True grit will guide Norwich City away from slippery patch
PUBLISHED: 12:58 23 January 2013 | UPDATED: 12:58 23 January 2013
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Saturday's humbling at Anfield is one of those games that might go down in Norwich City fans' folklore. Battling through inches of snow, travelling across the country and seeing your side not just lose but get hammered 5-0 is the sort of thing that appeals to the dark sense of humour that comes with being a football supporter.
The way 1,800 hardy souls stood and belted out ’On the Ball City’ in the closing moments of the game was a reminder of the thick skin that Canaries fans have evolved over the years – and not just to protect from sub-zero temperatures.
They knew that once the understandable disappointment about their team’s performance subsided they had earned themselves another badge of honour to sew onto the arm of their uniform. Tales of difficult journeys for precious little reward are gold dust among fans who like to compare stories of the harsh reality of following a team with such unquestionable loyalty.
In the days leading up to the game there were constant warnings about only travelling if it was really necessary. To each one of those 1,800 supporters Liverpool away was an essential journey. In the end there was significantly more grit on the roads and pavements around the ground than in a Norwich City display which belied that exceptional 10-game unbeaten run before Christmas.
It was a game which underlined the importance of Sebastien Bassong to the Norwich City cause. Sometimes a player’s true value becomes clearer in his absence. Bassong has started 20 of the Canaries’ 23 Premier League games so far this season. The three he hasn’t been in the line-up for have ended 0-5 at Fulham, 2-5 at home to Liverpool and then 0-5 at Anfield on Saturday. That can’t be a coincidence can it?
It seems that Norwich City going on the pitch in the Premier League without Bassong is the equivalent of taking your car out on the Norfolk road network in the last week without a shovel, a can of de-icer and a blanket. It’s asking for trouble.
As downright disappointing as Anfield was, this is certainly not the time to panic.
The harsh reality of life in the Premier League for a club like Norwich City is that we’ll probably lose more than we win and the odd hammering is inevitable against opposition of that quality should standards drop even slightly.
Taking one point from six league games and still having seven points worth of breathing space above the bottom three underlines that Norwich are capable of better.
Chris Hughton has proved already this season that he knows how to elicit a response from a team so compressively beaten. In fact the Canaries last 5-0 thrashing, at Fulham, was followed quickly by the signings of the aforementioned Bassong and Javier Garrido.
Hughton will be hurting, but in the last transfer window he proved himself to be a shrewd operator, the sort of manager you could trust with your savings.
There’s time enough for him to improve a squad that has got itself into a position of requiring a perfectly manageable 14 points from 15 games to reach the fabled 40 mark and secure another season of Premier League football.
The City manager needs to climb into his metaphorical gritter, put the snow plough on the front and lead an uneasy line of cars with yellow and green scarves flying from the window and Norwich City stickers on the back windscreen to safety.
• HOW TO WIND UP AN EARLY BIRD OVER HIS LUNCH
I have been getting up at 3am over the past week to ensure an event free journey through any overnight ice or snow into work to present the BBC Radio Norfolk breakfast programme.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not after any sympathy whatsoever. An early alarm call is a small price to pay for a job which basically involves reading out loud, pushing some buttons and an ability to tell the time. There’s also plenty of tea close at hand. I really do have nothing to complain about.
But having such an early start can catch up with you towards midday. My proneness to a bout of noon tetchiness was not helped by a couple of e-mails which found their way into my inbox this week just at the start of my traditional lunchtime lull.
One, from a well-known bookmaker, headlined ‘Out of sorts Norwich great value for Premier League relegation’. I was already snarling about that when another dropped in which made me go out for fresh air.
The makers of a popular computer game had taken it upon themselves to play out the rest of the league season using their format and then send their final league tables round to some journalists. Talk about attention seeking. I was simmering when I couldn’t find Norwich in the top 13. I scrolled down, gripping the mouse tighter and tighter with every click. 14th? No, 15th? No. Not even 16th. They had Norwich City finishing 17th in the Premier League, surviving relegation only on goal difference. Have these people nothing better to do?
Such analysis from the bookies and the boffins seems harder to attack in the wake of Saturday’s alarming Anfield collapse, but why do Norwich City find it so hard to command respect from the wider footballing world? It’s a weekly tradition among City fans to see how much Mark Lawrenson thinks we’re going to lose by when his Premier League predictions appear on the BBC Sport website on a Friday. If he had been right every week Norwich would currently be bottom of the table with 11 points, a full eight from safety. I am grateful to another website, myfootballfacts.com for keeping a running record of such things.
I know that I have fallen hook, line and sinker into the PR trap here. These people send such press releases out so that reactionary fools like me bash out our rants on the nearest keyboard and by doing so tell everyone about their product. But HA! I have managed to do so without giving either companies name the oxygen of publicity. That goes down as a small victory in my book.
You have to get up very early in the morning to catch me out. Or, alternatively, just wait until lunchtime and you’ll find yourself with an open goal.