted that Ruddy was off his line and chipped the ball over him, despite the keeper’s desperate attempts to back pedal into a position where he could catch the ball.
In truth all three Liverpool goals were good ones, ant the last one was an excellent one, but that was no excuse for the mindless oaf of a Liverpool fan to run on to the pitch, hug Suarez, and incite the Barclay before the Old Bill carried him off. I hope the police will keep him in the cells until after the Cup Final.
So that was that. Again City suffered from the curse of the live TV cameras. They picked up four bookings (for Ward, Howson, Vaughan, and Ryan Bennett). Again City were outplayed by one of the top sides, and again our defence was shown to be porous when faced with truly world class strikers.
But if Saturday was a reality check then at least the rainclouds cleared on Sunday and the sun shone at Stamford Bridge. QPR’s crushing defeat means that they cannot gain enough points to match our total of 43 (so far. Yes I know I’m an optimist). So Norwich cannot be relegated. At least not this season. Survival and maintaining our Premier League status has been our ultimate goal ever since we gained promotion. Full marks and many congratulations to the players, the fans, the management staff and the Directors. Short term (in the last three years) we have been hugely successful.
But now is a time for reflection. What is our medium and long term strategy? Just how ambitious are we as a club? About 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs know they are unlikely to win any of the big prizes. Like us their main (or only) goal is to survive and bask in the Premier League playground and at all costs to avoid the bottom three relegation places. This season Norwich have shown that they are not in the same class as the top six, but have picked up most of their points against sides in the bottom places. How much ambition do we have? How much revenue can we raise by increasing our ground capacity? How much more money are fans prepared to stump up to provide more cash to purchase and attract better players? Just how much can we gamble on strengthening the team? How long can we assure our excellent manager that we can provide the means an enthusiasm to satisfy his aspirations? All bright ideas to the board please.
Oh and many congratulations to Ipswich on finishing 15th in the Championship and avoiding relegation. At least they will not have to consider questions like these for another year at least.