Norwich City’s disintegration surely leaves us all with an unwanted sense of pessimism
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a fortnight where public trust in David Cameron fell to potentially unsalvageable levels for the PM ahead of the EU referendum in June, City fans’ faith in our players’ ability to retain their status in the Premier League has almost certainly sunk to even greater depths.
Our team completely disintegrated on Saturday lunchtime, alarmingly revealing a lack of character, resilience and quality that is now required more than ever in the coming weeks.
Whilst it was the Panama Papers that fundamentally triggered the Tory leader’s demise, Saturday witnessed a somewhat less highbrow and expected catalyst in the form of Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland. Led superbly in midfield by the likes of the excellent Jan Kirchhoff and the tenacious Lee Cattermole, City were completely outclassed, failing to deal with the omnipresent threat of Jermaine Defoe whilst unable to penetrate the effective thwarting of terrific Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone.
Saturday lunchtime’s display undoubtedly shocked us all. Our implosion at the hands of our principal relegation rivals was telling on so many levels. Steven Naismith again failed to impress, already looking to have purchased a fast track ticket to gaining status as one of our lesser impressive pieces of transfer business in the undesired company of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Luciano Becchio. As per recent weeks, Matt Jarvis struggled to productively exploit the space he found himself in on the flanks. However, the most concerning revelation that this weekend delineated was just how critical the presence of Timm Klose at the back is for Norwich.
It got worse than the 3-0 hammering. Alex Neil later revealed the damaging extent of Klose’s injury – the news we were all fearing yet still failing to comprehend – that the composed Swiss defender is not going to appear for City again this season. Indeed, many of us will be sceptical as to whether Klose will pull on a Norwich shirt ever again, such is his influence at the back and his prospects for the summer should we be condemned to the Championship yet again.
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We missed Klose so much. Whilst Ryan Bennett is still far from a complete Premier League defender, his developing partnership with the former Wolfsburg centre-back was beginning to blossom considerably, as witnessed by the positive results we had against Manchester City and Newcastle. In his absence, the clumsy Sebastian Bassong’s understudying performance was about as convincing as the Prime Minister’s attempts to convince the British people that he had done nothing wrong. He failed.
The thought of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and the increasingly lively Alex Iwobe running menacingly at Bassong at the Emirates surely strikes a profound sense of fear into us all. The Cameroonian defender can without doubt produce moments of skill on the ball as well as defensive brilliance, but he is certainly not the talented, elaborate ball-player that he too often thinks he is. Bassong, unfortunately, is no John Stones.
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Bassong may have been fouled in the build up to Defoe’s goal. But such indecision in possession and his subsequent loss of it is far from the sort of football City fans want to be seeing with so much at stake. Multiple of his clearances flew wildly out of play, failing to find our offensive superglue that is Dieurmerci Mbokani. Bassong actually missed the ball on more than one occasion whilst under little pressure. Our lack of reliable replacements at centre-back – Russell Martin has proven he can be equally inept – may well end up costing us our place in the Premier League.
And it’s not a new problem. Since the summer, we’ve all been fully aware of our urgent need to strengthen at the back. We did in the form of Klose, but January was too late. Had he not picked up his injury at Palace, he may well have been able to keep us up, such has been the impact of his performances. But relying on one defender in order to maintain Premier League status is inevitably a fragile strategy.
Do I think we’ll stay up? I have my significant doubts after what I saw on Saturday. Having seen that defence allow Sunderland – yes, Sunderland – attack with so much freedom and score three times is grossly alarming. Having seen once again the lack of impact Steven Naismith has on us going forward has also intensified my concern. And, having seen just how much we miss Klose has undoubtedly instilled a vast sense of fear into us all.
Yes, not all of our players performed poorly, and yes, Andre Marriner had an arguably poor game. Howson and O’Neill played relatively well, whilst Mbokani again held the ball up strongly. Olsson and Wisdom – bar that tackle – played okay. But it’s the lack of consistency, the seeming inability of our players to string together a prolonged run of convincing performances in both defence and attack that is so worrying.
If we are to stay up, City must improve. Despite his hapless performance, Bassong remains a better centre-half than Russell Martin. Hoolahan and Redmond should surely be given starts after their considerable impact off the bench, especially owing to the lack of threat posed by both Naismith and Jarvis. With these changes, a template for a side capable of safety will exist, albeit a somewhat brittle one.
Let’s keep the faith. Klose will be a miss. Saturday did undoubtedly erode a considerable amount of faith away from that we had in our players following their victories at West Brom and then against Newcastle. But, if Sunderland and Newcastle lose their difficult games in hand, survival remains a goal we can achieve without relying on others. Let’s stay united, supportive and positive, attempt to suppress that sense of concern and pessimism that Saturday lunchtime gave us, and guide our boys to safety together.