Capitulation, Disaster, No show, these are the words that have been used many times over the past four years to describe Norwich City performances, but why? Five of the worst may answer the question!
Norwich’s previous three seasons in the Premier League were a roller coaster ride that eventually ran out of track and crashed worse than in a scene from the Final Destination franchise. Unfortunately, this season’s outing looks very much destined for the same outcome unless Alex Neil and our boys can turn things around. For what it’s worth my heart still has faith, my head? Well, that’s a different matter entirely. So why have we got ourselves into this mess again? I take a look back at some of the low points over the last four years to try and fathom out the reasons behind our constant away day no shows, this constant inability to keep clean sheets and lack of character when going a goal behind. Given that seven of the players who played last Saturday were part of our last relegation it is clear to see that the characteristics of City’s latest Premier League slump have not developed overnight and they go back a long long way.
There were not too many low points in Norwich’s first season back in the Premier League under Paul Lambert. Most of City’s defeats were redeemed by a positive performance often resulting in one or three points. A typical example of this was the bad 3-0 defeat away at Sunderland that was turned around four days later with a 2-0 home win against Bolton, followed by a stunning win away at Swansea one week later. Just to make sure this doesn’t turn out to be a Chris Hughton bashing article, as let’s not forget there were highs under him too, I had to pick one low point in the 2011-12 season which really stood out.
A 1-6 home defeat to Man City in which City received a standing ovation, despite the score line after maybe naively trading blow for blow with the eventual champions, was followed by a shot shy 2-0 away defeat against Blackburn Rovers. City then fell to their third defeat in a row after a stunning hat-trick from Luis Suarez earned Liverpool a 0-3 win over a lacklustre Norwich at Carrow Road. This was very unlike the Paul Lambert sides that we had become accustomed to, even as a newly promoted side in the Premier League. It was a very disappointing performance considering when you compared it to the heroic showing at Anfield earlier on in the season. Of course, you could not quibble with the brilliance of Luis Suarez but this result triggered an ugly trend of his single-handed torture. By the time Norwich played their last game against him in 2014 he had already scored 13.75 percent of his eighty goals against City, including a hat-trick of hat-tricks (and we all know this is not a typo). Even though at this point the hard work was pretty much done, City were starting to run out of steam. Fears had started to come to the surface that maybe Paul Lambert had taken Norwich as far as he could or wanted to. There was a brief respite in terms of results, with an unlikely last-gasp equaliser at the Emirates and finishing the season with a convincing win against an Aston Villa side that had finished narrowly outside the relegation places. Listening to the Villa fans ecstatically chant “There is only one Paul Lambert.” on the last day of the season, however, whilst their side were on the other end of a pasting, was surreal and left a bitter taste in the mouth. You got the sense that Norwich’s time in the Premier League sun was coming to an end. Norwich scored many last minute goals under Lambert’s reign but I doubt any of us expected to feel the way we did when on the receiving end of one with Adam Lallana shell shocking us all just over a week ago. Luis Suarez or not we just can’t seem to help losing to Liverpool!! The point of all of the above is that this was the first of many City slumps that became gradually ingrained in the team but it went largely unnoticed due to the great season they already had.
Maybe the boys need a bit psychological expertise? Perhaps Tony Robbins or Paul Mackenna is the answer? Who knows but mentally, more than anything, someone or something needs to get inside the heads of our players and very soon to help change this pattern of nasty habits that started a long time ago!!
No.4 – Chelsea 4-1 Norwich City – 6/11/2012
After seven Premier League games and only managing to amass a total of three points, Norwich were winless and in the bottom three. It was also the third time already that season they had lost by three goals or more, having been previously thrashed by both Liverpool and, of course, Fulham. Nobody expected City to go to Stamford Bridge and win, but at the same time, nobody expected them to be winless either. Fans were already impatient, frustrated and starting to question Chris Hughton’s style of play. There is an old cliché that things can only get worse before they get better. Sure enough, things did turn around with a ten game unbeaten run, an impressive stat that was only equalled at the time by the one and only Barcelona. The problem with the above result was that despite the upturn in fortunes that were to follow, I really don’t feel that Chris Hughton ever recovered in the eyes of the fans. It can only be compared to meeting someone for the first time and without meaning to, they insult you very deeply to your core, by telling you how great everyone else is. You express your displeasure at it and they respond by saying that they will do everything in their power to show you that they have your best interests at heart. Unfortunately, the first impression that you had of them is the lasting one and no matter what happens subsequently in your relationship you will always be suspicious of that person. Alex Neil has a Wembley promotion in his favour so doesn’t have this problem however both managers have resorted at some stage to a negative and defensive style of play that isn’t popular with the fans. Perhaps it’s because our players are not clinical enough when they attack so there is no other choice but to be defensive. Here is a thought for you, I wonder if Chris Hughton had got to us to Wembley last season how fans would have felt about him? I say this because, to me, at the present moment Alex Neil is not doing much different in terms of style or results.
