ANDREW NICKERSON went to Southend. And lived. Here’s his account of last night’s 0-0 draw with the Shrimpers.
Like my match report on Gorleston, I do not intend this to be a blow by blow account, but rather a surmation of my thoughts and feelings following an afternoon`s jaunt to Roots Hall to watch the friendly against League Two Southend Utd.
As I sat in the crowd watching the match, the voice of someone behind me came up with a phrase I think summed up the game exceptionally well. “You know what they say, poor rehearsal, good performance”. I hope that`s true, because there was little on show tonight which made me think we will be able to compete in the Premiership.
Nevertheless, we cannot be despndant. This was a friendly. The second of three in a week, played around the country. When the team aren`t travelling to a game, I understand they`re going through intensive pre-season training. We cannot and should not lose sight of the fact that the aim of these games is not a victory, but simply to get fit and sharp. If a good performance comes with that, that`s a bonus, not a target achieved.
We began the first half playing a 4-2-3-1. Declan Rudd began in goal. At right back was a first start for Kyle Naughton. At left back was a first pre-season match for Adam Drury. In center half was Zak Whitbread and Leon Barnett. In between the defence and the attacking midfielders was David Fox and Bradley Johnson. In attacking midfield was Andrew Surman on the left, Wes Hoolahan in the middle and Elliot Bennett on the right. Steve Morison played the lone striker.
This formation simply did not work. Bennett played out so wide he rarely got involved. Surman cut inside and just found himself running into brick walls. Morison tried to work the channels, but rarely got a look in and was dropping deeper and wider to find himself space. Only Wes Hoolahan really excelled from that front foursome, finding space and using it well to ghost past defenders as he does.
I don`t know how Millwall got the best out of Morison, but I`m sure it was not playing as a lone striker. He cut an almost lost figure up front. Continually beaten for headers, he tried to get the ball played through to him so he could run on to it. Not one credible through ball was played to him from anyone. You could tell he was getting annoyed. He needs to play alongside someone like Grant Holt or Aaron Wilbraham, who will make space and bring him into the game. At present, Lambert seems to think he`s some sort of replacement for Holty.
In defence, Zak Whitbread played a good, solid game. Barnett`s passing was woeful at times, and Naughton looked a little like he was playing for the first time with his new team mates. Nevertheless, Naughton in particular showed some real talent running forward, really causing Southend worry with his pace and ability on the ball.
Rudd, to me, still have a lot to learn. Occasions he panicked and just kicked the ball forward with no real purpose or drive. On one occasion, he cleared it out for a throw in in line with the penalty area as he miskicked the ball. He also seems to play the ball out to defence without looking ahead first. David Fox presented himself with several opportunities, but Rudd overlooked him, preferring to play out to a full back. 9/10, the ball would then just come back, leading to quite a frustrating period of almost pass-the-bomb like gameplay.
The second half was a major improvement. Drury was replaced with Tierney, but the same team was maintained otherwise. A more standard 4-4-2 was utilised, with Wes pushed more forward, almost in a second striker role. Bennett played on the right, with Surman on the left and Johnson and Fox through the middle. There was a far greater sense of urgency and much more of a freedom throughout the players. Bennett came into the game more, drifting inside, and pleasingly rotating with Hoolahan. Surman came close with some shots, testing the keeper on occasion. Morison took up a more central role. Although still not involved as much as he would like, I think he presented more of a threat than in the first half. Johnson too, got forward a bit more, and looked for the pass rather than a shot, which was a change from against Gorleston.
However, as had occured at Palace, mass substitutions meant Norwich lost the momentum they built up. Simon Lappin, who came on for Surman, probably had Norwich`s best chance of the match, set up brilliantly by Chris Martin, who took to the field in place of Wes Hoolahan. But he absolutely whipped it over, to an almost simultaneous tut from all Norwich fans sat behind the goal, as if they were expecting it. Had it fallen to virtually any other midfield or striker on the field, you could have guarenteed at least a shot on target.
This was not a vintage Norwich City performance and if we play as we did especially in the first half, we`ll be out of the Premiership without so much as a whimper. But it was a good exercise against a reasonable, well organised opponent. With three games left, there`s still time to gel the team together a bit more, but without a doubt we need to be playing better than that if we have any aspirations of a successful season.
>You can follow Andrew on Twitter via @andrewnickerson, or the offofonhere blog.
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