Norwich City boss Alex Neil has happy knack of getting big calls right
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Coming from behind to get something at Anfield is worthy of praise but the most impressive thing about Sunday was Alex Neil and his willingness to make big, and sometimes unpopular, calls. Even more important is his apparent happy knack of getting them right.
Against Liverpool he took the decision to leave out the season’s star man in Wes Hoolahan in favour of Graham Dorrans. Social media reaction was one of surprise and many saw it as a negative move geared towards containment of the opponents. What it actually did was add some mettle to the centre of the park and also allow us to play both Redmond and Jarvis as wide outlets. Arguably we could have done this with Wes in the side but two out and out wingers with Wes and a lone striker would be mightily aggressive anywhere away from home, let alone Anfield.
Of course, at times we missed his poise and composure on the ball, it’s impossible to leave a player of his class out and not have to sacrifice something. That said, the plan almost worked perfectly when Redmond and Jarvis combined on the break only to be denied by the legs of Mignolet; we almost nicked it.
The second big call of the day was the return of Lewis Grabban. There can be little doubt that Alex Neil rates him as a footballer; the Rotherham episode coupled with a substantial transfer bid and the fact that he is still here makes that very clear. As if to press that home, Grabban was the chosen replacement for Cameron Jerome on Sunday with Mbokani left on the bench.
Plenty of fans would have preferred Lafferty on the bench to Grabban – I dare say there are a few that would rather have seen an injured Hooper there – but Alex made the decision to ease Lewis back into the fold. Apparently the reception to his appearance was ok, I hope the same is true if he’s involved against West Brom at Carrow Road, if he’s good enough for the gaffer then the least we can do is draw a line under the whole episode. A goal or two would aid his redemption.
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Despite the excellent result, we still need to be mindful that at times we “got away with it” at Anfield. On occasion we gave possession away in the opposition half sloppily with both full-backs forward in support, subsequently, two passes later and we were in a very precarious position. The most notable example was the Coutinho one-on-one, the giant frame of John Ruddy bailing us out. Their goal followed an error from Russell Martin, however, there was plenty to do from there and it was a terrific pass, touch and finish. That mistake was yet again seized upon by a section of our support calling for improvements in the defence.
I do get it, it would be silly to think that there aren’t better footballers out there in every position and I’m sure that these folk are just frustrated and want us to be the best that we can be. The thing is, you need to be balanced. If you only jump on the mistakes of a player without commending the good things that they do, it just seems like scapegoating or that there is a particular agenda against a certain player.
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On Sunday, Martin was largely assured against an attacking trio of Sturridge, Benteke and Coutinho, they’d give most defences kittens. He made an excellent block after a mistake in midfield had dangerously ceded possession, stepped out with the ball on a number of occasions to release pressure and also scored a goal that any top striker would have been proud of. He also gave the ball away in dangerous positions that resulted in opportunities for Liverpool and was partially at fault for the goal. At worst, he came out even.
But here is the crux of the matter.
Nothing is going to change before January. It doesn’t matter how much anybody moans, how many perceived mistakes he makes or how many tears are shed that we didn’t buy the next Franco Baresi in the summer. Our squad is what it is and currently, Russell Martin and Sebastien Bassong are our best centre-half partnership. Things might change in January, they might not. Either way it will be another big call; right now I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t trust Alex Neil to get that one right too.
• Blog post written by Duncan Edwards