Being hammered by Southampton doesn’t make Norwich City relegation fodder
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Liverpool thrashed at home by West Ham, Chelsea defeated at the Bridge for only the second time under Mourinho, the unpredictability that makes the Premier League so exciting was once again to the fore this weekend.
If there is one thing that’s easily predictable it is the Social Media meltdown that follows a Norwich City defeat. While it’s a phenomenon that almost certainly isn’t exclusively Canary in nature, we do it as well as anyone.
Hammering Sunderland didn’t make us a shoe-in for Europe and being hammered by Southampton doesn’t make us relegation fodder either. Three decent performances had built our confidence, Alex Neil was still unbeaten away from home and Southampton were languishing in the relegation zone. In addition, Mane was allegedly unsettled, Wanyama was presumably with Lewis Grabban as nobody seemed able to find him and they’d also been dumped out of Europe by a future pointless answer on the BBC quiz show.
A good time to play them.
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Or, on the other hand, perhaps it was an awful time to play them. Smarting from a poor performance in Europe, the disruptive influence of Wanyama a mile from the squad, Mane with something to prove and who really takes any notice of a league table that is three games old?
As it turned out, we shot ourselves in the foot with the red card and never recovered. The gaffer’s unbeaten away record was surrendered rather tamely in the end, albeit at the hands of the best side we’ve played away from home under his stewardship. It was a disappointing performance, we never imposed ourselves on Southampton and while we defended ok until we conceded, the pressure had been fairly relentless. We were making things difficult for ourselves by not retaining possession in the way that we can, the soft dismissal of Whittaker escalated things from difficult to virtually impossible.
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Whittaker takes enough stick as it is but he can now expect some more. He’s been one of the most consistent performers under Alex Neil and has looked a different player with a seemingly reinforced confidence. Despite that, he’s still the default option for blame for many of the Canary faithful, this silly sending off won’t help his cause there. What will be interesting is what happens in terms of selection with Whittaker’s enforced absence. Andre Wisdom did ok at Rotherham and I’d expect him to slot in at right-back although there will be plenty clamouring for Russell Martin to move over and for Bennett or *new signing* to replace him in the centre.
The RB/CB debate just won’t go away for Russell Martin, it’s difficult to see what else he can do to convince fans that he IS a centre-back. A position that by his own admission he feels most comfortable at and, furthermore, the position that he has always regarded himself as being. He plays there internationally and was voted into the Championship team of the Year in that position by his peers. Despite all of that, there are a fair few Norwich supporters that still feel he should either be deployed at right-back or not at all.
His detractors see opposition goals and point to defensive errors, the thing is though, if you base how good a defender is on what happens when the opposition score, you’ll never ever see a good one. Goals come about because of defensive errors. The question that needs to be asked is whether Russell Martin makes more mistakes than other centre-halves and whether he makes mistakes that somebody else might not?
I genuinely don’t think so. It’s clichéd, but you defend as a team and attack as a team. Often, fans will see a highlights reel, see a guy getting the jump on a defender or standing unmarked at the far post and immediately point the finger at the nearest defender or the player that they feel should be occupying that space. How often is the initial mistake a midfielder diving in or not tracking the guy that ends up in splendid isolation at the far post?
Fairly often? Sometimes? I guess it depends how many phases of play that you think are relevant prior to a goal being scored.
Ultimately, I can understand the concerns, after all, we’re shipping an average of two goals a game at the moment and if that lasted for the season I think it’s unlikely we’d stay up conceding 76 goals. However, we won’t be playing with 10 men for an hour every week (fingers-crossed) against a side that were good enough to qualify for Europe.
We’re going to take a few beatings this season, we’ll lose more games than we win and that might be difficult for some fans to swallow after last season’s successes but it’s a fact that we have to deal with. This was one poor performance, there will be others but before we get too worked up about our defence and a clamour for solidity, remember two things:
1. Southampton aside, remember how refreshing it has been to see us go away and have a go at teams on the road.
2. The season we got relegated, we kept 10 clean sheets. A lot of good that did us.
Of course, I doubt for a second that anyone is suggesting that we adopt a more “Hughtonesque” approach to our play but it does baffle me that when we were defence-focused under his tutelage, everybody wanted the free-flowing, all or nothing approach. Now we have something more aligned to a have-a-go-hero ethos, we lose a game and all of a sudden we need to change half of our defence to “tighten up”.
No doubt that we could improve in every single position but with Olsson and Mulumbu to come in and add something defensively, I still think it’s at centre forward that we need something extra.
Two years ago, it wasn’t our back four that cost us, it was our inability to take our own chances. We need to ensure that mistake isn’t repeated.
Over to you Monsieur Mbokani.
• Blog post written by Duncan Edwards