Chris Goreham: Bog-standard stuff... but is there to be a Norwich City great escape?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
For anyone who thought being a football commentator was all glamour, here’s a little Christmas story for you set in the toilets at Cambridge Services at around 8.30pm on Boxing Day.
I was just finishing what I needed to do at the urinals when the man at the next latrine, who I had never met before, leaned in a little bit closer and suddenly asked "Is that it then, Chris?"
However are you supposed to answer a question like that? And at Christmas time too.
I was just composing a suitably pithy comeback when the penny dropped that he was actually talking about Norwich City.
He may not have been wearing the slightest hint of yellow and green, but why else would anyone be in a Service Station toilet at that time on Boxing Day? My new bog-buddy must also have been wending his weary way back from Villa Park where the Canaries had managed to find another way of losing a Premier League game in which they had actually played quite well for long periods.
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Having built the game up as a six-pointer and then commentated on a defeat that saw City slide to the bottom of the table and seven points from safety at the halfway stage of the season, it was certainly hard to put a positive spin on the situation City found themselves in.
Modern sport contains a lot of talk about 'marginal gains'. The pursuit of several incremental improvements which eventually add up to a significant rise in performance is the mantra of several different teams and organisations. The best way to sum up Norwich City's season is that they appear to suffer from whatever the exact opposite of 'marginal gains' is.
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Daniel Farke's side have ended most of their matches in the top flight this season with plenty of praise for their approach. Some of the football they have been able to produce at times has made a mockery of their lowly league position but, perhaps not surprisingly for a team that was only just emerging as genuine automatic promotion contenders this time last year, they have undermined those displays with a series of niggly shortcomings in the top flight.
First there was the unfortunate injury crisis that ravaged Farke's squad in the autumn. Get through that and we'll be fine, we hoped. Since the middle of November, when the Canaries were able to field two genuine central defenders at Everton, the consistency of performances has generally been much better. Some weeks, supporters are left feeling that all would be well if only the team could better defend set-pieces. After recent defeats to Villa and Wolves the consensus was that Norwich would be absolutely fine if only they could take the chances they were creating.
In isolation, none of those problems feels insurmountable, but add them all together in the unforgiving world of the Premier League and you end up with a squad that, despite its undoubted and obvious talent and promise, has ended up entering the new year bottom of the table.
The 2-2 draw with Tottenham on Saturday might have gone some way towards restoring some of the faith of the Carrow Road crowd. We saw, not for the first time this season, a set of players in yellow and green who are desperate to make an impression against more illustrious opponents and whatever shortcomings they have there is no doubt they will keep fighting for the Canary cause.
It would take a brave person to bet on Norwich City staying in the Premier League given their present predicament but, as I said to that Service Station stranger on Boxing Day, if they do pull off a great escape from here then we are all in for an amazing next few months.