I was talking to a colleague at work on Sunday and inevitably, as we’re both Norwich fans, we started to rake over the ashes of the Villa defeat.
As we talked, a point of view came up regarding the way the Canaries currently play the game and by that I mean how negative things have become.
My oppo suggested that things changed after the 6-2 defeat at Newcastle and the more we talked about that, the more he seemed to have a point.
That defeat was the heaviest loss that Alex Neil had suffered as City boss and without checking the record books of his time at Hamilton, it was probably his heaviest ever defeat as a manager. It seemed to affect him.
Prior to that we were playing with verve and an attacking flair that ultimately took us surging up the Championship, to Wembley and then back to the Premier League. We started this season playing in the same way. We were scoring goals and won some and lost some but it was generally good to watch and you always felt we could get something from a game.
The Newcastle defeat had a profound effect on one of our players as well. Russell Martin visibly lost his mojo in that game and he hasn’t found it since.
Even in the middle of that game though, at 4-2 down, we still looked like we were the better attacking threat. However, afterwards I think the manager’s outlook changed and he became more than a little ‘Hughton like.’
Since that time, we have looked a lot more negative in our tactics, a little bit more defensive as Neil tried to keep things a bit tighter. The formation was basically the same but the team were instructed to not be so gung ho. To be more measured in their attacks.
December was a good month with three wins in four and those nine points took us six points clear of the bottom three. We were told by David McNally in December as the transfer window loomed that the club were well aware of the number of games in January and that quality additions to the squad were to be recruited sooner rather than later.
It didn’t quite work out like that but we did recruit and on paper the additions look good enough. I believe that our squad is good enough to survive but the tactics need to change.
The decision to ‘surrender’ to Manchester City in the FA Cup now looks a very poor one as the 3-0 defeat with five across the back and no attacking intent, has started a run of six defeats.
All the good work of December has been gradually eroded and now lost completely, due to a combination of negative tactics and the manager’s continual tinkering with the team selection.
The defeat at Bournemouth was a criminal loss and the ding dong game with Liverpool would be almost funny, if it wasn’t my team involved. Losing to a good Spurs side (again) was no surprise but the manner of the goals conceded was awful – and then we had Aston Villa.
There are certain players that nearly always play, Bassong, Martin, Brady, Howson and then there are others, mostly defenders, Bennett, Wisdom, Whittaker, Olsson and Pinto that have been tried and had a bad game so get dropped.
It seems to be that at the moment if you have a bad game you are liable to being dropped as a desperate manager rotates his squad in the hope that something will click.
Against Villa, we ought to have known that we were facing a side with nothing to lose, so they would have to try to win the game. They were at home and would have to come at us, their fans and position would demand it, thus making them ripe for the counter attack.
Yet, our paciest player on the day was at left back.
Don’t get me wrong on Brady though. I happen to think he is a better left back than Martin Olsson but to put Wes Hoolahan on the left wing in front of him, smacked of square pegs in round holes.
I would’ve played Matt Jarvis in front of him or put him on the wing and put Olsson behind him – as solid a left side as we could put out. On the right we had Pinto dropped, a legacy of the nightmare he had against Spurs and Russ Martin back in the team, with Howson ahead of him.
I can see why Howson often plays on the right because he works hard and adds a certain solidity, albeit at the expense of a player who can be a winger. Yet against Spurs, both Howson and Jarvis were playing infield a lot, leaving the full backs exposed and making it easy for Tottenham. That had to have been a tactic, didn’t it?
It isn’t Jarvis’ natural game at all and Howson surely knows his job well enough not to do it of his own accord.
If I was picking a side for Villa, I may well have stuck with Howson on the right because I wouldn’t trust Redmond to track back. He doesn’t defend much and that means leaving the right back exposed. Away from home, even at the league’s bottom club, that would be a risk.
Redmond needs to start doing that or risk being an impact sub from the bench. Jarvis could of course have played on the right with Brady at left wing and suddenly we’d have the pace for counter attacking football and yet, Alex Neil didn’t see it that way, he was far too cautious.
I’ve been critical of Pinto but he looks decent going forward so he and Howson could’ve been a reasonable option, I’d say.
I don’t get to see the players in training and I’ve certainly never taken a training session at Colney, so I don’t know the personalities or the issues that players have and the way they generally behave and perform in the week.
None of us do.
I would never be so bold as to sit here as a ‘keyboard warrior’ and use the skill of hindsight to claim I am an expert. I’ve got a season ticket and see a lot of the Canaries but only on a game day.
It’s just that the Villa line-up didn’t make sense, it worried me as I looked at it at 2pm on Saturday and I bet it worried you too.
We need to get back to what we were doing. We’ve recruited well in the window (I think) but certain things need to change. Wes Hoolahan is a number ten and nothing else, if Neil prefers Naismith then fair enough and I can see why he might but he and Hoolahan can both play that role in different ways. Naismith could be the answer on the right of that midfield three with Wes as number ten and Brady or Jarvis on the left – just an idea of how to play them. Naismith would certainly track back.
Timm Klose needs a decent partner in the centre of defence and that isn’t Seb Bassong, or Russell Martin for that matter. Ryan Bennett is the only other option and he would be my choice. New baby having just arrived, Bennett couldn’t play at Villa but he would be available for West Ham.
The right back situation is a real problem but I might just persist with Pinto, either that or give Wisdom another go.
The holding midfielders would be Alex Tettey and one of, either O’Neil or Howson.
Up front, Mbokani has done well enough and Bamford’s movement when he came on against Villa looked sharp, he could be the answer there.
My point is, that I personally would rather us have a go than sit defensively hoping to nick the first goal. Yes, that is very important and had Seb scored with that header in the first half on Saturday then it could’ve been a different game.
I guess I’m trying to say, let’s play the right people in the right places. The more I think about it, I’d be tempted to put Naismith on the right and have Wes behind the striker.
My colleague suggested that he thinks Alex Neil should be sacked now.
He suggested that there is too much at stake and that we should offer Brendan Rogers a bundle of cash to save us. I laughed him down.
First off, Rogers would never come and secondly, Alex Neil has enough stock after last season to deserve the chance to sort this out, with me at least and panic sackings do you no good – we’re not Chelsea are we?
Hiring and firing gets you nowhere, unless you are Abramovich rich and we’re not. Neil has to re-evaluate his team selections and tactics though if we are to have a realistic chance of survival.