This Sunday, City manager Paul Lambert saw the conclusion of a quite remarkable run of league results which spans back as far as his first game in charge of Norwich on August 18th, 2009. Since that day, Norwich has never lost back-to-back league games. That’s 93 league games without consecutive defeats. This Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to West Bromwich Albion brought that run to its bitter end.
While no one expected that record to last all season, some of the incidents that led to Norwich’s painful loss to WBA will stand out in Lambert’s mind.
The Premier League is very unsympathetic to players who are young or making their top tier debut. City’s backline consists of both of those categories in various combinations and to be frank, it’s been all too evident during the opening four matches. In Ritchie De Laet and Leon Barnett, Norwich have two centre backs with enormous potential, but we’ve seen far too many costly errors that have resulted in points being dropped. We’re missing an old, assured head to take charge of the back four.
There was a cry from certain sections of the Norwich fan club for defenders with Premier League experience to be added to the squad during preseason. While I’m a massive fan of the individuals that make up our defence, experience is lacking and we simply can’t go on giving away sloppy goals, particularly when we’re playing beatable teams such as West Brom. I will be hoping for the acquisition of a seasoned Premier League name to the squad in the January transfer window.
The defence might have gotten away with some of their errors if the goal scorers weren’t facing equally concerning times at the other end of the pitch. Just three shots on target during Saturday’s match, despite a slew of top class deliveries from Marc Tierney.
Perhaps what is of the greatest concern is that official’s decisions are still not going our way.
When we were watching the Premier League from the peace and quiet of the lower leagues, it was easy to listen to Ian Holloway complain about decisions going against his little-known Blackpool team and berate the lovable southerner for making excuses. Now that we’re here and we've conceded a penalty in all of our four Premier League games, I’m seriously beginning to question the equality of the country’s highest paid referees.
More outrageous than referee Mark Halsey’s ludicrous decision to give the penalty against Steve Morrison was the horrendous failure to see the malicious elbow that Gabriel Tamas planted on James Vaughan, sending him to hospital. We have made too many mistakes this season to blame the referees for our league position, but if this trend of big, game-changing decisions going against us continues, it’s going to be a very frustrating season.
In spite of all the doom and gloom, Norwich’s performance showed the same signs of quality that has given the fans hope of Premiership survival and the same tenacity that gave Lambert 93 games without consecutive defeats. However, not all of the high profile football commentators and analysts are acknowledging Norwich for the decent quality that they’ve brought to the world’s toughest league.
Since 2004, England’s football watching devotees have been blessed with the Sunday night edition of Match of the Day, offering Premier League fans a chance to catch all the highlights from the weekend’s matches. However, proving that every silver lining has a cloud, this week featured a typically embarrassing contribution from pundit and former Arsenal and England fullback, Lee Dixon.
Choosing to isolate the calamitous error of Ritchie De Laet (yes, another one) as the main focal point of Norwich’s performance, Dixon then went to town on the lack of Premier League quality in both the front and the back of City’s line-up. Taking great pleasure in identifying City’s weaker individual performances on the day, Dixon skated over the unassailable midfield domination by Bradley Johnson who won the ball, carried the ball and sprayed it around with sensational aplomb all afternoon.
One other television commentator, in response to a WBA long ball which ran all the way through to the City's impressive goalkeeper, Declan Rudd, said, “It’s defending like that which will surely send Norwich back down”.
Give us a chance!
We’re fighting against the odds and doing it with a real touch of class. We’re making mistakes, but the facts are these; we’ve played just four games, we’ve conceded four penalties, we’ve had two red cards, we’ve outplayed each opponent for portions of all our games, most notably against title chasers Chelsea and we’re still feeling confident.
All is not yet lost, so very far from it.
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