Fingers Crossed for ‘Top of the League at Portman Road’ on Sunday - Notes for Norwich
Friday, 19th Aug 2016 11:00 by HarryFromBath
HarryfromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Sunday’s East Anglian derby by delving into their forums.
“This is a squad that should win the league. I still stand by my comment that we have a better squad of players than Newcastle”, “I am really looking forward to the season. I can see six or seven teams having a big say in things and we will be one of the main players”, “So, who is it we play next?”
The Canaries go into Sunday’s game in high spirits after an unbeaten start to the season which sees them sharing the lead with seven points from three games. An easy 4-1 win at Blackburn was followed by a goalless draw at home to Sheffield Wednesday and a 1-0 win over visiting Bristol City on Tuesday.
“On paper our team is ridiculously good”, “We have a better and stronger squad than last year”, “Looking through our team, I think that overall and man-for-man we have the best squad in the division. Potentially this is by far the best overall Championship squad I recall us having.”
“Alex Neil doesn’t have a free shot at this season given the squad we have. If we are halfway or two-thirds down the table come November, we all know full well what the inquests will be”, “He needs to be made aware that his tactics and ability to motivate the team were hugely lacking last season.”
Canaries applauded the way the former Hamilton manager steered the side to promotion two years ago. Many now fear that he may lack the judgement or experience to get the best out of his squad, highlighting two poor summer transfer windows and a perceived lack of long-term tactical planning.
“I sincerely hope he looks at the effect all his tinkering has had and the knee-jerk reactions. He does not need to rip up the team after every game when it doesn’t quite go to plan”, “He messed up last summer and is now going down the same path. He could make a full side out of our midfield squad.”
Many urge patience despite an awareness of his shortcomings. “His job should not be threatened by the odd bad result or having a less than ideal run. This league is a marathon. You can have a poor run but still turn the season around with the right manager. Who turned it around last time? Alex Neil.”
“I’m not getting carried away when I say we are going to batter some teams this season”, “We have been promoted with weaker teams than this”, “We have the strongest squad in the league packed with players who have had a mixture of top flight experience, so we know what they are capable of.”
The starting XI (above) for Tuesday’s win over the Robins followed the same shape used by Neil all season. The three creative midfielders have tended to be narrow, using short passing and interplay to unlock defences and connect with the striker, with the full-backs being used for pace and width.
“The defence is proving to be a strong point.” Canaries feel they have a strong defence, anchored by centre-backs Ryan Bennett and Timm Klose. Keeper John Ruddy and left-back Martin Olsson missed Tuesday’s game but Michael McGovern in goal and full-back Robbie Brady were capable stand-ins.
“We are extremely strong in midfield. I would happily argue it is the division’s strongest, possibly by some way. When you look through the players there it’s very impressive.” Most fans agree that they have a wealth of riches here with Alexander Tettey and Jonny Howson solidly anchoring the midfield.
Wes Hoolahan is seen as City’s most creative player. He connects well with team-mates and is in a rich vein of form but struggles to find the net. Steven Naismith in contrast is seen as a less effective playmaker but a stronger finisher. Fans are divided over who should play centrally behind the striker.
Two new names have been building fitness since arriving. Sergi Canos is seen as the strongest right-sided midfielder and may start on Sunday. Many Canaries believe that new signing Alex Pritchard will eventually operate cutting in from the left side of the attacking trio when he reaches full fitness.
Cameron Jerome is currently seen as their only experienced and capable striker. The lack of options up front was highlighted against the Owls last Saturday when Jerome picked up a knock and Steven Naismith was pressed into service in what several Canaries described as a “withdrawn striker role”.
A Lack of Balance
“It seems that some of the bad habits of square pegs in round holes last season could again become a problem. There are signs of shoehorning players in as well”, “Our midfielders are good players but the balance isn’t right”, “To be two games into the season with only Jerome up front is pathetic.”
Fans are worried that there is a lack of planning both in terms of the squad’s balance and the roles played by new arrivals when recruiting. The recent addition of creative midfielder Alex Pritchard to a squad full of playmakers with the side crying out for a proven striker has done little to help this.
“No more midfielders!” The number of midfielders is often used to highlight a poor recruitment strategy. “The board’s strategy appears to be to accumulate midfielders ad infinitum. We have recruited eight since the start of the 2015 summer window and they joined the five already here.”
Opponents Digging In
“If Sheffield Wednesday are foolish enough to attack us in an open fashion, we will see a good game with more goals, but we will be the more likely to win.” The Owls were completely wise to this trap last Saturday. “Wednesday frustrated and nullified us though a boring and uninspiring second half.”
