Saturday`s draw with West ham was an improvement on the abject performance a week previous at Villa Park, I even felt able to watch the highlights this week.
Yet again though I left, trudging down the stairs in the River End afterwards, with a feeling of disappointment. It`s a feeling that I`ve felt all too often this season and it takes me back to early 2014 when such feelings were common place for all Canary supporters.
In the run up to this game, we`ve had a week of crowd lifting rhetoric from the players and manager as they attempted to lift the faithful. I think it worked because I don`t think the support from the terraces wavered for a second against the Hammers, not in my opinion in any case.
However, yet again the same old defensive failures came back to haunt us as a comfortable two goal lead was conceded far too easily. The right full back position has become a nightmare for Alex Neil, who had three on the books before deciding none of them were good enough and then buying another. Ivo Pinto had a shaky debut against Liverpool in THAT game before being torn apart by Spurs. Cue the return of Russell Martin as “the best of the rest.”
Pinto will of course, need to be given some more game time to assess him properly because one (very) bad game doesn`t mean he is rubbish. New country, new league, step up in class etc, all suggest that he can`t be judged fully and dismissed out of hand just yet.
Neil`s defence continues to carry the legacy of a lack of summer investment, despite the large outlay on Timm Klose. The fact we are playing a winger at left back tells you all you need to know about what Neil thinks of Martin Olsson. The Swede isn`t as good in that position as Robbie Brady, in my humble opinion. Brady is such an accomplished player that he can play either position although I would`ve played things a little differently against West Ham if I was the City manager because, as ever, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I said in a couple of articles last week that Wes Hoolahan is no good to the side in any position other than the “number ten.” He is not a left winger and I was pleased to see that Neil restored him to his best position against West Ham. Having paid £8.5m for Steven Naismith, you can understand why Neil wants to play him. His hurly burly style and ability to make things happen, not to mention an eye for goal mean he is a valuable attacking presence, he`s also a leader without an armband.
Having said that though, he didn`t look too effective playing on the left of the front three attacking midfielders and is also apparently best at “number ten.” Nathan Redmond did give a better performance than of late and does a much better impression of being a winger than poor old Johnny Howson, who looked so much more comfortable in the centre of the park, scrapping with Mark Noble.
Victor Moses and Andy Carroll were great options for Slaven Bilic to bring on from the bench. If they were Norwich players, they would be in the starting XI and that again shows what your squad can look like if you can establish yourself in the Premier League. Moses in particular changed the game for the visitors. His pace and strength were the difference, if only Nathan Redmond would play like that.
Moses terrified Russell Martin and I dread to think what he would`ve done to Pinto, it wasn`t just that though. Nobody tracked Payet for the first goal and nobody tracked Noble for the second. Defending must be as a unit, a team and we (yet again) failed to do that well enough.
In the first half in particular, there were loads of times that West Ham players, usually Enner Valencia, were caught off-side. It`s never easy to see when you`re not level with the play but I thought at least a couple of them looked close, as balls were sliced through a porous City back line, with Klose the nearest defender. Maybe I`m doing him a disservice and maybe he is fleet of mind as well as foot and able to martial the defence but I somehow doubt it. More luck than judgement, methinks.
I watched on two separate occasions after close offside decisions as Gary O`Neil and then Steven Naismith had words with Klose. I can`t lip read, especially from 100 yards away so would have to guess what they were saying but I don`t think they were asking him what he`d got his missus for Valentine`s day.
I had wondered why Seb Bassong was the preferred partner for Klose when Ryan Bennett is available. I know he`s just got a new baby and couldn`t make the Villa game but assumed he would be available for West Ham. Having said that though, I couldn`t say too many bad things about Seb`s game against the Hammers. He won most of his headers and I thought he generally did okay.
Having seen what Victor Moses did to our midfield and defence, the prospect of facing the pace of Vardy and Mahrez et al is not a pleasant thought. The “new” attacking, back to basics philosophy is a welcome one and it almost got us three points on Saturday but the silly errors have to be cut out. With just 12 games remaining and around five wins likely to be needed to guarantee survival, the end of the season is going to be a roller coaster ride for City fans, if nothing changes.
Although having been a Norwich fan for over thirty years, roller coaster rides are pretty much par for the course.