When your team is busy tearing their way up through the football leagues you come to expect one or two familiarities. You expect your team to dominate against a bottom half team, you expect them to compete and win against most top half teams and you expect them to battle bravely for at least a point against other teams pushing for promotion. For the last two years, these have been safe assumptions for Norwich fans.
The Premier League offers little reliability in the way of results. For example, drawing away at Liverpool was an unlikely warm-up to a 3-3 home tie with struggling Blackburn. Nevertheless, the consistency of Norwich’s performances this season has been reassuringly predictable in a positive way.
With the exception of the 5-1 defeat away at Manchester City last weekend, it would not be flattery to say that Norwich have competed in every league game this season and could have taken more from one or two of their closer defeats. After the severe loss in Manchester, getting back to these consistencies was imperative and was achieved emphatically at home to Newcastle on Saturday.
High paced, attacking, aggressive football with good set-pieces and a strong aerial attack; these are the positive characteristics of City’s opening 15 games and the numbers reflect that. With 24 goals, an average of 1.6 per game, they have more than any of the 15 teams outside the top five teams, each of which have 30 or more goals from their opening 15 games. Manchester City have managed a phenomenal 49 goals already this season, five of which left Norwich fans with a taste of that Glen-Roeder-sinking-feeling at The Eastlands 10 days ago.
But the Ghost of Aguero and co. was quickly dismissed as a one-off haunting at Carrow Road this past weekend. Excluding a brief nervy opening to both halves, Norwich approached the game aggressively, played for a win and never looked back. Even in the presence of some all-too-familiar defensive errors from reinstated central defender Zak Whitbread, Norwich persisted to push, attacking with speed, winning balls in the box and earning corners and free kicks in dangerous locations.
Newcastle will not be too deflated by the result. They were in the game for most of it and looked capable of clawing their way back in for just a few moments with the scoreline at 3-2 to Norwich. Demba Ba was a constant threat and scored two excellent goals with some generous help from City's back four.
The red card was questionable. Dan Gosling's raised foot was high, but perhaps a yellow card would have sufficed. It would have been his second yellow and still would have got him on the early train back to Tyneside. Either way, Norwich were dominant and looked the more likely to win the game, even when Newcastle had 11 players on the pitch.
Typifying Norwich’s style of play was the increasingly ever-present Steve Morison. Not silky or particularly awe-inspiring, but with his fifth goal in his last six outings, it was the kind of aggressive, high-intensity, 90 minute performance that has made him a must in the eyes of most fans and more importantly on Paul Lambert’s chalkboard.
The combination of Morison with Grant Holt is one that most would have assumed was an unlikely pairing. While they are not identical, their physical strength and quality in the air (demonstrated by their three headed goals collectively against The Magpies) would typically have most managers searching for their smallest and quickest forward to compliment their “target man”. But the two of them caused an unusually makeshift Newcastle defence to have a miserable afternoon. Although Newcastle contributed greatly to their own downfall, the physical strength and general harassment from the City forwards will give those Newcastle defenders nightmares for some time.
And let’s take a moment for the City skipper. Notching up goals 50 and 51, Grant Holt has again surpassed the expectations of most and looked every bit the part as a Premier League, old school number nine. Just as he has done coming from the bench in recent weeks, he gnashed and pulled and pushed and leapt without tiring once and got a brace for his efforts. This is the attitude that Lambert demanded when he made Holt his captain two years ago. Holt now has 51 goals in 98 games. Now that’s consistency.
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