Reputational damage, Timm Klose getting it in the neck, Matt Jarvis and the revived Scottish Steves – Six things we learned from Norwich City’s FA Cup Southampton survival
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City’s FA Cup adventure is not over for 2017 just yet. Michael Bailey delivers his six learnings from a sparse Carrow Road experience.
1 – Reputational cost to all concerned
It’s been a key component of City’s recent history. It’s convinced numerous players to sign for the club. And it’s remained a source of great pride at Carrow Road. But Saturday, it got damagingly taken for granted.
My timelines were flooded with negative tweets from far and wide over City’s attendance of 12,479 and the sight of so many empty seats – maybe because it’s been so long since it last happened.
The atmosphere was awful and the Barclay the emptiest I have ever seen it for a first-team fixture – including League Cup ties.
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I’m not sure there was universal approval inside the club over Saturday’s ticket prices, but either way it ensured Delia’s desire to see supporters “worshipped” and “respected” – yes, it’s that Times interview again – sounded awfully hollow.
No doubt the stayaway wasn’t about one issue, but should the impending season ticket prices for next season reveal an increase – as has been suggested to me – then the mood will darken.
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David McNally got cup prices wrong once – and said sorry. I wonder if we’ll ever hear anything similar about Saturday.
2 – Let’s hear it for the Scottish Steves
Let’s call it as we see it – Steven Whittaker was pretty good against a useful side.
Sure, it wasn’t the easiest task keeping Ryan Bertrand quiet – more on him later – but all in all, and given his surprisingly limited use so far this term, Whittaker did more than could’ve been asked.
It’s hard not to think things have been harsh on the defender. The small crowd were more than vocal when it became clear Whitts was taking part – and not in a good way, given the gasps of horror. That misunderstands Whittaker; technically excellent, composed in front of goal. It was all a nice recovery from his red card at Saints last season too. Whittaker is close to his 100th City appearance – in almost twice the time it took Cameron Jerome.
He deserves to be trusted more and maybe should be de facto back-up to Ivo Pinto, given what Neil demands of right-backs.
A word here for the other Steven too. After a horrendous first 10 minutes against Derby, Naismith has been much improved and much vocal. Promising signs. It would be great to have a potentially influential forward hitting his stride.
3 – Matt’s face said it all
It’s been a while since I saw a player walk through a mixed zone looking as dejected as Matt Jarvis did on Saturday afternoon.
That’s understandable too, given he’s desperately trying to make up for lost time. Another lengthy injury; his City career has never really got going.
And the FA Cup was, almost certainly in his mind, going to be the ideal chance to step up from Under-23, ‘feeling your way in’ football to some proper first-team action.
And in the end, the winger simply didn’t get a look in. In fact, he barely got a warm-up.
In fairness to Alex Neil, that said as much about his attitude to the game.
His team and substitutions showed he wanted to preserve City’s new momentum, rather than toss it aside. From bringing on Jacob Murphy and chasing things when behind, he and City got their due rewards.
There were good performances of course, and all those will come with the query over whether it was to catch the suitors’ eye? It’s a great question; we have a month to earn the answer.
4 – Timm also got it in the neck
It was arguably the most animated I got. Timm Klose, stricken pitchside and in real pain, deciding to come back on and run off his injury.
At that point, it wasn’t clear what the Swiss centre-back had done – but the memories of him playing on through his knee injury at Selhurst Park last season came flooding back. A repeat would have been unforgivable.
Fortunately he was subbed before the game restarted, despite Klose taking up his position in hope and expectation.
That wasn’t the reason for Alex Neil’s frustration at his defender mind.
The restart was needed of course, because Southampton scored while Klose was off the pitch. Maybe because of it too.
Neil didn’t hold back after the game, labelling Timm naive to anyone who’d listen. Public criticism is a delicate balance. Let’s hope the City boss has gauged it right.
On top of that, fingers crossed Klose is out for just days, not weeks.
In truth it was a day for bad defending – and quite how Saints’ 19-year-old debut keeper Harry Lewis managed to avoid at least one booking and more pressure, I don’t know.
5 – ‘If only’ lingers on with Virgil
All hail Virgil van Dijk, a man who seemed to be playing football on a different level to everyone else at Carrow Road. The Dutch centre-back looked a class apart – including for Saints – and effectively played the tie at a different pace to everyone else.
When Alex Neil got City up he wanted to sign Van Dijk, but Southampton had too much financial power and he left Celtic for Saints, for £13m.
Now the 25-year-old is being touted with moves in excess of £50m – and looks worth the price tag.
Ex-Canaries returned too. Ryan Bertrand was a young man when on loan at City under Glenn Roeder – but always looked good then. Now he’s a true top-class operator – and was excellent on Saturday.
Nathan Redmond got a cameo and a warm reception too, of course – although the game helped emphasise Jacob Murphy is in danger of overtaking his big mate pretty soon.
There’s no doubt Claude Puel is under pressure and while Saints seemed to take Saturday lightly, they now have one more game they didn’t want – in the middle of what Puel has already called a defining month. Nasty. See you at St Mary’s guys.
6 – A trio unbeaten; a bigger trio to come
For a fair bit of Saturday’s second half – through the poor attendance, scoreline deficit, Timm Klose’s injury and general gloominess – it felt like City were going to suffer a big momentum loser when they could least afford it.
Yet that 92nd minute header from Steven Naismith could prove as important as any goal scored this season, simply as a preserving mechanism.
Everyone left Carrow Road happy City had maintained some sort of improvement from their autumn horror show – and that’s key, given what’s coming up in the EFL Championship fixture list.
Alex Neil even made the point in previewing Southampton, just how important the next three league fixtures are.
Ignoring City’s FA Cup replay on Wednesday week and any potential fourth round clash replacing Birmingham’s visit, City also have a trip to Rotherham next before Paul Lambert’s Wolves come to town.
Wigan, Cardiff and Forest are also in the firing line before Newcastle United come to Carrow Road.
Other periods may be pivotal, but it’s crunch time coming up.