Connor Southwell’s City verdict: Canaries place at the top table is looking even more fragile
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Our Canaries correspondent Connor Southwell delivers his verdict following Norwich City’s draw with Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day.
Hurtful. Frustrating. Flatlining. Small margins have never felt greater than they do currently for Norwich City.
Extract footage of large proportions of the Canaries Premier League performances and you'll see just how close they are to being a competent outfit at this level.
Performances have improved. Defensive phases are more robust, in transition, they are recovering with a structure that evaded them previously and offensive passages are consistently threatening.
Contrast and compare to the outings seen in the opening part of the campaign, City are increasingly competitive and are asserting themselves with more efficiency.
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However, one win in 16 matches and a consistent failure to capitalise on winning positions means 2020 will see City begin a lengthy march back to the second tier of English football.
To survive from such a position would see them perform a miracle.
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Ultimately, as the New Year rolls in, City supporters are left reflecting on a run of performances that could have transpired so differently.
Two points from two games keeps the clock ticking, but the Canaries hopes of survival are sinking without trace.
Currently, they operate merely in the currency of wins, fully aware of the ever widening gap between themselves and their competitors.
The frustration is that matters could be so different.
City have taken the lead in seven of their last nine fixtures, managing to extract five points from that run.
This isn't a side struggling through the gears and lacking graft, their application is there for all to witness. In the decisive moments within games, however, their floodgates crack under pressure.
Some will point to misfortune, and City have been on the receiving end of VAR decisions and unlucky ricochets, but the quality of chances conceded and their inability to kill games off looks set to leave them bottom of the pile come May.
Until City find themselves capable of sustaining a run of form, what their competitors manage to achieve is irrelevant.
The January window is upon us, but the realistic outlook is that, given their current league standings, attracting quality will prove testing.
As this fixture proved, if Teemu Pukki is removed from the equation, City lack the depth to seamlessly replace those in their starting XI.
This fixture was another example of City failing to convert their first-half dominance into goals. If they'd have doubled their advantage in the opening period, that would have seen them secure the three points.
Recall the Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa fixtures and you'll see where City's lack of experience is proving costly.
The ascent to the summit of Everest has just got steeper. A degree of naivety and a pertinent lack of game management will prove terminal.
As Todd Cantwell finished with aplomb, City looked like a side brimming with confidence as they performed passages of prolonged possession with intent and skill.
Kenny McLean hit the bar. Emi Buendia's free-kick was saved by the fingertips of Vincente Guaita. Mario Vrancic stabbed his close-ranged effort into the side netting.
Upon such moments, matches of Premier League football are decided.
Wickham's goal underpinned why the Canaries have struggled to extract points from positive performances, because they lack the quality in those decisive moments to ensure they leave with points.
Playing a possession-based brand of football is working for City in possession, but dropping too deep, too soon and cowering to the pressure of their opponents is going to stop them from making ends meet in the division.
Last season, the quality of chances conceded were significant, but they managed to outscore teams with the quality of their operators.
That ability to win matches has evaporated from their ranks this season, the pain caused by the opening half of the season seems irreversible now.
The FA Cup will serve as some respite from the niggles of VAR and demands of top-flight football.
Carrow Road felt like a wake following the final whistle, with supporters mourning City's Premier League adventure.