A day when Norwich City did not find rhythm
Unfortunately there will be no FA Cup run for the Canaries this season after they were knocked out of the competition by a spirited Leyton Orient side at Carrow Road.
Give the visitors their dues. They arrived with a gameplan and they were disciplined and professional enough to see it through.
Playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation, it was clear that the O’s were going to get men behind the ball and try to frustrate when Norwich had possession. They snuffed out many a promising City attack, they denied Norwich the opportunity to play any killer passes and they restricted them to precious little in terms of a direct threat on Jamie Jones’ goal.
They also deserve plenty of credit for the manner in which they religiously stuck to keeping the ball on the floor and playing a passing game at every opportunity.
There was none of the long-ball, hit it and hope direct stuff typical of so many lower league sides – not a bit of it. They were impressive.
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But similarly, City will naturally be disappointed that they weren’t able to test their opponents more than they did.
Norwich had plenty of possession and they dominated in terms of territory. But they weren’t able to transform those advantages into genuine goalscoring chances.
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It is never as easy as it might seem to play your way through on goal when you’re faced with a wall of opposition players who have no pressure on them to force the issue or make it an end-to-end contest.
Frustration becomes your biggest enemy, and every misplaced or intercepted pass merely compounds the agony. The key is to remain patient and to try to pull the opposition out of place with enough off-the-ball movement and incisive passing to create an opportunity to pick the proverbial defensive lock.
In keeping their cool and persevering, City had no problems at all. They kept their focus and they continued to probe. There were occasions when one or two passes were made a little hurried as players tried to force the issue, but no one could be accused of not sticking to the task in hand.
What became increasingly clear the longer the game progressed, though, was the fact that the Canaries were struggling to find their usual rhythm. The impressive fluency that has been a major factor in catapulting them to the superb position they currently occupy in the Championship table remained frustratingly elusive.
And it meant that City lacked genuine potency in final third of the pitch and could never quite raise the tempo of their game or sustain adequate periods of pressure for long enough to overly worry their opponents.
You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions when Norwich haven’t played to their full potential this season, so I suppose it just has to go down as just being one of those bad days that every team suffers from time to time.
The main crumb of comfort is that if it has to happen, given the way that things are panning out this term, better it happens in the Cup than in the league.
NEIL’S MAN OF THE MATCH – WES HOOLAHAN: You know what to expect from Hoolahan – commitment, effort and in particular an impressive ability to change direction and wrong-foot opponents. Whenever he has the ball at his feet there is always a chance, and while he wasn’t at his mercurial best on Saturday, he was still the City player most likely to create an opportunity or make something happen.