Norwich City outclassed - but not humiliated

PUBLISHED: 17:10 05 December 2011

Mario Balotelli has plenty of time to decide how he will administer the final touch for Manchester City's fourth goal. He can head it in, chest it over the line or volley it. But none of these would be memorable. So, being Balotelli, he administers the coup de grace with a flick of his shoulder. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

Mario Balotelli has plenty of time to decide how he will administer the final touch for Manchester City's fourth goal. He can head it in, chest it over the line or volley it. But none of these would be memorable. So, being Balotelli, he administers the coup de grace with a flick of his shoulder. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

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So, those heavy Norwich defeats over the past decade then…

• May 2005, utter incompetence in losing 6-0 to a Fulham side with nothing to play for…

• October 2006, complete incompetence in being beaten 5-0 at Stoke – woe upon woe, no Robert Earnshaw or Darren Huckerby, Dion Dublin on his own up front, Gary Doherty in a holding midfield role, goalkeeper sent off…

• August 2009, total incompetence in losing 7-1 to Colchester…

• December 2011, losing 5-1 to the best side Norwich have faced since playing the Arsenal invincibles seven seasons ago…

Personally, there’s just the one of these defeats I can live with quite easily.

City’s second trip to Manchester this year was very different from the first, in terms of the quality of opposition, anyway. Maybe not in the manner that we can’t take the fleeting chances that come our way, although, to be fair, even if Steve Morison or Elliott Bennett had shown better touches I think the final outcome would have been exactly the same.

And that goes for the obligatory Canaries defensive howler – since no Premier League fixture seems to be complete without one now.

The only thing that can be said about John Ruddy’s error of judgement is at least it didn’t come at the start of the first half rather than the second.

You go to City games not knowing quite what to expect. So arriving at the Etihad Stadium to find no Grant Holt nor Wes Hoolahan wasn’t exactly a big surprise.

What was different this time, however, was the approach.

Morrison was so far in advance of his team-mates that the formation might as well have been 9-0-1.

It was probably the right thing to do, to frustrate a rampant home side as much as possible. Who knows what had happened if they had scored early on – or if Sergio Aguero had taken any of his other chances, for that matter.

Never mind the Colchester margin of defeat being matched, Ipswich’s 9-1 record defeat at Manchester United might have come under serious threat, and we wouldn’t have wanted that, now would we?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a one-sided spell at Saturday’s first half – I was surprised the possession figure for the Canaries on the scoreboard was as high as 24 per cent. We offered more threat against Colchester and Paulton had more of the play against us than the way Saturday’s opening 45 minutes panned out.

On the weekend of the FA Cup second round it was as if we were playing the role of plucky, outclassed minnows trying to do their best to hold out for as long as possible and maybe, just maybe, grab a consolation effort at the other end.

When you look at Manchester City’s previous league results this season Saturday’s events didn’t come as the slightest surprise.

When all’s said and done 5-1 was a pretty fair reflection of how the game panned out and it’s one thing to be outclassed by Manchester City, but Bolton and Wigan were beaten far more comprehensively by Tottenham and Arsenal.

Our away results against the big teams won’t determine our fate – it‘s further down the table that matters.

The likes of Wolves aren’t going to be able to call upon substitutes of the calibre of Adam Johnson and Mario Balotelli, and that’s the sort of away game we need to be on song for, not the champions-elect – on this showing, at any rate.

The main thing is that there are no further entries to the defensive hall of shame above.

• TIME FOR CITY TO MAKE A CUP IMPACT

There can be no excuses in the FA Cup this season.

We have been given a third-round tie that we should win at the first attempt. End of.

If we’d been the victims of a fluke goal from Leyton Orient or MK Dons then we could have complained at being unlucky.

But we weren’t. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the instruction ahead of both of those matches was to go out and make it look close but fundamentally put the avoidance of injuries and suspensions ahead of the actual result.

This time it has to be different.

With only 39 other fixtures in our schedule and a bigger squad containing fringe-ish players who need meaningful games we should be looking for a proper cup run.

And when I say proper cup run I don’t mean drawing at home to Burnley, getting into the fourth-round draw and then losing the replay in a pretty tame fashion – hello Bury and Charlton!

No major cup quarter-final appearances since 1995 – sorry, but the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy two years ago doesn’t count for me – and only two outings in the FA Cup fifth round in that time is nothing short of embarrassing.

Successive managers haven’t cared about cup progress other than the often-discredited Peter Grant.

Well that has to stop now. We should be aiming for at least the last 16.

Or a minimum of the fourth round if we then received a really bad draw. If City go out to Burnley – and in doing so suffer a third successive exit to lower-division opposition – they’ll be able to save on the cost of printing out tickets for any tie next season as so many people will give up on NCFC cup games that the club can return to the age of cash turnstiles.

It’s just a shame that the clamour to face Ipswich hasn’t been rewarded because in terms of dull third-round draws for City it’s right down there with Brighton and West Ham. (That’s just two really interesting pairings in the last decade or so now – Chelsea at home and Tamworth away.)

After all, a fourth-round tie against Hull just wouldn’t be quite the same.

• FROM LATICS TO GALACTICOS IS QUITE AN ODYSSEY

It’s as if the AA route planner wanted to remind us of where we had been as well as where we were headed for on Saturday.

So the chosen route to the Etihad Stadium took us through Oldham, passing very close to one of the most grim settings the Canaries visited during the League One title success of two seasons ago.

But it was almost as if Saturday was payback time for trips to footballing outposts such as Boundary Park. My approach to Manchester City was that anything less than 4-0 and no suspensions or injuries would be a bonus.

So, on that basis, things transpired pretty much as I hoped. Frankly, it was a day out rather than the chance of seeing the Canaries come away with a positive result.

But having worked our way through the league ladder we’ve earned the right for days out at such showpiece settings because, let’s face it, if there’s any team you could describe as an English set of Galácticos it’s Manchester City.

n A note to BBC Radio Suffolk – by all means end your Saturday matchday coverage with the Five Live commentary of the goals we conceded at the Etihad Stadium rather than any events at Portman Road.

After all, it’s a whole lot less embarrassing to lose 5-1 to Manchester City than 2-1 at home to Watford, that‘s for sure.

• IT’S NOT ALL JOY IN THIS DIVISION

A trip to Manchester Ci-teh isn’t quite what is was, that’s for sure.

You wouldn’t have found retail opportunities for Harvey Nicholls or Marco Pierre White outside the ground in the less salubrious settings of Maine Road, that’s for sure.

But it wasn’t all high consumerism at the Etihad Stadium – it’s a very long time since I’ve heard Joy Division’s Transmission played as half-time music.

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