With half the season gone and still carrying the bulk of the same squad of players that were relegated two seasons ago Vinny Mansi compares City’s current performance at the halfway stage of this season, to the season of 2013/14.
Norwich City Premier League table position on Saturday 28th of December 2013
Position- 14th: Won 5: Lost-10: Drawn- 4: Goals Scored-16: Goals Conceded-32: Goal Difference-minus 16: Points Total-19
Home Form: Won-3: Drawn-3: Lost-4: Goals Scored-10: Goals Conceded-11
Away Form: Won-2: Drawn-1: Lost- 6: Goals Scored-6: Goals Conceded-21
Norwich City Premier League table position on Monday 28th of December 2015
Position- 15th: Won- 5: Drawn- 5: Lost- 9: Goals Scored- 22: Goals Conceded- 32: Goal Difference- minus 10: Points Total- 20
Home Form: Won- 3: Drawn- 3: Lost -3: Goals Scored -11: Goals Conceded -10
Away Form: Won- 2: Drawn- 2: Lost- 6: Goals Scored -11: Goals Conceded- 22
Taking into consideration only the plain stats on how both Premier League tables were poised on the 28th December in the seasons of both 2013/14 and 2015/16 it would appear that City are on par with the season City that they got relegated. Based on just looking at the tables, how Norwich City will fare in comparison to their the last Premier League outing is a close call as despite being a point better off they are one place worse off in the table. The encouraging signs can be quite clearly seen in the goals for and against columns. Despite their leaky defence, they have still conceded ten fewer goals than in the 13/14 season and scored eight more. It is also worth pointing out that in the rest of 13/14 season Norwich only managed a further three wins and went on to lose another eleven games equating to a total twenty-one losses throughout the entire season. The course of history could quite easily repeat itself but in my mind, there are five key factors to consider when predicting whether or not City’s fate will be the same this time around.
Has City’s strength of character improved under Alex Neil?
A key part of Norwich City’s downfall in 13/14 was the inability to react to going a goal down particularly away from home. I can’t ever remember a season where after conceding first so many fans headed for exit doors so quickly. In the first nineteen games, they conceded the first goal on ten occasions and were only able to recover four points from a losing position. This was in the form of a 3-1 home win against West Ham and a 1-1 home draw with Swansea. On the other eight occasions, they fell behind it ended in a loss. This season they have conceded the first goal a worrying thirteen times but have showed arguably more steal and strength of character by coming from behind in four of those games to recover points. In only managing to turn those losing situations into draws the total amount of points recovered from losing positions, however, was still only four points. It begs the question that many Norwich fans have asked over the past three seasons of why City struggle to play hard from the first whistle. Their inability to recover from losing situations has in both seasons consistently put much more pressure on their home games causing a tentative and nervous style of play. This type of self-inflicted pressure is one that in the final part of the 13/14 season City finally succumbed to when defeated at home against West Brom in a must win match which eventually sealed the fate of Chris Hughton.
If City’s final game of this calendar year of 2015 is anything to go by, it has shown that they do now have some ability to cope with the pressure and grind out a result against the teams around them. They did this well against Swansea and Aston Villa finishing the year positively, with half the points they need with half the games now gone.
When City strike the first blow they can win.
The encouraging sign from a City perspective is that this season they have scored first on six occasions and won five out of those six games. They were unlucky not have won all six of those games had it not been for a last-minute equaliser at Upton park. City’s 13/14 season followed a very similar pattern with the exception of one key game that was particularly damaging to their campaign and that was the home Boxing Day clash against Fulham. Following their typical pattern of spurning chances and being architects of their own downfall with silly defensive mistakes they somehow managed to let their bogey team Fulham yet again get one over them. Had they won this game it may have put less pressure on them and it would have put them on 22 points with over half the job done. The positive from this is that so far this season whenever City have taken the lead they have always managed to take points.
Jerome, Mbokani, Grabban and Lafferty have shown they are better suited to the Premier League than Wolfswinkel, Hooper, Becchio and Elmander.
Since Norwich’s reintroduction to Premier League under Paul Lambert, they have always been suspect at the back but, at least, they were never short of endeavour and often outscored the opposition to win games. This was something that was lacking in the 13/14 season under Hughton but not so far in 15/16 under Alex Neil. There is much debate on whether our current crop of strikers are good enough for the Premier League and also whether or not fans want to see them continue to play in a Norwich shirt. Despite this in my mind, there can be no debate that collectively as a four they are better suited to playing the role of a lone striker.
With the exception of Hooper, our current bunch have at least scored a few goals between them and found the net at important times in games this season. Gary Hooper had a purple patch in City’s 13/14 relegation season and is naturally the best finisher, but is not suited to the role of a lone striker hence the reason for him being out on loan.
Performances against the big boys.
In 13/14 with the exception of a home draw against Everton who finished 5th, City lost heavily to all the top teams in the first half of the season most noticeably a 5-1, 6-0 and 4-1 thrashing against Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal albeit with all of these particular fixtures being away from home. In a spirited performance City almost salvaged a draw at home against Chelsea having equalised after going behind early on but a single mistake from Alex Tettey and a fumble from John Ruddy gave the visitors all three points.
In this first half of the 2015/16 season, again all the fixtures against the big boys have been away from home barring the home match versus Arsenal. Encouraging draws against Liverpool, Arsenal and arguably the most famous win in City’s Premier League history; away against Man Utd, has seen City pick up some unexpected bonus points. Though a loss is still a loss, the defeats against Chelsea and Man City were decided by fine margins rather than a thrashing by three or four goals. Let’s also not forget that there was no disgrace in losing to Leicester considering they are at present replicating the success that Norwich had and could only dream of now in their famous 92/93 Premier League season.
The fans confidence in the manager at the halfway stage.
By the halfway stage of 2013/14 season, fans had enough of Chris Hughton’s rigid style of play and made their feeling clear. I am not going to open up another debate whether or not this was his fault or down to the quality of the squad but the fact remains that many fans wanted him out. You know when the manager has fallen out of favour with the fans when a forum ends up suggesting that by City beating West Ham and thereby keeping Chris Hughton in the job that it would effectively relegate the team. Were the fans expectations too high? A record signing and considerable investment in the squad gave the fans much cause to blame the manager. This unrest and discontent amongst the fans clearly translated itself onto the pitch which didn’t help City’s inability to come back from conceding the first goal or to stem their nervousness when holding a lead. In Hughton’s defence, he was, at least, continuing to make City relatively strong at home, hence why he kept his job into the second half of the season.
In contrast, Alex Neil has often deployed the right game plan but on many occasions not had the quality of players at his disposal to execute it. Is he perfect? Far from it! He has made mistakes but is showing he has the ability to learn and adapt and the fans seem to recognise this. Having only had a net spend of four million pounds at his disposal in the summer, if Alex Neil is backed by the board of directors in the January transfer window it will be interesting to see how the next 19 games pans out.