“We didn’t lose to Sheffield Wednesday but that was the most boring draw you will ever see”, “How can we go from being so clinical one week at Blackburn to this drivel?”, “We were woeful from start to finish and did not create one scoring chance”, “We had no width or balance. We stuck instead of twisting.”
This inability to break down obdurate opponents is a concern for Canaries. “We seemed to run out of ideas in the second half”, “It was hard last time in the Championship. Teams just come and sit in”,
Norwich 1 – 0 Bristol City
“A good three points with Norwich clearly a class above their opponents”, “When we pass and play at a fast tempo we look really dangerous. The first 25 minutes of the contest was so slow, laboured and predictable”, “We dominated after the break with Brady and Canos surging down the wings.”
“Yes, Jonny Howson!” After taking time to get into their stride, the hosts secured their first home win of the season when skipper Jonny Howson side-footed a shot home on 38 minutes. It was a game largely dominated by the Canaries although the Robins caused a few scares from set pieces.
“The early exchanges were like Sheffield Wednesday all over again, a packed Bristol City defence, too much emphasis on playing the ball through a crowded middle where there was hardly any space at all. We needed to be more direct and get more crosses in. It was all very predictable.”
Norwich 0 – 0 Sheffield Wednesday
“This is a truly dreadful football match”, “Wednesday were well organised, quick to close down and decent on the break”, “We didn’t create enough or find new ways to get through a well organised opposition once Plan A didn’t work”, “We were poor in the first half but shambolic in the second.”
The Owls overcame the pre-match obstacle of striker Fernando Forestieri refusing to travel with the squad to earn a deserved point in Saturday evening’s game. Alex Neil lost both John Ruddy and Martin Olsson to injury, but the visitors looked more likely to score the longer the game went on.
“Wednesday have shown every other team how to stop us from winning at home. The worrying thing was that we didn’t look like scoring at all in the second half”, “The Owls pinned us back so we ended up playing very deep in the second half. Barry Bannan had far too much time to dictate play.”
“Neil has settled for a point. It’s not wrong but this should have been over before now. It was the wrong starting XI [above]”, “We desperately need something different up top. Wednesday used four different strikers this evening. We had one”, “That was woeful from start to finish.”
“That is no way to start a season”, “Our biggest problem since 2012 has been our attacking balance. Naismith and Hoolahan are both number 10s. Pick one or the other. Play a left and right-footed player on their natural wings. Pick the best team and don’t shoehorn in the best players.”
Booing After the Owls’ Game
“I hate to think of my club being portrayed as having fickle, ungrateful and spoilt fans”, “Fans who think we are going to win every game are frankly clueless.” There was a chorus of disapproval when the final whistle sounded on a Sheffield Wednesday game which failed to live up to expectations.
“Where has the money gone?”, “On the basis of that, it hasn’t gone into building a team”, “There was a correlation between the ‘Keep Neil Adams, don’t worry we will be safe’ crowd and those giving out about the booing”, “All it takes for evil to prevail in the world is for good men to do nothing.”
Blackburn 1 – 4 Norwich
“It looks like our opening day hoodoo is about to end”, “It sounds like we are taking a lot of last year’s frustration out in this game”, “An excellent start to the season. Well done City”, “This is a serious shot across the bows of the teams in this league. We are not here to mess about.”
The Canaries strolled to an opening day win at Ewood Park, with goals from Jacob Murphy, Hoolahan and Jerome putting them three ahead by 25 minutes. Naismith added a fourth on 58 before Rovers grabbed a consolation from substitute Anthony Stokes on 67 minutes. “Here’s to a great season.”
“They have just shown the goals on television. It’s just like watching Barcelona, what a great set of goals”, “We looked a totally different class today, hopefully not because Blackburn are so poor”, “Maybe I have no ambition but I do love the Championship. It’s a great league.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“I like the look of Michael McGovern. He’s very composed and looks like he may actually save some shots. He’s not the biggest though, which Ipswich may look to exploit.” The 32-year-old ex-Hamilton keeper “comes off his line quicker than Ruddy and he nullified two Bristol City attacks by moving swiftly”.
“McGovern had a good Euros as Northern Ireland keeper so his confidence is high and he’s fresh to the team”, “He hasn’t put a foot wrong since arriving. Ipswich will obviously be a big pressure test but if he continues to perform as he has started, I can see Ruddy struggling to get his place back.”
“Ruddy has looked unconvincing this season. Letting some simple shots spill through his fingers.” The 29-year-old ex-Cambridge keeper is expected to miss Sunday with a groin injury, while one time Blackburn left-back Martin Olsson is also unlikely to be involved, due to a hamstring problem.
