Losing leads, VAR dramas and plenty of exciting games
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
December is the next month under the microscope in our Norwich City 2019-20 season recap - with Connor Southwell setting the scene that the Canaries may well come to regret.
If Norwich City fail to complete their ‘little miracle’ this season, December will be a month they reflect upon with a great deal of regret.
In five of their seven matches, the Canaries were leading but failed to record three points in a single fixture during the final month of 2019.
It all began with the visit of Freddie Ljungberg’s Arsenal, the man in temporary charge of the Gunners following the dismissal of Unai Emery.
City were looking to utilise some of their newfound momentum following their first away win at Goodison Park a week prior - and when Teemu Pukki’s deflected strike nestled in the bottom corner in the first half, you could have forgiven supporters for feeling like their fortunes were changing.
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But, as would become a theme throughout this month, VAR intervened when Stockley Park penalised Christoph Zimmermann for handball and then snatched Tim Krul’s third penalty save away from him after it was ruled Max Aarons had encroached.
City boss Daniel Farke was left seething with the decision: “The penalty was probably the right decision but to replay it was a really strange decision because you will always find something in the rules. Watch the scene back, Max Aarons’ foot is outside the box and maybe his knee or a part of an upper body is in the area.”
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The Canaries found themselves leading at half-time after boyhood Arsenal fan Todd Cantwell netted but City’s defensive vulnerability was punished by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as he scored the equaliser.
A midweek trip to the south coast, and the debut of Premier League coverage live on Amazon Prime, saw a disjointed performance in the opening period. The damage was done when Danny Ings converted the Saints’ second goal, but a late flurry from City - with Pukki netting and Sam Byram blazing a gilt-edged chance over the bar in stoppage time, once again left all pondering what could have been.
Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United arrived at Carrow Road with a swagger after the way they’d adapted to life in the top flight, with the Blades’ boss keen to play down his famous feud with the Canaries after their Bramall Lane victory in 2017.
Once again, City’s opening period was impressive. Alex Tettey rifled in a shot after United failed to clear a corner.
City’s opponents upped their tempo in the second period and, after six minutes of the restart, the Blades were leading.
The game management and ability to switch between gears was something noticeable in City’s opponents, but less apparent within the Canaries’ own set-up.
A trip to the King Power seemed a daunting task with City continuing to perform in bursts but failing to stretch their positive displays over a consistent period.
To compare that with the Foxes, Brendan Rodgers side had been excelling in the top flight and seemed to defy all expectations at challenging for the second spot in the Premier League.
With Christmas trees beginning to be erected around the King Power, the hope was that City could upset the apple cart and break convention by leaving Leicester with a result.
As Emi Buendia threaded a pass through to Pukki, who dispatched with confidence, once again City felt as though they were sat at a crossroad. Jamie Vardy’s equaliser seemed to push the Canaries back into their original state of wondering what might’ve been.
The Foxes pushed into higher gears, but this time City stood firm. An innocuous challenge on Pukki left the Finn with a concerning injury to his toe - something that may have played a factor in his squandered opportunities late on.
A defeat to Wolves at Carrow Road saw the Canaries once again fail to capitalise on a half-time lead, with various tables showing City would sit in mid-table had they have seen out their first half efforts.
Alas, they continued to throw away leads and struggled to perform for a full 90 minutes.
A wet 1-0 Boxing Day defeat at Aston Villa followed, with Conor Hourihane’s strike the difference between the sides.
And then there was VAR.
Mario Vrancic’s pass set Pukki racing away against Spurs, he converted with aplomb before the lines were drawn and a fraction of the Finn’s arm was ruled offside.
That would have put City 2-0 up. That would quite possibly have earned three points.
Carrow Road felt cheated, Farke watched on in dismay and that VAR chant was audible around the city.
That burning sense of injustice is still felt by Norwich supporters now, and will forever determine opinions of VAR.