Melissa Rudd: Nelson looks the part again - all we need now is goals
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The last time Norwich played Ipswich, his name was being sung jubilantly in the hours before kick-off by the hoards in green and yellow outside the Station Hotel.
“We’ve got Oliveira….he scores goals” over and over again, was the chant. He had done so of course, five times in City’s first nine Championship games. As it happened he would go on to be an unused substitute that day through injury.
He was City’s danger man, but fast forward four months and much of the debate after winning a point at Pride Park was about whether or not Nelson Oliveira should even be in the starting XI for Sunday’s crunch East Anglian derby.
As penalties go, his was pretty dire. It is of course easy to say in hindsight that James Maddison or Josh Murphy were two better contenders to step up than a centre forward bereft of confidence. Yet what better opportunity for your first choice striker to get out of a rut than a spot-kick? Putting it away would have given him a huge confidence boost.
Having not scored in more than 700 minutes of football Oliveira must be more desperate than anyone to hit the back of the net again, especially after the miss against Chelsea. With that in mind, it would have been more worrying had he shied away from taking it.
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Since his goals have dried up, there have been times this season when the Portuguese frontman has looked disinterested. Some displays have been remembered for negative body language and little else, with many fans arguing the case for him to be dropped. A weak penalty seems far less of a reason.
Oliveira was very good against Middlesbrough and the fact that he picked himself up at the interval and won the second penalty on Saturday, which would have gone down as an assist for a great Moritz Leitner goal had the referee not blown for the foul, was another sign of a big change in his attitude in recent weeks.
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The man who did stick one away was the same one whose goal lit up Portman Road in Oliveira’s absence that October day. It is difficult to find new superlatives to describe James Maddison and just how important he is to this Norwich team. A good barometer though is hearing what fans of opposition teams label him. We all love to hate the players we wished were on our side after all. Maddison has found himself increasingly playing the pantomime villain at away grounds, with even Gary Rowett accusing him of diving to win the first penalty, despite being the best player on the pitch.
Under Alex Neil last season, when Norwich went a goal down away from home there used to be an inevitability about the end result. To Daniel Farke’s credit, the team’s mentality has changed dramatically in that respect, which makes it hard to believe that the last time City came from behind to win away in the league was September 2016. That statistic though is skewed by a vast improvement at the back under Farke’s stewardship, given the last three away wins have also featured clean sheets.
The problem is no longer a fear of complete capitulation when City concede first but a concern over how Norwich are going to create two goals, when they’ve done so on only six of 31 occasions this campaign.
Many supporters have remarked that City are a goalscorer away from being in the play-off places. If Oliveira had continued in the same vein as he did the start of the season, who knows where Norwich would be lying in the table. For whatever reason, those five goals in nine games were followed by just two in the next 16. It is a crisis of confidence certainly, and keeping him on duty for the first spot-kick was arguably a risk worth taking in that respect.
So it was a point that should have been all three. But to go into Sunday’s clash against our old rivals having suffered just one defeat in eight on the back of outplaying the second best team in the league is hardly something to be downbeat about. Ipswich on the other hand were booed off after failing to beat bottom side Burton, with Mick McCarthy admitting it was their ‘worst performance of the season’ at Portman Road. Let’s just hope the old commentators’ cliche of McCarthy asking his players for ‘a reaction’ at Carrow Road on Sunday falls on deaf ears and City can maintain the bragging rights for a while longer yet.