We’ll see if it evens itself out
To think there were some people who used to complain about the performances of Andy D’Urso…
They say that bad refereeing decisions even themselves out over the course of a season.
Maybe they do – we’ll now find out in the next 34 fixtures.
However, they sure as hell don’t even themselves out in the space of 90 minutes, that’s for certain.
It simply defies belief that a referee with as much experience as Mark Halsey can allow himself to be conned by such a piece of blatant gamesmanship.
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“It looked soft,” Paul Lambert put it perhaps as diplomatically as he could on Radio Norfolk afterwards without earning himself a day trip to central London to be told off by the suits in the FA disciplinary department.
Steven Reid couldn’t have fallen to the ground any quicker had he been taken out by a precision marksmen – and it’s fair to say that a few City players may now be gunning for him when the sides meet again in January.
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That Declan Rudd pulled off such a high-quality penalty save was the day’s only highlight from a Canaries perspective.
Perhaps understandably there were moments in the first half when he looked like a rabbit trapped in the glare of Sky Television headlights, but his efforts – something that Robert Green was unable to do during all his time at Carrow Road, remember – kept City in the game and in with the chance of at least a point.
Referees sometimes feel a need to even up the score, if they feel themselves that they might have got something wrong or the reaction of players and/or supporters becomes apparent.
But there was no danger of that on Sunday as we were denied more than one shout for clearer-cut spot-kick awards at the other end.
Indeed, with hindsight, the only surprise was that Mr Halsey didn’t decide that James Vaughan was guilty of simulation against Gabriel Tamas in stoppage time. It was that kind of afternoon.
If Roy Hodgson feels that his man’s elbow was “unintentional” I’d hate to see what he could do to an opposition player if he really meant it.
And perhaps on another day I might have done.
Because the Canaries were unable to mount much of a serious threat in front of goal, the Baggies were able to sit out long spells rather comfortably without having to really mix it.
They finally appear to have found the secret to survival – ie not, as before, trying to just play their way to the 40-point mark in as pretty a passing manner as possible.
After all those years of being the ultimate yo-yo club West Brom have clearly now adopted the Stoke City approach to staying up in the Premier League – time waste, foul, play-act, dive, con and time waste again – and already you find yourself facing something of a moral maze: do you want the Canaries to go down this road themselves or would you just rather be playing in the Championship, where ‘big-name’ referees are perhaps less likely to be swayed by television cameras or top-four clubs and you’re not paying anything up to �50 to witness such ‘professionalism‘?
Is it going to be any better in the coming weeks against Sunderland or Blackburn, you wonder?
Perhaps Swansea and QPR are going to continue to show a similar degree of non-Premier League naivety as ourselves – let‘s hope so – because I always felt that our fate would be decided by the time Neil Warnock’s side come here on November 26.
If things haven’t evened themselves up a little by then, or we’ve made our own luck instead, then where we stand after 13 games will tell us a lot more than these past four matches.
• HOOLAHAN OFFERS THAT BIT OF QUALITY WE NEED
Despite the criticism of the refereeing, the fact is that we would have deserved no more than a point on Sunday had we got the injury-time penalty decision that surely most other officials would have awarded.
Yes, we had plenty of possession, but we never turned it into much in the way of even half-chances, the tempo was too lacking across the game as a whole and we often didn’t have enough pace up front.
Maybe whatever game plan we had might have worked had we not conceded as early as we did, but in our last two games we’ve now fallen behind inside the opening six minutes.
That’s what killed our chances of victory – not any controversial penalty decisions.
If we concede first at Bolton this weekend, or at home to any of Sunderland, Blackburn or Swansea it just makes a difficult task even harder.
We have to play an awful lot smarter because we don’t have the levels of quality which other sides can call upon.
You can’t fault the commitment and effort, but if Grant Holt is chasing off wide in a frustrated pursuit of the ball then who’s going to be left if or when the ball does find itself into the West Brom area? No-one really, which is why Ben Foster must have had the cleanest, sweat-free shirt at Carrow Road.
I would certainly now expect to see Wes Hoolahan starting home games from now on.
We haven’t been able to turn possession into goals – note plural – yet, quite apart from particularly punishing any side yet, and as long as that run continues there is always going to be the fear that this season is shaping up to be a repeat of 2004/5. In isolation, points against Wigan and Stoke were good results, and the battling display at Chelsea had much to commend it.
But without the odd win thrown into the mix they ultimately count for nothing and that‘s why no-one was really getting carried away with them.
I don’t want to use the term ‘wake-up call’ but after Sunday we now know what the Premier League is all about.
We must start both creating and taking chances in at least one of the next two matches.
• LAMBERT’S MASTERPLAN APPEARS TO BE WORKING
Four penalties conceded and two red cards picked up in just 360 minutes’ play – anyone would think it is all part of a Paul Lambert masterplan.
Because I think we can take it as read now that there is absolutely no chance of NCFC finding themselves anywhere near the top of any fair play league and having to follow Fulham’s example in a tiring pre-season slog around the Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland, Croatia and Ukraine in pursuit of a Europa League group-stages place – irrespective of whatever division we actually find ourselves in in 12 months’ time.
I believe it’s called ‘doing a Steve Coppell’, although, of course Reading just conveniently frittered away the chance of a top-six place in the last couple of weeks of the season rather than following Ipswich’s lead of keeping out of trouble with the referees by comfortably finishing in the bottom three.
Hence the Reading manager’s comment in 2007: “It wouldn’t be a problem getting into the Uefa Cup because I’d probably play the reserves. As far as I’m concerned we have a European Cup final every weekend in the Premiership. That’s how much it means to everyone at this club.”
• CITY NEED TO BRING A GAME
I notice that when Celtic were reinstated to the Europa League at Sion’s expense they were awarded two 3-0 wins.
Do you think – as the Swiss club are alleged to have done – we could field a few dubiously registered players of our own against Manchester United and Manchester City and get away with four 3-0 defeats later this season?
Because if we’re as off our game in the first half on either October 1 or December 3 as much as we were on Sunday we’re going to get beaten by a much bigger margin than three goals, that’s for sure.