Melissa Rudd: No cash to spend – but why did players fire blanks?
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“We went to war without a gun.”
Stuart Webber’s brutal assessment of the worst Premier League season in Norwich City’s history.
Of one where they have suffered a record number of defeats. Of one that has seen them earn fewer points than in any other, even when a win was worth two points. For three quarters of the season, Norwich have had very little protective armour either. No Kevlar, no party.
The last seven games have been nothing short of shambolic. Sixteen goals conceded, one goal scored and a grand total of 10 shots on target. At Chelsea on Tuesday night, City fired nothing but blanks.
We all knew Norwich would spend chump change in a world where even mediocre players attract fees of tens of millions. The board told us that. Webber warned us. Daniel Farke knew better than anyone he would be unable to match Aston Villa and Sheffield United in the summer transfer market.
That issue has been scrutinised over and over. City’s overall approach to life in the Premier League has been to use it as preparation for being in the Championship again. The club hierarchy say that’s how it has had to be to balance the books.
The mindset of fatalism, that relegation is inevitable, originates at board level due to the financial constraints under which the club operates. But that shouldn’t affect what the players do on the pitch. It wasn’t the mindset when City rolled over Newcastle 11 months ago at Carrow Road, or when Norwich turned over the reigning champions weeks later.
Somewhere along the line it has been allowed to sweep through the corridors of Colney and into the dressing room.
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Webber has been quick to try and absorb all the blame for a pitiful season, but if Farke is going to have any further success at this club he must learn from the mistakes he has made. And eliminate the losing mentality he has let fester. Norwich are the only team in Europe’s top five leagues not to gain a single point from a losing position this season.
That is shocking. Astonishing. Poor at any level of football. In the so-called best league in the world, it is embarrassing. A team many have labelled the “best worst team in Premier League history” should be better than this.
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It is up to the head coach to instil some grit and determination in players who already look beaten before a ball has been kicked. Most played under him last season and could never be accused of a lack of belief, so how has it all gone so horribly wrong?
The Southampton defeat may have been the fourth in five league games, but it was the manner of the capitulation that signalled to all of us that City’s fate was well and truly sealed.
The problems that have plagued the defence all season reared their ugly head time and again, most alarmingly an inexplicable inability to defend from crosses and set-pieces. Is that the fault of zonal marking? It’s hard to know if there is marking of any kind going on in the penalty area a lot of the time, such is the unwillingness of our players to attack the ball.
Kenny McLean tops the chart for the number of aerial duels won this season. Ben Godfrey is next followed by Grant Hanley and Sam Byram – two players who have managed only 32 appearances combined all season. That tells its own story.
Injuries haven’t helped, but neither did failing to sign a defender in the knowledge that Hanley had been able to make just nine league appearances in a Championship winning season largely spent sidelined. Byram had played only 11 league games in his previous two seasons for the same reason.
“We need to make sure that if we get back (to the top flight) we will be fully armoured,” Webber said earlier this week.
We just have to hope there is a next time, given that 19 of the 24 clubs in this season’s Championship are still waiting for another chance.