Chris Lakey: Chalk and cheese, Teemu’s toe... and social media nonsense

Onel Hernandez gets stuck into Manchester United Paul Pogba during the FA Cup match Picture: Paul Ch

Onel Hernandez gets stuck into Manchester United Paul Pogba during the FA Cup match Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City produced an encouraging finale to their first week back in action, but it’s still a funny old game ... as Chris Lakey ponders.

So. How was it for you?

We’ve now had time to digest the first full week (and a bit) of Norwich City and Project Restart and ahead of this week’s first away game, it’s perhaps as good a time as any to ask a few questions.

This article does contain some amateur psychology stuff, but given everyone’s been dabbling in it over lockdown, why not?

Anyway, after five hours of BCD (behind closed doors) football the points are split into two categories – football matters and, footballing fan matters. They are inextricably linked, I guess, but you get the gist.

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Premier League commitment

Why does it appear we haven’t seen the fight expected from a struggling side? Is it as simple as: they’re bottom of the table, they are worse than everyone else, that’s what you get? It could be that, or the conspiracy theorists are on to something, that a few players have their minds elsewhere, literally – like, next season. You could name at least half a dozen for whom survival is less significant, because they will be off anyway. They’ll still be trying, but at the back of their minds will be the inescapable fact that they will be playing their football for someone else, and most likely in a different division, next season. Only a theory, of course.

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FA Cup commitment

So what switch did someone flick to suddenly get a very different performance against Manchester United? Even if Daniel Farke’s tactical switch improved things, that doesn’t account for the sudden discovery by the players of hidden reserves of energy and commitment. Was it because the pressure was off? An FA Cup quarter-final it may have been, but City were rated as no-hopers. Is the pressure of Premier League survival greater than that of achieving FA Cup glory? Chalk and cheese performances.

Horses for courses

Teemu Pukki hasn’t been right since his toe injury, no doubt, but he is still Norwich City’s best chance of scoring a goal. After a three-month absence he didn’t need a rest for the Everton game. Don’t buy that at all. And if I am a team-mate and I see the best player dropped, I would be wondering why. To get Pukki back to his best you show confidence in him. Not a lack of it. Yes, he was poor against United, but he was being marked by an £80m defender. And if that argument doesn’t cut it with you, then listen to Farke when he points out the gap in class between his players and many opponents as a reason for them losing.

Fans – TV

I’ve watched a lot of BCD football and Norwich v United was the closest the experience has been to the real thing: the Beeb got the piped-in sound sorted. But what made it so much better was that there was a surprising story being played out: most other stuff this season has been Tales of the Expected, but this became engrossing because David was giving Goliath a lesson. And because City were expected to be thrashed, a lot of their fans – if you believe what they say on social media – would have missed it. They couldn’t bear the thought of watching their team in an FA Cup quarter-final from a safe distance rather than being there in the flesh. So presumably those ones missed what was a fine City performance. More fool them. Of course, much of that social media stuff was just cobblers.

Fans – influence

Myself and my colleague, columnist David Hannant, had a friendly disagreement over his contention that struggling clubs are most disadvantaged by the absence of home fans. I say it’s the same for any club at home, surely. Manchester United have 70,000-plus fans at home games so losing that noise is surely worse than losing 26,000.

Also, I know there’s a lot of encouragement to make noise at Carrow Road nowadays, but it is not one of the noisiest grounds in the country. It is when it is rocking, but so is every ground. On some occasions the home crowd can push their team over the line. But only some ... and there’s no proof.

Fans – mindset

Million dollar question: Premier League strugglers or Championship success? Which do you prefer? You can’t have one without the other. I know there is a club policy of self sufficiency, very sensible too, but the feeling that City are struggling against the financial odds is so widely accepted that the consequent disappointments are accepted in the same way. Whilst social media can be an evil, it can also be a half decent barometer of sorts – as long as you follow the right people – and I don’t see the depth of frustration at imminent relegation as I would have done a decade ago.

The fan base seems to have become sympathetic to the situation... is that healthy?

So, football without fans - thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thumbs down. Of course. It is not the same: the more you watch the more you know it is simply fulfilling expensive contractual obligations. But you suck it up. And then look forward to the day you return to your chosen football ground and enjoy yourself again – and BCD football is just a nostalgic part of the debate.

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