Norwich City must abandon caution
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Hopefully it’s a repeat of the 2011/12 Wigan syndrome – a home game in which everyone thinks only victory will do, yet in time a draw proves to be a perfectly acceptable result.
At least we didn’t lose – that’s the only positive to come out of perhaps the worst game to be seen at Carrow Road since Walsall came here in September 2009 and didn’t just park a bus in front of their goal, but also most of the Eddie Stobart fleet, to come away with a 0-0 draw.
Saturday’s encounter was never likely to be full of flair and excitement - lack of confidence and fear of losing were the main qualities on show.
And that’s the main difference between the visit of Newcastle and last season’s draw with Wigan – at least the Latics showed some attacking purpose.
Newcastle looked absolutely woeful up front. Had we managed to fashion some sort of goal – no matter how scrambled or flukey – I can’t believe they would ever have found a way back into the game.
The point leaves us needing four wins and two draws to reach the magic 40 mark – and with Aston Villa, Fulham, Reading and Southampton still all to visit Carrow Road we simply can’t be as cautious again in all of these games.
They are all likely to come here with exactly the same ‘do not lose attitude’ attitude displayed by Newcastle.
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Next time we might be forced to go for it a little more, make earlier changes and actually use all three substitutes too.
I suppose we could reach safety by trying to grind out 14 draws from the remaining 16 fixtures, but the fact is that not many people will be expecting us to get anything from either Liverpool or Tottenham.
We really have to go for it against QPR on February 2, although that could be the meeting of one side with no wins in four against another with none in seven – resulting in the same lack of risk-taking. Because of other results we got away with it this time. We’re still seven points off the bottom three with another week lost for them to make up the gap.
Maybe fewer than 40 points might be enough this year – maybe 37 will do it – but Saturday shows it could be a very long last four months of the season.
If we stay up and beat second-season syndrome with this squad it will be an achievement which will surpass anything seen over the previous three seasons.
I think most people recognise this –there’s been some online muttering and grumbles, but nothing on a par with postings such as this randomly-chosen entry on www.villatalk.com: “Can anyone see us surviving the drop now? I really can’t. I just don’t know how we can get out of this mess. Can’t see Lerner now spending heavily in case we do not get out of it. Can’t see Lambert turning this around with the current squad.”
Did many people really start to get carried away when we beat Wigan to go seventh – just four short weeks ago – and provoke newspaper pieces such as: “Wes Hoolahan headed in-form Norwich to within two points of the Champions League places.”
The only people who could have taken that seriously and out of the immediate context of beating Wigan were those who decided that the City No 14 was Saturday’s man of the match. Against Newcastle he was one of a number who looked shorn of confidence and also afraid at times to go for goal.
We have to show an awful lot more resolve in our remaining eight home fixtures, that’s for sure.
• A TIMELY REMINDER OF THE NEED FOR NEW FACES
Two-and-a-bit weeks to go in the transfer window then, and you sincerely hope that we’re going to see some activity. Because if there’s one thing to be remembered about the Newcastle game it’s how little we actually posed any serious threat to the visiting defence.
It’s hard to see it being much better against any of our remaining opponents – anyone with anything about them up front would manage to score at least once and then we’d be sunk.
In each of our last two Premier League seasons we’ve made significant signings in the January transfer window and you’d like to think we’ve learned about the impact that freshening up your squad can have.
It’s not a criticism of anyone else we’ve got, but we just need the lift – on and off the field – of at least one new face.
But with John Ruddy being injured and now losing the likes of Steven Whittaker as well as Grant Holt and Steve Morison being less than 100pc and the paper-thin nature of our squad is starting to tell.
Momentum took us through two thirds of last season following 2011’s promotion and we then punched well above our weight during the autumn to mask our limitations – but, boy, did they show in the first 68 minutes against Newcastle.
With our general approach this season, there was no-one to hold the ball up front against a big defence, and there all too often appeared to be a lack of leadership and inspiration as well.
Even when Holt came on he frequently drifted out to the wing, meaning that when what few crosses that there were came in there wasn’t really anyone to aim towards.
It’s almost seems like when the Russell Martin league goals dry up we’re in trouble.
No-one was able to contribute anything from midfield and the standard of our crossing and corners was often terrible.
We need to ring a few changes, but there’s not much scope to play with. The likes of David Fox now appear to be destined for little more than a significant role in the FA Cup.
It’s taking one hell of a gamble if we get to the end of January with no new signings. Someone could yet prove to be 2013’s Bryan Gunn if we’re not careful. And you certainly wouldn’t want to go into May’s fixtures having been dragged right back into the relegation battle.
Aston Villa at home may or may not be a significant fixture depending upon their Capital One Cup second leg against Bradford, but you wouldn’t fancy starting the final Carrow Road fixture against West Brom needing anything. Reading in 2009, anyone?
And as for the last day at Manchester City? No chance.
It’s a very risky game we could be playing if nothing happens over the course of the next 17 days.
• HATS OFF TO CLUB FOR CUP TICKET PRICES
All too often this column has been less than complimentary of Norwich City’s general policies, so it’s only right to offer a big hats-off – no pun intended – to whoever came up with the pricing for the FA Cup tie against Luton.
It’s possible this might not have happened in a season when we didn’t have at least five home cup ties, or if there hadn’t been the furore about the Tottenham pricing, but no matter, it was a smart piece of marketing. And, on a personal level, praise too to the Carrow Road ticket staff for their general help recently.
I hope this general goodwill continues beyond the point when ticket prices for next season are announced.
Despite everything else that has gone on this weekend I still firmly believe Norwich will be in a position to share in next season’s Premier League television riches.
In which case this is a time to remember the continuing loyalty shown when things weren’t going so well – season-ticket rebates in 2009, anyone? – and take acount of what’s happening with the Football Supporters’ Association and the cost of tickets for Arsenal versus Manchester City.
Time was when the size of the increase of Norwich City season tickets would only make headlines in these parts. Not any more. A decision to freeze prices would earn a lot of good publicity far beyond the borders of Norfolk.