David Freezer: Emotions bubbling for City as Watford tee up a proper title race
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There was a serious lack of perspective on display from some disappointed Norwich City supporters on Tuesday night.
Perhaps some had just got themselves pumped up for a title win and didn't know what to do with their emotions after the 1-0 defeat to Watford saw things fall flat.
Football after all is an emotional game, we've seen that in recent days with the brilliant passion displayed to send the disgraceful European Super League proposal back to where the sun doesn't shine.
I'm always wary of taking social media moods too seriously. The mumbling majority probably switched over to the news channels to watch the greedy billionaires scramble as the ESL hilariously imploded, feeling frustrated but remembering City are already promoted, on 90 points and still five clear at the top.
Some of a more nervous disposition were in full-on panic mode though, after a 1-0 defeat to the second-best team in the league, who had played like they desperately needed the points. It wasn't the Canaries' best performance but I thought it was a cracking advert for how competitive the Championship is, a full-throttle and intense battle.
You can't win them all. That's the crux of the anti-competitive matter with the attempted ESL breakaway, as the big clubs eyed franchise status and guaranteed superiority. Norwich have certainly won a lot of them this season though.
Daniel Farke and his squad now have a few days to readjust and prepare for a trip to QPR on Saturday that won't be at all easy, knowing that the job is not done, that Watford are chasing them down and that they have to prove their status as top dogs again.
The Rs have won seven of their last 11 and although their play-off hopes are effectively over, they have beaten Watford, Bournemouth, Swansea and Brentford in 2021. As ever in football, there is absolutely no room for complacency and City know that from the hard graft and consistency that was required to earn promotion.
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Here are a few of the accusations I've seen levelled at them in the aftermath of Tuesday though, in various form of comment, either on social media or on our websites, from a worrying amount of people.
Worst performance of the season?
That was a comment which swiftly arrived after full-time in our Matchday Live blog at Pinkun.com, describing it as as a 'pathetic' performance.
Really? City had 14 shots at goal, that's more than in 16 of their matches this season, including the 1-0 home win over Brentford and the 2-1 win at Reading. It's just on this occasion they came out on the wrong side of the battle.
The problem was that only two of those forced the keeper into a save, with Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell denied, although Grant Hanley did also have a header cleared off the line in the first half.
Was it one of their best performances? No, obviously not, but the worst? I'd say the 2-0 loss at Swansea and the 0-0 draws with Millwall and Middlesbrough during the February blip were all worse, as was the tired 3-1 defeat at Luton during the injury crisis and arguably even the 1-0 wins at Derby and Boro.
Players have lost their focus
This was an inevitable one to emerge after the squad was allowed to celebrate promotion on Saturday night before returning to full training on Monday.
Jokes about hangovers and losing focus were easy to make but that's turning rather sharply on players who have been hailed for the way they've dealt with the compressed schedule, no fans, Covid-19 restrictions and regular injury problems.
How about the fact that City had an 18-year-old defender making only his fifth senior start and a rusty left-back making just his second league appearance in six months, due to a very harsh red card to Dimitris Giannoulis on Saturday - which meant the 10 remaining players persevering for 70 minutes against an in-form Bournemouth?
For the record, Andrew Omobamidele did little wrong and made some fine blocks in amongst the chaos. Xavi Quintilla again looked decent going forward but is still yet to really hit the defensive standards required. He was however up against a £25million winger in Ismaila Sarr, one of the division's most dangerous players.
I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Villarreal loanee get another chance to try and find some rhythm at QPR on Saturday but he must be sharper in the tackle and stop crosses coming in as regularly.
Doubled by potential Premier League rivals
This was the big one, that Watford and Bournemouth had both done the double and that meant impending doom next season.
Well, City did the double over Aston Villa in 2018-19. That didn't stop Villa doing the double over them last season, winning 5-1 at Carrow Road - having spent about £150million that summer after winning the play-offs.
If the Hornets and the Cherries do bounce straight back with City, they will need to improve as much as Norwich do. Squads always evolve after promotion, they have to, the step up in quality is vast.
It's avoiding a great deal of context too. The Canaries felt unlucky to have lost 1-0 at Bournemouth in September. Emi Buendia and Cantwell were left out that day, Hanley and Ben Gibson hadn't yet started their crucially important defensive partnership.
On Saturday, as Farke said, the Cherries could have been in for a "long night" were it not for that controversial red card in the 18th minute as City had been totally dominant up to that point.
Watford have been good value for their two 1-0 wins. They have the best defensive record in the league and similarly to Bournemouth have been able to keep hold of a lot of Premier League quality and experience.
The Canaries have proven consistently this season that they are better than their display against the Hornets, particularly when Gibson and Giannoulis were available as well.
Xisco Munoz's side have made sure of a proper title race and injected some jeopardy into a final three games which could have been a procession. They offer a good yardstick to measure against but to judge that defeat as evidence that City will come straight back down seems far too simplistic.