Story of Norwich City’s season packed in to 90 minutes against Stoke City
06:30 15 March 2014
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Notwithstanding the fact that Stoke City epitomise tedious, spoiling football, the game was the perfect microcosm of City’s season.
All the familiar failings were in evidence. Giving the ball away under no pressure whatsoever, a ponderous build-up, a lack of sufficient creativity to break down an opposition which was disciplined and intent on coming away with at least a point and, of course, a momentary loss of discipline in defence.
In recent weeks Sebastien Bassong in particular has been fortunate on a number of occasions to get away with breakdowns in concentration, but on Saturday there was no reprieve from his unnecessary challenge on John Guidetti. Even a referee as stunningly inept as Andre Marriner could hardly fail to point to the spot.
In all honesty it would be difficult to argue that City were hard done by as better finishing by the visitors in the early stages could easily have seen them having to come from behind, which, given the paucity of goals this season, is every City fan’s worst nightmare.
Like most fans I was indignant at the start of the season when virtually every pundit tipped City for a relegation battle. The heady amounts of money (in Norwich City terms) spent on players suggested that such views were ridiculous. Now I’m starting to wonder.
If we consider City’s three “big” summer signings, Leroy Fer was bought for roughly half of what Everton were prepared to pay for him last January before mysteriously pulling out, citing a serious knee problem. Ricky van Wolfswinkel was looked at by several big clubs a couple of years ago, but City apparently had little real competition for his signature, and Gary Hooper was snatched on the point of signing for QPR, a Championship club.
This isn’t a criticism of them; I think they’re all good players, but in the context of the quality brought in by other clubs in the relegation battle just how much of an upgrade do they represent in reality?
There is no doubt that the unadventurous safety first tactics that have defined the Chris Hughton era haven’t exactly given free rein to quixotic talent. Even on their good days City could hardly be described as free flowing, but it’s a matter of debate as to how much more the current squad is capable of.
Obviously much will need to be reassessed at the end of the season both in terms of management and squad, but if City stay up can they balance a return to exciting football with Premier League survival next season?
Clearly the prospect of more games like Saturday’s don’t appeal, but the fact is that Stoke are a realistic template for what’s required for a small provincial club to become a fixture in the Premier League. Grind out wins at home and dig in for points away seems to be the mantra for survival on a budget.
It’s a depressing thought, because, like many fans, I hunger for a return to the slick passing game that has epitomised Norwich City since the days of John Bond. My concern is whether that can be achieved within the limited budgets confirmed in recent interviews with the chief executive.
We would all dearly love to see the club as a genuine Premier League force, but that goal seems some way away at the moment. Much as we all hate the Little Norwich tag there is actually little empirical evidence available to refute it, nor will there be while the club is one of the lowest payers in the league, because the price of quality players isn’t going down anytime soon. Ambition is admirable, but it has to be tempered with realism.
Of course, there could be another Vincent Tan or Carson Yeung out there….