Robin Sainty: Norwich City must get their heads around this situation
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
“We’re a young team but there comes a point when the lads have got to step up, stick together and be men.”
Skipper Grant Hanley's words in the wake of the bitter defeat to Wolves are the perfect epitaph to the first half of City's season. They have produced outstanding football on so many occasions, but oh so rarely done so for a full 90 minutes, which is why they enter 2020 so far adrift from the pack.
I can't remember a City side in my 50-plus years of watching that has thrilled me so much as a creative attacking force, nor a player with such raw natural talent as Emi Buendia, but sadly that is balanced by the palpitations that afflict me every time they have to defend a set-piece.
Realistically, I think that most of us felt that with the likes of Teemu Pukki and Buendia in the squad City were much better equipped to score goals at the top level, but the fact that the defensive unit remained basically the same as the one that had been considerably less than watertight in the Championship was obviously a cause for concern.
Looking back to pre-season it's impossible to overstate what a huge loss Timm Klose's experience has been to the team, particularly with Grant Hanley also out for an extended period, and it would be very easy to point to the plethora of injuries to defensive players as an excuse.
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However, that would be more justifiable if there were signs of lessons being learnt, but we are still seeing the same mistakes repeated and that is as frustrating for the fans as it must be for Daniel Farke. Yet again, against Wolves we saw an opponent allowed a free header in City's box and inevitably that has provoked the usual criticisms of zonal marking, but for me the problem isn't the system, it's the execution of it, with a lack of awareness of an opponent's movement a recurring theme.
Having said that, I'm not totally convinced by the argument that the zonal system is necessitated by the fact that City are a relatively small side given that it pits static defenders against moving attackers which would seem to further handicap City's players.
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However, to return to Hanley's comment, it seemed to go to the heart of a deeper problem, namely an issue with the side's mentality manifesting itself in a lack of steel.
The sad reality is that in every key game this season City have been unable to produce 90 minutes of hard-nosed football, and whilst dominant periods and favourable statistics are all well and good the bottom line is securing points.
Once again at Villa Park it was a case of could have and should have, as City failed to nail down yet another game in which they had been the better side for a considerable period.
Hanley has been around the block a number of times, and as an experienced international is well aware that there is a point when the excuses have to stop. That may seem harsh, but City have got a soft underbelly which is being ruthlessly exploited in the Premier League.
It was only an irritant last year as they scored goals for fun, but now it has become a terminal condition that has to be addressed even if that means making City less pleasing to watch.
I would be amazed if City don't bring in a defender, probably on loan, early in January but what won't happen is a repeat of 2016 when City gambled the house on staying up, failed to do so and were still paying the price last summer.
They will justifiably stick with Farke, but unless significant progress is made on tightening up in both physical and mental terms I'm afraid that we can simply expect more of the same results.