Melissa Rudd: Familiar story as Canaries falter after cup heroics

Sheffield United celebrate their second goal at Carrow Road on a disappointing afternoon for the Can

Sheffield United celebrate their second goal at Carrow Road on a disappointing afternoon for the Canaries. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

An excellent performance against one of the Premier League’s elite followed by a lethargic one at Carrow Road.

There were so many parallels between the cup defeats at Arsenal and Chelsea, and likewise between both league losses that followed a few days later.

Norwich were slow out of the traps, seemingly second to every ball and lacking in ideas for the majority of Saturday’s defeat against Sheffield United. Not surprising given 10 of the starting 11 who put in a Herculean effort at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night started again less than 72 hours later.

The nation had watched as City held the Premier League champions to a draw on their own patch and forced extra-time and penalties in what, the first half aside, turned into a cracking FA Cup tie. On a day though when season ticket renewal notices dropped onto the doormat of almost 21,000 fans, Saturday’s game was another reminder that when it has come down to the bread and butter of this Championship campaign, Norwich have come up short.

Tiredness may have been a big factor on this occasion but in truth Norwich failed to deliver in the same areas they have done most of the season at Carrow Road.

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With Tom Trybull injured, it forced Daniel Farke to start Harrison Reed and Alex Tettey together for the first time and the central duo offered nothing going forward.

Both are defensive minded, great at intercepting play and playing it short but running with the ball and threading dangerous passes is in neither’s repertoire - and it showed.

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Tettey, who had that fantastic record of winning seven and drawing one of the eight games he had started this season, struggled to show anywhere near that kind of influential form. His display was epitomised by a misjudged back pass that gifted United their second goal.

With such a defensive midfield pairing it was up to James Maddison to provide attacking flair and for once he was largely anonymous, perhaps due to the fact that he hasn’t missed a minute of football since the turn of the year.

He was a marked man throughout, something he will have to get used to, and it highlighted how much City’s midfield lacks another ball carrying midfielder until the introduction of Mario Vrancic and Wes Hoolahan provided impetus.

United got their tactics spot on from the start though while Norwich had no plan B.

The visitors pressed high and forced City to play it long, often having to pump the ball from deep to Nelson Oliveira who yet again cut an isolated figure in the final third. Even with a back three and the two full-backs intending to bomb down the wings, Norwich were often crying out for width and better deliveries into the box.

Oliveira has now gone 533 minutes without scoring and it is a combination of his own poor performances and that lack of service into him which exacerbates the problem. The ironic cheers that sounded when the striker won a header in the 50th minute of the match summed up how many felt about his contribution.

While Oliveira’s barren spell continues, the sale of Cameron Jerome to Derby means City have no alternative but to play him, especially given Farke’s comments regarding Marley Watkins’ work rate last week.

It is a situation that simply must be addressed. The board have to back Farke with funds to bring in a new centre forward now their most experience one has been shipped out.

Jerome had almost become a victim of the previous management’s trust in him. While his goals helped City win promotion (and no one will ever forget that opener at Wembley) his poor Premier League goal record for other teams was a clear indication that it was likely to be too much of a step up for him.

Alex Neil’s failure to purchase a striker that summer meant he was too heavily relied upon in our brief foray into the top flight, and three goals in 35 appearances told its own unfortunate story.

The club’s priority now must be to freshen up Farke’s attacking options and not just hope that Oliveira will come good.

Investing in new signings may also help convince supporters to invest their own hard-earned money in renewing their season tickets, too.

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