No.3 – Wigan 1-0 Norwich – 30/03/2013
Having won the reverse fixture on the 15th of December 2012, Norwich went from a ten match unbeaten league run to only winning one in thirteen. Within this winless run Talk Sport’s Adrian Durham decided to dub City with the title of “The worst Premier League team ever!” having been the only Premier League side to be knocked out of the FA Cup by a non-league side. He followed this by tipping Norwich for certain relegation. This wasn’t helped by a City fan who called into the drive time show, clearly only being let on air because of his stereo typical broad Norfolk accent. The fan proceeded to take Mr Durham to task regarding his verdict by saying “You’ve never liked Naarwich because you support Peterborough and you’ve been relegating Naarwich from the start of the season!” The Talk Sport presenter replied with the obviously amused Darren Gough sniggering in the background by saying “So let me get this straight, I have been relegating your football team? What sort of ridiculous statement is that?” Cue the palms in faces or in my case my forehead banging painfully into the steering wheel of my car.
Leading up to the game the fans grew in frustration at a series of non eventful home stalemates and away day no shows as City, from at one point, being seventh place just before Christmas got sucked back into the relegation dog fight. There was still genuine optimism that Norwich had enough to get something from the game knowing they had the opportunity to make sure Wigan did not reduce a seven point cushion. After a dour game at the DW stadium, Arouna Kone notched a late winner as Wigan beat Norwich 1-0 to climb out of the Premier League relegation zone and close the gap to four points. It was a torrid afternoon in which City were unable to even register a shot on target. For whatever reason Norwich have on many occasions shown that they do not have the mental strength on a cold away day particularly against teams around them. Perhaps both Chris Hughton and Alex Neil were or are so aware of the team’s fragile confidence that they feel the only way forward is to be defensive but in my humble opinion this just compounds the issue. If the team are going to resign themselves to defeat then what are the fans supposed to do? To me who cares if another Newcastle or Liverpool of late happens at least the fans would get behind the team knowing that nothing has been left in the dressing room. I would rather go down “Doing a Blackpool” than at present “Doing a Norwich.”
No.2 -Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich – 02/03/2014 or any trip to Villa Park since 1992-93
This result was symbolic of Norwich’s away form in the season that they were relegated and starting to now become apparent in the current season. The problem with the Norwich team of 2013/2014 was that if City did not score first, then as a general rule they had no answer to try and get themselves back into the game. In the whole season they only once came back from a losing position to win a game. Despite often having the better of the possession, they were on many occasions guilty of spurning clear cut chances and once the opposing team had scored, this City side tended to fold quicker than Superman doing origami. In typical Norwich fashion of that season, after dominating the first 25 minutes of the game, as soon Christian Benteke had equalised the flood gates opened. There were two things that made this a particularly low point of the season. The first was that once again our old manager had gotten one over us big time. Second was that Wes Hoolahan our longest serving player and so often the creator of all things good in Norwich’s midfield, refused to celebrate scoring City’s opener. Many had speculated that this was down to some sort of warped respect to the home fans knowing that Villa had tried to buy him in the January transfer window. If there was any truth in this, then I certainly did not blame Wes because after having two successful seasons in the Premier League for some reason was made to sit on the bench for a large part of the third one, being deemed not safe enough by a very conservative manager. It was a sad state of affairs when it seemed that one of the club’s most talented and popular figures in recent times appeared to have had enough and to be on his way out. Last Saturday at Villa Park was close to being as bad with the only saving grace of there being a third of the season still left but these typical City traits are still rearing their very ugly head and need to to disappear fast.
No.1 – Fulham 1-0 Norwich – 12/04/2014
Ah yes Craven Cottage how we loathe thee! If the Cottage was a graveyard for Norwich City sides then you could probably fill the whole of the football pitch with yellow and green headstones.
It had already been a tough week for City having lost at home to West Brom the previous match when they were expected to win. Chris Hughton had been sacked which clearly divided opinion. Many pundits felt that with still being one point outside the relegation places and with five games to go that it was pretty pointless. Some of the fans felt it was too little too late but a new manager bounce, given City’s recent record against Fulham and their horrific run in, was realistically their last chance.
Neil Adams walked onto the pitch and saluted the away fans with a clenched fist and there was a roar of support. Despite City losing their previous seven away games you could feel there was still a genuine sense of optimism. As soon as the first whistle went, however, it was as if the Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale had given the order of “Red alert, shields up,” to the Starship Enterprise for them to project an impenetrable force field around his goal mouth. This combined with Stockdale having an inspired afternoon and City’s routinely poor finishing made for the most frustrating afternoon. Robert Snodgrass’ splendid free kick did everything but go in, having bounced off the cross bar. He even missed a chance from six yards out by giving Brede Hangeland too much time to clear off the goal line. The infamous ghost pass from Ricky Van Wolfswinkel just about summed up the whole season and with it Norwich City’s hopes of remaining a Premier League side were effectively laid to rest in pieces at the Cottage once more.
Recently I thought back to watch to watching the film the “Matrix” and the scene when Agent Smith says to Neo “You hear that Mr Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability!” The Fulham game along with many others in Norwich recent Premier League history have had an air of inevitability about them and the respective opposition have been able to sense this for too long. It is up to City to collectively start to change this starting with West Ham on Saturday. OTBC.