Robbie Brady dropped back into Olsson’s role against Bristol. The 24-year-old former Hull man “is a poor left-back, often out of position. He is not good at holding the line and is slow to get out. He’s a bit too maverick for me as a defender”, “His percentage of completed passes is barely double-digit.”
“Brady made one or two good darts forward against Bristol but his crossing was woeful”, “His ball-work, passing and crossing have been poor but he worked hard”, “He would be more telling playing further forward, he needs to be”, “He is still getting up to speed after not playing all of pre-season.”
“Ivo Pinto really is a class footballer. We know he’s nothing special defensively but he oozes quality in his passing, control and ability to play his way out of a tight space.” The 26-year-old Portuguese right-back “looks as if he is providing our biggest threat going forward”, “He is really coming good.”
“Pinto’s form blossomed at the end of last season once he got used to English football.” The former Dynamo Zagreb man “has made two assists this season”, “The way we play gives him the freedom to get forward on the wings”, “He looks good when he sees the ball, which needs to be more often.”
“Russell Martin lovers get a grip. It’s time to move on”, “If only he was a good footballer.” Most fans see the 30-year-old ex-Peterborough centre-back as a bench option along with former Spurs man Sebastian Bassong. The 30-year-old “would be good if he was coached not to dither on the ball”.
“Ryan Bennett is one of those players who needs to play alongside a leader.” The 26-year-old former Peterborough man “is a more consistent centre-half than Bassong, strong in the air and he can hit a good cross-field pass”, “He should be fine at this level but needs a better defender alongside him.”
“Bennett is very good in the air and was our best defender quite often last season.” Many feel that the one-time Town youth player’s partnership with Timm Klose brings out the best in him. “Bennett lacks football intelligence at times but he is a very good stopper and leaves the rest to Klose.”
“I’m shocked Klose has not gone to a Premier League club this summer”, “We looked so open at the back when he was injured last season. It was one of the main reasons we went down”, “He gives an air of confidence when he plays”, “An inspired signing adding consistency and stability at the back.”
The 28-year-old January signing from VfL Wolfsburg is “our best and most authoritative player”, “He’s very vocal with the rest of the team”, “A great passer of the ball”, “He is actually right-footed but is very comfortable playing on the left”, “Intelligent, solid, predictable and commands respect.”
“When we signed Youssouf Mulumbu, West Brom fans warned he was a waste of space. He certainly proved them right.” The 29-year-old DR Congo international has been brought on as a substitute in all three league games. “He calms things down but does not move much outside the middle third.”
“Mulumbu is the obvious choice to get a foot in and break up play. He did this well against the Owls, making good interceptions and getting us moving again”, “He seems to have really slow feet these days. It takes him longer to get the ball under control and pass it”, “A precautionary bench option.”
“Alexander Tettey is unassuming, he never fusses too much and does not hog the limelight.” The 30-year-old Norway international “provides the steel and quality needed in midfield”, “Against Bristol City he snuffed out danger before it mattered”, “Lots of hard work and great at winning the ball back.”
“Tettey has been a solid player for us but he really must do better with his distribution. I know it’s not the strength of his game but he seems to concede possession a hell of a lot”, “He just isn’t good enough on the ball to be a Premier League player, but he mops up everything which is good to see.”
“The trio of narrow midfielders we are playing at the moment limits Howson’s game. He’s at his best running into those positions but Alex Neil has obviously asked him to sit with Tettey. Poor Jonny”, “The manager asks our most positive midfielder to sit and cover Tettey. What more can I say?”
The 28-year-old ex-Leeds man was able to get forward to break the deadlock on Tuesday. “He seems to be a total passenger sitting in certain games, but then always seems to be the one to pop up with a crucial goal”, “He’s at his best in an attacking role when taking out players with a surge of pace.”
“Howson is one of the few midfielders who seem at their best in a classic midfield four. He is best carrying the ball and making runs from deep. With Wes and Naismith ahead, space is limited and we need him to provide a solid base. A great player but I’m not sure this formation doesn’t suit him.”
“Steven Naismith is no ball artist. Trying to shoehron him in at the expense of Hoolahan was part of our downfall last season”, “I don’t want to see him ahead of Wes in the central role. He doesn’t nearly offer enough”, “He more naturally stays closer to the striker and is more likely to snatch a goal.”
The 29-year-old January arrival from Everton divides opinion. “I’m torn on Naismith. He is improving but I don’t like Wes out wide”, “He seems to play in bursts, fluctuating between real excellence and complete rubbish”, “He doesn’t play the obvious ball so team-mates need to be on his wavelength.”
