Reward for a professional job from Norwich City
After slipping to a surprising defeat at the hands of struggling Crystal Palace earlier in the week, it was all change for the Canaries at Carrow Road on Saturday – a change in formation and a change in personnel, but most importantly a change back to winning ways.
City boss Paul Lambert decided to temporarily abandon the diamond midfield formation that has proved so effective for a long while now in favour of an orthodox 4-4-2 set-up against managerless Middlesbrough, with natural width being provided by the returning Anthony McNamee.
And in the first half in particular the decision proved fruitful. McNamee regularly had the beating of his full-back and he didn’t hesitate to try to put the ball into the box whenever the opportunity presented itself.
He was very positive and direct when he had the ball, and arguably the only frustration of the opening period for City was that McNamee wasn’t being brought into play as much as would have been ideal.
Similar to four days earlier against Crystal Palace, Norwich dominated the first half and they created some decent goalscoring chances again. There was an attacking threat provided on both flanks, with Steven Smith and Simon Lappin linking well down the left side, and McNamee and the impressive Russell Martin causing problems on the right.
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In midfield, Andrew Crofts and David Fox kept things ticking over nicely when City were in possession, and the pair provided good protection for the back four.
And with Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson looking bright and lively in attack and working hard away from the ball, and the defence and John Ruddy in goal providing a solid resistance to anything the visitors could muster, it meant City were certainly full value for their half-time lead.
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No doubt one of the main messages in the dressing room during the interval, though, would have been to remind the players that they were in an identical healthy situation earlier in the week, and to ensure they didn’t allow the opposition back into the contest quite so cheaply this time.
Come the final whistle, it was safe to say that the team must have got the message. The Canaries didn’t reproduce the same levels of dominance or exert the same amount of control as had been the case in the opening half, which was attributable in the main to them dropping a little deep at times and surrendering territory in midfield.
But you had to admire City’s ability to soak up any Middlesbrough pressure and maintain their defensive shape, and then to be determined and aggressive enough to firmly close the door on the visitors when they had a sight of goal.
If a tackle was there to be won it was won. If a shot was there to be blocked it was blocked. It might have been a little unnerving for the crowd at times, especially as the game entered the final 10 minutes, but this time there were no costly errors. City were thoroughly professional in seeing themselves through to victory.
• NEIL’S MAN OF THE MATCH – ELLIOTT WARD: Several players could easily have laid claim to being named man of the match. Russell Martin played very well and gave the opposition plenty to think about when he attacked down the right side, and Simon Lappin acquitted himself equally well on the other flank. Leon Barnett impressed at the back once again – so reliable and difficult to beat – and Anthony McNamee fully justified his recall with his positive display. But it’s Ward again for me, for providing such a reassuring presence at the heart of the defence and for defending so effectively.