Norwich City find themselves at a Premier League crossroads

Norwich City's vast improvement from a Boxing Day defeat to Fulham was still not enough to earn Premier League points in a 1-0 loss to Manchester United. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd Norwich City's vast improvement from a Boxing Day defeat to Fulham was still not enough to earn Premier League points in a 1-0 loss to Manchester United. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Monday, December 30, 2013
8:30 AM

Norwich City were commendably brave and bold in defeat to the Premier League champions but frustration remains the dominant theme of their festive toil.

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The marked contrast in their approach from the laboured Boxing Day loss to a Fulham side embarrassed at Hull merely served to underline the scale of a missed opportunity against the Cottagers. City were bright and inventive, defensively resolute until the game’s defining moment and penetrative in attack during the first period; the polar opposite of their wretched output just two days earlier at Carrow Road.

Therein lies the conundrum undermining Norwich’s third season back in the top flight. Consistency is proving an elusive panacea for Chris Hughton and his coaching staff and City will be dragged deeper into the mire if they can not deliver a viable solution. Norwich have reached the halfway point dangling three points outside the bottom three. Hughton is right to point out an equally slender margin is all that separates the Canaries from the fringes of the top 10, but his team seemed incapable of bridging that gap when opportunities for advancement have presented themselves during recent weeks.

Hughton’s squad battled manfully at Sunderland and for an hour against United they competed on level terms, but a slim festive haul requires another positive outcome at Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day to convince many City are not set for another fraught passage in their latest bid for safety.

Hughton’s decision to recall Wes Hoolahan and Russell Martin was the right one; both injected energy and an urgency that threatened to pay dividends in a first half where Norwich impressively switched from a disciplined defensive shape to a prolonged spell of creative intent that saw David De Gea far busier than his opposite number.

Those who were demanding Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s elevation to the starting line-up alongside Hooper effectively advocate the Irishman’s continued exclusion. Hoolahan is at his best knitting City’s midfield and frontline together in those congested pockets of the pitch. There was plenty of fresh evidence to illustrate his effectiveness in a vibrant opening period that may well have produced an individual goal but for Jonny Evans’ block.

Hughton’s decision to withdraw Hooper 10 minutes after Welbeck’s breakthrough triggered inevitable waves of disgruntlement, but in the context of City’s debilitating injury problems few can dispute his logic given Hooper appears the club’s only genuine goalscoring threat for the key battles ahead. Van Wolfswinkel is still on the comeback trail himself after his long spell on the sidelines with a toe injury but the Dutchman was purchased for his ability to plunder and his high class pedigree. Norwich need a return on their investment, even allowing for the inevitable difficulties in adjusting to the unique demands of the English game. City do not possess an abundance of resources, unlike United who dealt with the injury absences of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie at Carrow Road by introducing one of England’s most highly-rated striking prospects at the interval. That is the inequality clubs such as Norwich must accept as the price for continued Premier League membership.

Nor was Hughton culpable for the manner of United’s winner. Sebastien Bassong’s failure to deal with Welbeck at source and the unfortunate ricochet from Ryan Bennett against both him and Javier Hernandez left John Ruddy stranded. Welbeck’s finish was stylishly executed but it was rough justice given Norwich’s collective approach to a daunting task.

The scale of the celebrations that erupted in the vicinity of the away dugout underlined the hosts’ relative success in making United’s sixth consecutive victory a contest not a procession. Welbeck’s goal just before the hour mark appeared to visibly deflate Hughton’s side who failed to whip up anything approaching the ferocious intent of their very best incisions prior to the interval, when Martin had produced a masterclass of attacking full-back play on his first team recall.

Robert Snodgrass was also heavily involved on an afternoon where beneath the headline story one could witness positive signals.

Yet it was impossible to ignore the lingering stench from that Boxing Day defeat as United played out the time that remained with few genuine alarms. Fulham was the Carrow Road game over this festive period Norwich needed to win and on that measure they failed.

Palace, like Sunderland, is a game they can ill afford to lose as much for the knock-on effects to a direct rival as the residual benefits to a season which, pertinently, has reached a crossroads at the halfway mark.

