Norwich City’s Premier League plot line takes a new twist
PUBLISHED: 08:00 24 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:58 24 March 2014
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Alex Tettey’s instinctive brilliance was the latest twist in a Premier League plot you suspect would be rejected as too far-fetched.
Norwich City left the south coast the previous weekend burdened by a lengthy crime sheet and fresh concerns over their top flight future. Every charge was answered emphatically against a Sunderland side who exhibited all the frailties and self-doubt so evident in City’s most tortured moments. Therein highlights the conflict and the contradiction that has raged for most of a campaign now firmly back in Norwich’s control.
The lows have felt truly sickening. Heavy defeats at Manchester City and Liverpool were not unexpected reverses, but it was the scale of the beatings and the limpness of Norwich’s efforts that magnified the concerns.
City’s work during the intervening period suggested such defensive breaches had largely been eradicated until recent away days at Aston Villa and Southampton revealed an enduring brittleness, allied to persistent difficulties in front of goal, that at the very least meant a fraught final passage over these coming weeks and, at worst, a descent to the Championship.
The highs have been sporadic and as Tettey’s sublime match-winning volley demonstrated, laced with a surreal quality. The scale of the euphoria that enveloped the Norwegian in the immediate aftermath of his landmark Premier League strike was matched by the most wonderfully spontaneous outpourings from Chris Hughton and the rump of his squad scattered on the touchline. That will be an abiding image of a testing campaign should Norwich finally capitalise on the positive uplift from such a dismissive display against the Black Cats.
City’s support played their full part with a cacophonous noise that rose whenever Sunderland threatened to disrupt the pattern of home dominance during the second period. By then the game was already up for Gus Poyet’s side. The Uruguayan was out-thought by Hughton and his players were out-fought.
Poyet magnanimously feted Hughton’s decision to deploy two strikers as ‘brave’ and that courageous seam was woven into this victory. Norwich’s willingness to press high up the pitch was the perfect antidote to the cautious, reactive concessions of territory and space which can be justified against the best but merely leave Hughton open to criticism when his side face opponents of commensurate status.
Sunderland’s intent to build patiently from the back was stifled by the urgency Jonny Howson and Tettey pressed to disrupt the Black Cats’ passing rhythm. Seb Bassong and Joseph Yobo squeezed the hosts’ backline to condense the space and set the tone for a contest played almost exclusively in the visitors’ half prior to the interval.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel appeared to relish the closer proximity of Johan Elmander and the support of wide players in Robert Snodgrass and Wes Hoolahan afforded the freedom to forage and probe with Norwich firmly on the front foot.
City’s forward motions felt comfortable, their intent aggressive and their execution clinical when all too often it has been predictable, laboured and wayward.
Hughton was criticised after making five changes against the Saints, yet he had the same conviction to repeat that failed experiment.
Elmander has increasingly found himself castigated as the poster boy for all City’s ills; the playing embodiment of his under-fire boss. The Galatasaray loanee has not scored the goals to ease Norwich clear of the congested Premier League scrap, but in that regard he is in good company alongside van Wolfswinkel and his own meagre output and Gary Hooper’s difficulties to replicate his productive pre-festive spurt.
Hughton has never made any attempt to disguise that fact, yet Elmander - at least to his detractors - epitomises the safe, cautious, measured approach of his manager.
The Swedish international entered the field of play at St Mary’s the previous weekend to a poisonous backdrop from a significant minority of the travelling support frustrated by the pitiful nature of Norwich’s efforts. Against Sunderland he left the Carrow Road pitch to a standing ovation. Elmander was a pivotal actor in the drama. His instant control and awareness rolled in Snodgrass for the first goal before his work ethic harried the Black Cats’ central defenders for the turnover stunningly despatched by Tettey.
The former Bolton man retains a value within Norwich City’s squad but to measure his effectiveness purely in goals is to overlook his career path to date. The Swede clearly needs the right conditions to flourish and in that regard he is no different to the Canaries.
They proved once more against a sorry Sunderland they can be residually effective at home but those question marks will remain until they can replicate winning performances on the road. To regress at Swansea this coming weekend or Fulham next month would serve only to perpetuate the cycle that has trapped them in the lower echelons to this advanced stage of the season.
As City’s match-winner, Tettey, readily acknowledged in the build up Norwich possess a squad of talents who should realistically harbour greater ambitions.