Alex Neil’s pursuit of Steven Naismith last summer was a very last minute affair. Obviously the poor recruitment of the summer and Neil’s recent admission that the right recruitment team weren’t in place at the time just confirmed what we already knew.
It seemed as though the bid for Naismith came in the last few days of the summer window, at least that was when it became public, but Everton said they didn’t have enough time to replace him and wanted to keep him. I think the player himself would’ve been keen and I had a whisper at the time that he was staying within striking distance of Norwich the night before deadline day.
Anyway, it was a deal that eventually got done in January and I for one was pleased as punch with the signing. The general reaction from the City fans I know was broadly the same – a decent acquisition and at last we were spending some money.
I’d seen him play for Everton and Scotland before and always appreciated his work rate and commitment, a player in his new manager’s own image.
He got off to a very good start against Liverpool.
He scored a good goal and ‘won’ a penalty at the second attempt due to the recklessness of Alberto Moreno. Such was Moreno’s determination to bring him down, anyone would think they had some history.
He lasted for around 70 minutes before being subbed off and he looked like he hadn’t left anything on the field. A great start, I thought and surely when he gets match fit there will be a lot more to come.
Except there hasn’t been, has there?
He has now made nine appearances in a Norwich shirt but since that Liverpool game, his performances have been distinctly underwhelming.
He missed a few games after picking up a hamstring strain, something that due to his lack of football this season was no big surprise but I don’t think I’m being harsh when I say he’s been disappointing.
He did well enough against Newcastle, when his movement was a threat for the static Magpies’ defence but other than that he’s not doing it for me.
He has played predominantly as a number 10 behind the striker in Alex Neil’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation and brings a different dynamic to the role than Wes Hoolahan. He is bigger than Wes and much more physical obviously but, especially at home, I feel it’s easy to make a case for dropping him and playing Wes.
Of course the club have paid £8m for him and there must be an element of/pressure to play him because he cost so much money, although I’m sure Neil would never admit that.
Wes may not be so physical or harrass defenders like Naismith does but his guile, touch and vision are still second to none at the club. It’s that clever pass or piece of skill that unlocks defences at this level and Naismith just isn’t showing that. He’s too easily beaten in the air and knocked off the ball and onto the floor.
Away from home, I think that there is a case for playing him, when the chips are down he is a leader and full of running, it’s just that he’s not offering much going forwards and surely that’s why we bought him.
At 29 and as arguably Scotland’s best attacking player, he is very experienced and also has over 100 games for Everton under his belt. So why hasn’t he really produced for Norwich yet?
Against Sunderland, he seemed to spend most of his time throwing himself on the floor trying to win free kicks, something he does most weeks. Some referees are more easily conned than others and Andre Marriner was not going to pay him any attention in that regard at all.
I would’ve been tempted to play Nathan Redmond in the number ten role against the Black Cats. Maybe not from the start but the reason they lost to Leicester the week before was that they couldn’t handle the counter attacking pace of the Foxes.
Kaboul and Kone are hardly a brilliant centre back pairing and were terrified when Vardy et al ran at them. Redmond could’ve done that and he can shoot too. As ever, it’s easy to talk in hindsight and I fully understand that.
The remaining four games will not provide points unless we are positive and an attacking threat. The time has really now come to have a go at those remaining teams and try to force something – ‘the hard way’ as Neil said on Saturday.
If I were in charge I would drop Naismith for Hoolahan in the two remaining home games. Away at Arsenal, we’ll need steel and against Everton you’d like to think he’ll want to prove a point.
So what will happen to Naismith if we tumble through the relegation trapdoor? Will he stay or will he go?
There have been unsubstantiated rumours of a relegation clause in the Scot’s contract but bearing in mind the last time we went down none of the players had such a clause, I would be surprised if Naismith was any different. Having said that though, you can bet the players will have a reduction in wages written into their deals should relegation happen.
He joined us in January and must’ve been aware that relegation was a possibility for Norwich, certainly a fight to avoid it, in any case. To that end, he must also have considered what happens next season.
It remains to be seen, along with the league we will be playing in.