Jamie Allison takes a look at the hard-earned 2-2 draw with Everton and asks what did we learn?
There was a change in formation this week as Lambert switched from the controversial 5-3-1-1 to a 4-4-1-1, with Johnny Howson playing behind Holt instead of Hoolahan – who lined up on the left.
Everton`s style of play is much different to Fulham`s that City faced last week. Instead of sitting back and forcing Norwich players to pass sideways or back with no threat going forward like Fulham did, Everton push high up the pitch and give opposition players no time on the ball. This method was used against Swansea and worked effectively, and for parts of the game yesterday it worked again – especially in the first half.
John Ruddy normally plays the ball to one of the centre backs in front of him from goal kicks, but he was forced to play the ball long as Jelavic, Pienaar and Cahill all came forward to mark Ward and Bennett. This effected how Norwich went about the game in the first half as Distin was solid and won the majority of the aerial balls.
The impressive pressing from Everton affected the passing of everyone including David Fox – who managed to make 116 passes from 125 touches last week against Fulham. This was the most in the Premier League. This week Fox was taken off by Lambert after an hour of play as it was noticeable he wasn`t having the best games and to give an extra presence up front with Holt.
This opened the door for Howson who dropped back into deep playmaker role. Interestingly enough Howson`s passing accuracy was City`s best last week with 93% after 71 passes. He impressed yet again and comfortably sprayed the ball about as Everton`s defensive line sat a little deeper after both of City`s goals had come from catching out Everton high up the pitch.
Ryan Bennett had another defensively brilliant game, but there were signs that he is still adapting to Norwich`s passing style and the hurrying of Everton`s attackers didn`t help the young defender. Fortunately this had no real effect on the match, and shows the importance of Bennett getting Premier League experience while there is nothing riding on the matches; which will put him in good stead for next season.
A problem with some of Norwich`s attacking play down either wing has been no one threatening in the penalty area – this time there were four City players lined across the 18 yard line as Drury came down the left. With Everton caught high the pitch the attacking front 4 outnumbered Everton`s defence as Tony Hibbert went out to Drury and the midfield failed to get back quick enough.
A clever run from Hoolahan pulled Jagielka away from the centre leaving Distin marking both Holt and Howson on his own. As Hoolahan collects the through ball and looks up Holt then comes towards to the front post taking Distin with him. This left Baines standing in no man`s land, unsure whether move onto Howson or stay with Bennett who was behind him. This clever movement from Norwich`s attacking players meant that Howson had an easy tap in from 6 yards as he was left unmarked.
Both of Everton`s goals showed that defensive stability still isn`t there for Lambert`s side, even though it has improved in the second half of the season. The first goal was a nicely finished move by Everton, while the second was mixed with controversy. Both could have been prevented though.
A short free kick by Everton was followed by a quick interchange between Pienaar and Baines. The marking by Norwich players isn`t the best when Baines receives the ball back from Pienaar. On the left, yellow shirts are outnumbered by blue by three to two, leaving Baines room to run forward. The few seconds that Baines had to move forward meant that an unmarked Jagielka on the edge of the box could run across the box to collect a clever ball from Baines. This passage of play left the remaining defenders in the box disorientated as Jagielka put a ball across the goal for Jelavic, who`s movement was good all game, to flick into the far post out of Ruddy`s reach.
Overall an entertaining match as both teams became more open as they looked for a late winner. Johnny Howson got a lot of plaudits for his performance, and rightly so, but my man of the match would be Wes Hoolahan.
The Irish midfielder was playing on the left hand side of midfield, which is something that he struggled with in pre-Lambert days at Norwich, but he was outstanding. His work rate throughout the game meant that by the 85th minute he run himself into the ground and couldn`t give anymore, which ultimately could have cost Norwich in the end and taking him off was a good choice by Lambert. He played a role in both of City`s goals – a good ball across the 6 yard box for Howson`s tap in to shown great vision and a lovely pass over the Everton defence to put Wilbraham through on goal.