Norwich City need to have a more effective plan B

Norwich City columnist David Powles would like to see more and better use of substitutions.

Norwich City columnist David Powles would like to see more and better use of substitutions. - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

So what’s gone wrong?

What’s changed to transform Norwich City from a team unbeaten in 10 and pushing for a top eight position, to one that hasn’t won in six and is being touted by some as a late arrival in the race for the drop?

Have we become a bad team almost overnight and should we be worried?

Not for the first time this season, these are just some of the questions swilling around the mind of your average Canaries supporter.

Just as only a few weeks ago a dramatic change in form got everyone talking about why the results were suddenly going our way, now we are left scratching our heads as to why they aren’t.

What a strange season this has been, not so much a season of two halves, more a bad quarter, then a good quarter, then another bad quarter and then, well, who knows what’s in store next?

Since Saturday’s defeat there have been numerous theories as to the change, including the one put out by Mark Lawrenson on that evening’s Match of the Day.

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Now, as anyone who reads his BBC predictions will know, Lawrenson isn’t exactly an expert on Norwich City and its virtues, but it is a show that still has a great sway on people’s football opinions.

His verdict was that certain players had become complacent once the club reached 25 points and unless that changed Norwich were in trouble.

While I’m not fortunate enough to enjoy access to what goes on behind the scenes at Carrow Road, I’d like to think both our management and players are savvy enough and professional enough to make sure this isn’t true.

In fact, if I were Hughton or one of his players, I’d be pretty offended by what Lawrenson implied. To imply complacency, also implies lack of effort, that the players haven’t been putting their heart and soul into it because they think they don’t have to.

No matter what line of work you are in that’s a pretty serious accusation and one that shouldn’t be made lightly.

The actual answer can’t be summed up in the sort of 30-second soundbite that Match of the Day specialises in, the reality is there are numerous factors behind the current barren run in the league.

They include:

• Opposition. Looking at the fixtures prior to West Bromwich Albion even the most optimistic supporter must have feared such a run could happen. Not only have we played some of the biggest names in the league, we’ve played them when on a decent run of form. West Brom, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool were all among the top five form teams when we played them.

• Lack of match sharpness. In many ways our largely consistent line-up this season has been a strength, but if those fringe players aren’t playing regularly how can they be expected to be ready when needed? Even when used as subs, Elliott Bennett, David Fox, Simeon Jackson, Jonny Howson and Steve Morison have been unable to build up much momentum or confidence. Are we losing out by not having a reserve team to play them in?

• There’s too much emphasis on Sébastien Bassong. We seem bereft in defence without him but one of the other centre-backs needs to step up.

• Where’s our backbone when we fall behind? Too often we crumble. In six of our nine defeats this season, we have conceded four or more goals.

• We need a plan B, especially away from home. This was an accusation thrown at Swansea last season and ironically the gung-ho way we played against them in the 4-3 victory during our good run is how I’d like to see us play away more often.

• Some key players have suffered a dip in form, sadly too many at the same time on Saturday.

• Do we have strength in depth or just numbers? Of course it could be that while we have a big squad, it’s not a strong enough one.

So what should be done to change things around? Well the hard work starts in the transfer market, but this alone won’t be enough. Whether it was Grant Holt, Gary Hooper, Danny Graham, Ronaldo or Messi – all would have struggled to score on Saturday with the service provided, that needs to change.

We need a second option and I’d like to see better utilisation of substitutions. As Paul Lambert often proved with Norwich, it’s a game of 14, not just 11.

Whatever Hughton changes, or even if he decides to simply ride it out, there’s no need to panic.

The most important thing is that at the start of this bad run we were 10 points clear of relegation, and now we are seven and I’m sure most of us would have taken that a month ago.

• I wasn’t surprised to see Simeon Jackson linked with a move to Wolves last week. I’ve often said that he’d be an ideal candidate if you were a Championship club looking for a striker with a proven track record of scoring important goals in the second half of the season. If he doesn’t leave in this window you have to expect his Norwich City time will end before the start of 2013/14. It’s a shame because he’s been a victim of circumstance and had Hughton preferred a conventional 4-4-2 formation I think we’d have seen him start most games this season alongside Holt.

• It was just four months ago that the Friends of Norwich City Youth (Foncy) decided to call time on their fantastic efforts providing financial support to the Canary academy. That decision was taken after starting to feel their efforts weren’t exactly warmly welcomed by the powers that be at the club. Lo and behold, a few months later a scheme is announced which, even if only supported by 10,000 season ticket-holders, will raise more than half of that collected by Foncy in its 16 years existence. A cynic may wonder if that’s anything more than a coincidence.

• On that subject I’ll certainly be opting out of the £19 academy donation offered up as part of the latest season ticket deal. When the club was on its knees, close to administration and dropping to the third tier of English football I was happy to waive the £60 rebate entitled to me due to relegation – as did thousands of others. And while I am ever appreciative of the effort that has taken place to turn this club around and the many amazing moments along the way, I don’t think it’s fair to ask fans to go above and beyond in such a way again.

• I’m not sure about this idea for a 19th-minute tribute to departed midfielder Simon Lappin on Saturday. I wonder whether we eulogise players too easily or simply because they have a quirky song. Granted he never let Norwich down and is clearly a tryer – but is 126 games in six years really enough to warrant such worship? What next? A statue for Daryl Sutch? Or maybe we name a stand after Dean Coney?