There’s no time to dwell on one poor Norwich City result
Last Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash at QPR might have been short on goalmouth action and ultimately ended scoreless, but it was still a great result for the Canaries.
Norwich matched Neil Warnock’s men in every department of the team, and in my opinion they also looked more organised and effective with the manner of their play.
Don’t get me wrong, QPR aren’t sitting on top of the division by accident. They’re obviously a very good side and they do have some quality players in their team. But City defended with more authority and assuredness than the league leaders did for my money and, despite having attacked less frequently than the home side, they nevertheless did so with better fluency and with a greater goalscoring threat.
You’d take a draw away from home any day of the week against most of the teams in the Championship, but for the Canaries to have given the runaway league leaders a run for their money on their own patch, limited them to precious few attempts on goal and been just a successful penalty kick away from taking all three points has to be impressive enough in anyone’s book.
City effectively confirmed their status in the Championship last week with that performance. Because while we all know different, many people outside of Norfolk might have assumed that Norwich’s lofty position in the league table and hugely impressive string of early-season results had been achieved on account of them not yet having come up against some of the division’s “big boys”.
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And if that was the case, it certainly wouldn’t have been at five o’clock last Saturday night.
But then on Tuesday night City strangely dropped their guard.
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The team huffed and puffed against George Burley’s Crystal Palace side for large chunks of the game, but the longer it progressed, the more City’s rhythm eluded them.
The manner of the two goals they conceded will also have been a bitter pill to swallow, as all the training ground practice at defending set-pieces is undermined in an instant when the ball is delivered into the six-yard box and an opposition player is first to the ball.
However, as many people said afterwards, one poor result doesn’t alter what has still been a terrific start to the 2010-11 season.
Fifth from top in the table almost a third of the way into the campaign really needs no further comment for a side that has only just been promoted.
The trick now though, of course, is to ensure that Tuesday night was just a one-off and quickly get back to normal service.
Good management encompasses many different guises.
It goes without saying that an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game, tactical nous and an ability to spot a player and then integrate him into your playing system are but three of the essential requirements.
Man management is also right up there in my book. It’s arguably the most important of them all.
Last week at QPR, Wes Hoolahan wouldn’t have exactly been feeling too pleased with himself in the away team dressing room after the game considering that he had missed the spot-kick that could have won the game for City. I don’t think he’d have been expecting rollicking from Paul Lambert. After all, it takes guts to step up to the spot and take a penalty kick. It’s all eyes on you, there’s no help from anyone else and you’re expected to score. Accordingly you’re placed in a no-win situation.
And when all is said and done, Hoolahan has been terrific for City this season anyway.
Then again, he probably wasn’t expecting what transpired either.
Because not only did the City boss sing Hoolahan’s praises later on and abscond him from any blame whatsoever, he also made a point of walking back out onto the pitch when the players were re-emerging from the tunnel for their cool down when there were many supporters still inside the stadium, with his arm around Hoolahan’s shoulders.
A public statement if ever there was to the tune of, “forget that miss. You’ve been brilliant for us. Just keep playing the way you are.”
And you know what, Hoolahan would have instantly felt 10 feet tall because of that.
I think back to the only penalty that I missed out of 13 in a yellow and green shirt and how I could have done with a little pick-me up like that at the time.
Now Bruce Rioch was an excellent manager, no two ways about it. But as we sat in that dressing room at half-time at Swansea he didn’t say anything to me at all. I was thinking, “come on gaffer, give me a bit of a lift here.”
Yet all I can remember is the nagging voice of Craig Bellamy who was sitting next to me continually asking me that if we were awarded another penalty in the second half, could he please take it!
• OFFSIDE LAW SHAMBLES IS RUINING THE GAME
OK, a little rant regarding offsides – an aspect of the game that drives everyone stark raving bonkers.
For referees, in some instances it’s an impossible job to make the correct call. Literally impossible.
And that can’t be a good thing in a multi-million pound industry where one incorrect decision can cost a club so dearly.
The problem now is that referees have to take so many different variables into account.
Is the player active or inactive? Is it the first phase or second phase of an attack? Is a player offside only if he touches the ball, or attempts to touch it, or even if he doesn’t touch it at all? And what about whether or not he’s seeking to gain an advantage? You almost need a PhD in maths to sort it out. Yet referees and their assistants have to calculate it all in a split second.
I don’t know whether a player is offside or onside by the letter of the law anymore. I haven’t got a clue in some instances to be honest. And listening to experts of the likes of Alan Hansen, Lee Dixon, Mark Lawrenson and Andy Gray on the TV, with all their slow-motion, freeze-frame gadgetry, neither, it seems, have they.
Can anyone tell me for example, that when Mikel Arteta hit that blistering shot past Pepe Reina in the Merseyside derby last week that Yakubu wasn’t offside?
OK, Yakubu didn’t touch the ball, or even attempt to touch it, and he wasn’t seeking to gain an advantage. So that rules out three of the 8,000 variables.
But he was blocking Reina’s view for heaven’s sake. Reina had to actually crane his neck to try to look around Yakubu so that he could see the ball.
So surely it had to be offside?
Then again, we could all see that Yakubu was blocking Reina’s view after watching 75 re-runs of the goal. The ref, however — World Cup final referee, Howard Webb, — had to make that call in real time.
And as for the linesman, he probably didn’t know whether to put his flag up, keep it down by his side or shove it where the sun doesn’t shine because the offside laws are all so ambiguous now.
It’s absolutely farcical. A shambles.
And it’s ruining the game every single week.