Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole displayed the heart and spirit that Norwich City are lacking
PUBLISHED: 06:30 23 April 2016
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When all's said and done City lost to Sunderland last week not because of referee Andre Marriner, who was undoubtedly poor, not because the crowd didn't make enough noise, but simply because on the day they were less clinical than their opponents.
Once again motivational sound bites from players who haven’t managed to string together a run of more than three league games unbeaten all season weren’t backed up on the pitch, and once again unforced errors cost the side vital goals and ultimately the match. It’s beyond frustrating.
Why did Andre Wisdom feel the need to lunge in with a high foot when the referee was five yards away? Yes, he got some of the ball but he also gave Marriner, a man who loves to give penalties (albeit not to Norwich), the chance to point to the spot.
And when will Sebastien Bassong grasp the fact that unnecessary risks at this level are frequently punished? Regardless of whether or not he was fouled by Jan Kirchhoff he was guilty of needlessly overplaying at a time when City were well on top.
What’s more, it does nothing for the team’s cause when players spend so much time trying to win cheap free-kicks and Dieumerci Mbokani’s second-half attempts to buy a penalty were frankly embarrassing. Ultimately they probably cost him one when he fell under the challenge of Younes Kaboul, but the stage had been set in the first half by Steven Naismith, who at one point appeared to be playing on papier mache legs, so easily did they buckle under the slightest pressure.
I’m not excusing Marriner’s performance but human nature being what it is the repeated dramatic collapses were always likely to make it less likely that the referee would respond positively to a real offence.
Naismith is proving to be a crushing disappointment and the abrasive edge which made him such a fierce competitor at Everton seems to have been replaced by whining self pity, hardly what’s needed in a team fighting for its life.
Compare that to Lee Cattermole, who really stood out for me on Saturday. He’s not the most gifted footballer, nor does he do anything particularly spectacular, but he played as if his life depended on the result and demanded and got maximum effort from all around him.
In short, he did what Grant Holt used to do for City; something that no one has been able to bring to the team since his departure but something which City are going to need in spades over the next few weeks.
The fact that it seems that they will be doing so without Timm Klose is a massive blow and the announcement of the extent of his injury so soon after such a crushing defeat actually increased the negative psychological impact, particularly after Alex Neil had strongly implied that it wasn’t overly serious in the build-up. Mind games don’t always work and this one backfired royally.
Perhaps the blank weekend will prove to be a blessing. City have time to lick their wounds, but more importantly Neil will have extra time on the training ground to try to solve the obvious problems at both ends of the pitch.
One conundrum he faces is how to protect a defence weakened by the loss of Klose while not detracting too much from the team’s ability to score goals, something that they looked unlikely to do on Saturday however long the game had gone on.
However, his biggest problem is fielding 11 players who have the heart, desire and sheer bloody mindedness to put their bodies on the line and grind out results when the stakes are highest because that’s what’s going to be required over the final four games.