Palace have beaten Aston Villa away and were one of the few to leave the Etihad this season without a major dent in their goal difference in recent days. Norwich will need to be at their most resolute when they travel to Selhurst Park. City’s poor festive return at this same stage 12 months ago sowed the seeds for a draining second half to the season which required victory in the final home game to secure survival. Norwich’s fans must detect familiar warning signs.

11 comments

  • TK you want wingers not to play on the "wrong" wing and yet you want Olsson, a left back, to play on the right. Strange dont you think.

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    sharky

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • I had no problem with the starting 11 but would disagree with the statement "Those who were demanding Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s elevation to the starting line-up alongside Hooper effectively advocate the Irishman’s continued exclusion." Once we went a gaol down the obvious solution was to go with two up top and keep Wes in the hole. This would have meant abandoning the much favoured CH style of wrong sided wingers as we would then be forced to go to something nearer the diamond formation but I would like to have seen a flat three midfielders behind Wes. A second alternative would have been to move to three centre back, with Olsson moving forward into the right wing slot. For any competent manager there were options, unfortuantely CH does not seem to be able to change team set ups during a game.

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    TrevorKeith

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • .Injuries play a large part in Football these days!....I sometimes wonder what would happen if our Chrissy were ill and had to be absent from his place on the touch line....who would pick up the chalice?....What team would he pick?....What tactics would he dictate to his players?....under what circumstances would he make substitutions?.... Would motivation levels drop?...Would Benchio still be the first name to be 'riding the pine'.. eh Brew?....Would the chosen man be able to synchronise chewing gum and sucking a bottle, or use a two fingered whistle to issue instructions?...Would it make any difference?....That's a thought to ponder over as we enter the New Year!.....

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    Stew Pydsodd

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • Its a tough league and no team is rubbish but this club in my book in fact the whole squad are special and they will finish in the top flight where they should be josh murphy has already brought the trophy to carrow road and will be part of our success

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    johnty

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • The Palace game is certainly "crunch" time. I fear the worst. Its odd really. I talk and know quite a few in the game and ALL think Hughton is doing a good job. All managers have differing views. Thats the nature of the game. I,m sad at the criticism but I do understand it. We all want at least some successes but should never forget how difficult it is against world class players every week. Yes there are few things I would do differently. However who am I to say that. I dont see them training etc. My view on Hooper coming off was the correct one as we cannot lose him for many games due to injury. Wes was brilliant in the position we want to see him playing. However I would not be playing him in every game. Sorry Stew OTBC

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    sharky

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • We need to start producing these performances against the 'dross'. All fine and well doing it against the big boys and losing valiantly. I'd rather we saved our best for the crunch fixtures and got something from them. That said, I could do without another Man City or Liverpool I suppose!....

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    Smudger75

    Tuesday, December 31, 2013

  • Algarve, I think all teams pretty well play each other once by New Year, so it is a useful stock-take moment. Telegraph today gives comparative stats for 2013 and our points are level with two teams and ahead of three ignoring the teams relegated and promoted. So for a modest squad it does not look too bad, albeit ongoing squeaky-derriere scenario.. Agree we now need to try and get ahead of the curve in preparation for the last few games which include some of the toughest fixtures.

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    Pierre

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • Couple of typos there, we in fact went a goal down and Olsson would have moved forward to the left wing. I would never play players out of their natural position and would certainly never play Wes as a right winger.

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    TrevorKeith

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • One winger with fredom to switch wings is an option, with Wes in the hole behind two strikers - whichever permutation of strikers 1s favoured. That winger plays for 45 mins and is substituted by another winger at half time so they can run and pull the defence about to exhaustion...

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    Surrey Canary

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • Another pointless article from the sub-literate PD

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    Cecil

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • Chris Bailey has produced a very interesting graph displaying Norwichs performance and position at the New Year point the last 3 seasons. We are exactly where we were last season ....BUT, taking into account this seasons run in, we need to be ahead of that 40 point in order to be clear before the last 5 games! As Chris says...reason to be concerned!! Too many press conferences rueing what might have been!!

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    Algarve Canary

    Monday, December 30, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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