The Tuckster takes a look at the weekend’s match against Everton and gives his assessment of the shambles that we call a ‘defence.’
The first surprise on the team sheet at 11.45am on Saturday was the inclusion of Russell Martin at the expense of Ryan Bennett.
I think most of us would say that Bennett has been playing pretty well in recent weeks, although neither he nor Bassong covered themselves in glory at Watford. Martin has been sitting it out since his red card at Manchester City, something I don’t blame him for, incidentally.
He was put in an impossible position by John Ruddy’s fumble and with so little time left in that game, it was a handball gamble worth taking.
Anyway, his return to the centre of defence surprised me. The other slightly smaller surprise was the selection of Cameron Jerome, although I can see why he made the team.
Alex Neil was clearly banking on his work rate to harass an Everton central defence that like to play the ball around. Put them under pressure and they might make a mistake or two.
Having seen all the strikers (except Lafferty) start in the Premier League now, I would still go with Mbokani as my number nine. He has a better touch than Grabban or Jerome and is more unpredictable and stronger – he’s also a better finisher than Jerome (more on that later).
The first half on Saturday was a shambles for Norwich, littered with individual mistakes from a team clearly short of confidence. The defence were contributing to their own downfall and Everton’s goal was as a direct result of a mistake by Russell Martin and the needless concession of a corner.
City had two chances to clear the corner from O’Neil and then Olsson but both efforts were poor, Olsson’s especially. O’Neil then effectively showed Deulofeu onto his wand of a right foot to send the ball to the far post for Lukaku.
Far, far too easy.
The midfield were passed around by Everton, with O’Neil and Tettey often just chasing shadows and that was with Barkley having a quiet game.
Martin Olsson was so terrified by the presence of Deulofeu hugging the touchline that he left gaps for other players to run into. In the other full back position, Andre Wisdom also looked nervous and the marauding Leighton Baines almost made him pay for that nervousness.
Meanwhile in the centre, Bassong and Martin looked so far off the pace it was a joke. Martin in particular looked like he was still in the warm up. He gave the ball away with slack passing on numerous occasions and was only reprieved by Declan Rudd.
Indeed, the only bright spot in that first half was yet again, Declan Rudd. The local boy has grabbed his chance with both hands and produced another man of the match performance that has made him un-droppable again for next week.
It wasn’t just the defence either. Nathan Redmond inexplicably gave the ball away in that first period which allowed a devastating counter attack from Everton and they so nearly scored (yet again.) The giveaway I’m talking about happened as Norwich were on a rare foray forwards. He played the ball deliberately so far backwards that I assumed he must’ve seen a runner. No, he didn’t, it was just rubbish.
Cameron Jerome huffed and puffed but the Everton defence had it far too easy. The boos at half time told the story. If it had been 0-4 at half time I wouldn’t have complained. Everton were that good and we were that bad.
The second half brought the introduction of Ryan Bennett and Martin moved to right back. He played so badly in the first half that I think he can consider himself lucky not to have got the hook instead of Wisdom. Fair play to Alex Neil though, as Martin was transformed.
Reminiscent of his great days as the ‘Norfolk Cafu’ he worked the wing in the second half and put in several very good crosses, something that Wisdom had failed to offer in the first.
Bennett’s impact was immediate as he headed the ball goal-wards from Brady’s corner. A corner won by Jerome harassing Stones, I might add. A combination of Howard and Barkley kept it out and there was Hoolahan to stab it home.
An early goal was the best thing that could’ve happened for us, however unlikely it seemed at half time.
Suddenly the Canaries were a yard quicker and began to play themselves into the game. Indeed, the best chance then came to Jerome, who could and absolutely should have scored when put into a shooting chance 8 yards out, by Hoolahan’s delicious back heel.
His failure to take the chance shows the difference between a journeyman striker like him and a top striker. Chances are at a premium at this level and you may only get one or two in a Premier League game as a striker for Norwich.
Watford have Ighalo and Deeney and that is almost the single reason they are winning games – those two players alone, otherwise man for man, they aren’t any better than us.
We have to take those chances. If he used less power and made sure he just hit the target then he’d score and we would’ve won the game. His failure to score was absolutely criminal and for all his work rate and effort on Saturday, that miss is what he will be remembered for.
The TV replays showed Mbokani shaking his head on the bench as Alex Neil’s chin dropped.
The signing of a proven goal scorer is paramount in January but will be a huge challenge, with the mid-winter transfer window being notoriously difficult to do business in, even if your club is loaded.
At least one, preferably two quality defenders are also a must but yet again will be hard to recruit for the same reasons.
Saturday has to go down as a point gained after the nightmare first half that City endured, but I suppose they deserve some credit for hanging in there. Although they had more than a little luck too.
The way they went about the second half was much more like it but the miss by Jerome soured that effort as we could’ve incredibly won it.
Alex Neil is the man in charge and we all have an opinion on what he should do. It’s easy writing this on my laptop from the sofa and I don’t underestimate the pressure that he must be under to make the right decision, never mind how much money he’s paid.
It just frustrates me that we had to sit through such a turgid first half. Next week we are at Old Trafford, I’m hoping that Van Gaal persists with the kindergarten defence he played against Bournemouth or we could be in yet another world of pain.