Hold tight Norwich City fans
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
On the face of it, a 1-0 defeat away to the Premier League champions isn’t a bad result. However, Chelsea have been in anything but champions mode this season having lost as many games as we have and only moving above us in the standings thanks to Diego Costa’s strike.
So, one place below Chelsea after a third of the season. Before a ball was kicked you’d have been forgiven for thinking that would have us virtually safe and dreaming of Europe; the reality is very different though. The truth would appear that we aren’t as good as I thought we were. We’ve lost more than half of our games and averaging less than a point per match. That, as no end of social media doom-mongers will gleefully point out, is the form of a team in a relegation battle.
Since the Newcastle humbling we’ve adopted a far more pragmatic style, yet our penchant for the individual error and propensity to switch off from set-pieces remains and continues to cost us points. It’s difficult enough at the Etihad or Stamford Bridge but we’ve undone two decent containing performances by offering the opposition a huge helping hand with our mistakes.
The thing is, these teams possess the quality to create chances against teams like us; we need our keeper to make saves, our defenders to make blocks and the whole team to perform at an optimum level for the whole ninety minutes. We’re almost managing that but just not quite seeing it through. Of course, the better the opposition, the more mentally and physically demanding it is to maintain those levels of concentration and performance. They move better, more intelligently and use the ball more efficiently. It’s difficult, of course it is, but nearly isn’t getting the job done.
But let’s lift the gloom a bit here.
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We’ve now been away to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, suffered two defeats by the odd goal and got a plucky draw. The two in blue are still arguably the two most talented squads in the division and we have a simply horrible recent record against the Scousers (Suarez disappearing has surely helped there). It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that we’re unlucky to not be unbeaten in the three games even if we never really threatened to win any of them.
Barring Chelsea, who surely won’t finish bottom half, we’ve scored the most goals in our half of the division too. Furthermore, we only need to be better than three other teams and there still seem to be quite a few aiming to be one of the three.
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Villa are still poor and I’m sure I read somewhere that they’ve only taken 23 points in the last 12 months. I know a few people who would have liked to have seen Remi Garde at Carrow Road and he’ll need to be every bit as good as they thought if he is to turn that ship around. Big Sam got a huge assist from the referee when Sunderland won the Tyne-Wear derby but they still look poor to me and Newcastle thumped us in a game that is starting to look like an anomaly. Indeed, at 2-3 we were on top and probably hit the gamble button a bit too eagerly, they might just have enough quality in their squad to recover but we know McClaren doesn’t like the rain and it’s metaphorically pissing down on Tyneside at the moment.
Bournemouth’s training ground must be like being on the set of Holby City; there were less casualties in the opening 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Besides that, they threw away a two goal lead this weekend which will have given their confidence another kicking. What made that worse was that they blew it against Swansea, the side that looks most likely currently to be sucked into the mire. The Swans were the worst side I’ve seen at Carrow Road this season, offering next to nothing going forward and the honeymoon days of Swanselona look to be over. They’d be my outside bet to get relegated at this stage.
West Brom aren’t going to win any prizes for aesthetics but Pulis will grind out enough points to keep them afloat while gradually squeezing the Boing out of the Baggies fans and Watford have given themselves a great chance with their start but are by no means out of the woods.
All in all, I still think we’ll be OK. Alex Neil has proven that he is adaptable and he continues to learn with each passing week. We’re still making mistakes but for everyone who thinks that throwing money at the defence will immediately solve our problems, I refer them to Man City’s performance against Liverpool. If they continue in that vein they’ll have to rename the Etihad (again) the Big Top.
Talk of Ron Vlaar coming in is encouraging, you’d have to imagine that he’d add further steel to our defensive options but would also present a risk coming back from such a long-term injury. That kind of signing might also ensure that the January coffers are sufficient to add further potency at the other end of the field. Hooper, Grabban and Lafferty might well find themselves being shown, or negotiating their way out of, the door; at least one striker required you’d imagine.
It’s going to be a scrap. It’s going to be ugly at times and we’ll have enough bad days that we need to ensure that we enjoy the good ones. As with all rollercoasters, strap in, hold tight and you’ll probably want to close your eyes at certain points but see it through to the end and not only will we survive, we’ll be chomping at the bit for another go.
• Blog post written by Duncan Edwards