“The Owls shut Wes down and our midfield offered nothing else in those circumstances”, “Much as I love Wes, his passing against Wednesday was the poorest I have seen. They found it easy to stop him playing”, “His passing and creativity let him down for once and he was wasted on the wide right.
The 34-year-old ex-Blackpool player is seen as the talisman by many Canaries. “I have been watching City for 55 years and he’s up there with Martin Peters, Kevin Keelan and Darren Huckerby”, “One of our best ever players without a doubt”, “He found space against the Robins and was everywhere.”
“Wes not scoring enough when playing behind the centrally striker has always been a problem. He is a bit of a luxury in that respect”, “The reason Alex Neil didn’t play him behind the striker is his lack of goals”, “He can leave a lone striker isolated if he drifts deep, picking up the ball to influence play.”
“Josh Murphy is all pace and very little football intelligence.” The 21-year-old youth product found life tough on the right of midfield after being swapped on against Wednesday and starting against Bristol. “He looked disorientated, a poor first touch, not closing down opponents and looking lost.”
“Canos looked miles better than Murphy when he came on against Bristol.” The 19-year-old played for Brentford on loan last season from parent club Liverpool before a permanent summer switch to Norwich. “He’s a little Energiser Bunny, hard to knock off the ball, running and chasing all the time.”
“Canos looks tidy, not quick but another technically good player who will link with our midfielders well”, “Every time he is knocked down he bounces back up and looks to win the ball”, “He didn’t get a proper pre-season but he should be match-fit soon”, “He should be a starter against Ipswich.”
The Canaries’ search for a striker this summer has been well chronicled in the media, notably their failure to sign Ross McCormack from Fulham. Kyle Lafferty was given a warm reception by the home crowd making a late cameo run-out against Bristol City on Tuesday, but he is seen as a peripheral figure.
“Since the departure of Holty, only Jerome has established himself with us.” The 30-year-old former Stoke striker “deserved a lot of credit for his Bristol City performance. He ran all night, making important challenges and clearances and never stopped working, pushing himself so hard that he even felt ill.”
Jerome struggled against the Owls. “He was ineffective, offside multiple times and far off the pace”, “He spent the whole half offside and had a poor afternoon”, “He lacks great technical skill. He’s a sprinter at heart, using his superior pace and strength to outmatch defenders and score quickly.”
“I have concluded that Jerome isn’t a good fit for our system. He gives us 120 per cent, tracking back and popping up defensively with a nice degree of poise”, “His style worked well two years ago when we played a longer counter-attacking game. Our game involves using quick feet to create chances.”
Canaries’ Thoughts on ITFC and the Game
“This is Ipswich’s best chance to beat us in decades, or what feels like decades. If they don't beat us Sunday, they never will. With half of our team injured and one striker, surely this is the time. Oh well, we will still be the Pride of Anglia even if the worst happens”, “They never will.”
“They are due one, aren’t they? I mean, rightfully it shouldn’t happen. Their midfield is so painfully uninspiring and Cameron Jerome as an all-round better striker than Daryl Murphy. They obviously will be organised and difficult to beat but our quality should see us win.”
The majority of Canaries are fully confident that their superior squad will have far too much for us on Sunday. Their only anxiety is that we may benefit from the rub of the green and the law of averages may conspire in our favour. For many City fans, the outcome of the game is a foregone conclusion.
“It will be interesting to see how McCarthy sets them up. I was blown away by their lack of ambition in their home non-play-off game. They had four hard-working, limited midfielders, three centre-backs and Mings, leaving the attacking work to Murphy and Sears off long balls. Bassong ate it up all game.”
“Ipswich have actually brought in some decent wingers but their central midfield is still uninspiring. Their best striker is injured and their best players from two years ago, Berra and Murphy, are both older and out of form”, “Even with our current injuries, our team is far, far better than theirs.”
“I can’t see them winning myself. Bennett and Klose look as solid a pair as we have had for some time and with Pinto and Brady on the flanks and Canos added to the mix, we should have too much for them”, “If anything, this is a really good opportunity to annihilate them on their own turf.”
There was some wishful thinking. “Ipswich apparently put up a decent away performance at Wolves so they will be up for it but they will probably have picked up an injury or two in the process. They seem to pick up more than most under those dinosaurs Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor.”
Some have discussed a lack of stature especially if Michael McGovern starts in goal. “McCarthy and his team of carthorses will get at McGovern at set pieces as he is quite small. There was one header from Bristol City which he had to claw away and which another taller keeper would have caught.”
“We may have better quality but football doesn’t always work like that”, “If it wasn’t a derby I would expect a comfortable win. However, as others have said, they are ‘due one’ in some ways”, “Sod the law of averages. The law of probability states the better team is more likely to win. That will be us.”
Photo: Action Images
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