Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City need to get real. Fast
PUBLISHED: 14:18 12 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:50 13 August 2018
Grant Hanley is not a man you should mess with.
The Norwich City captain is a fearsome physical presence on the pitch and a spokesman off it who never uses two words when one will do. Or just a menacing stare.
Hanley branded his side’s capacity to self-destruct against West Brom ‘unacceptable’.
But beyond the banner sound bite there was a more cutting charge that sliced to the heart of the matter.
City had deservedly edged in front with a goal that showcased Teemu Pukki’s persistence and Jordan Rhodes’ predatory instincts.
It was no less than Daniel Farke’s players merited. Moritz Leitner was the conductor, Kenny McLean was showing no trace of nerves on his full league debut for the club and Onel Hernandez and Ben Marshall were offering width and a supply line to capitalise on Rhodes’ clever movement.
Leitner cushioned a delightful reverse pass into the path of Rhodes, who took a fraction too long to bring the ball under his spell, allowing the impressive Sam Johnstone to smother the threat at his near post.
Ivo Pinto cut inside from his unfamiliar left back station on numerous occasions but the shooting radar was awry.
It is easy to dismiss now sifting through the damage of Tim Krul’s embarrassing spill, Marshall’s misjudged leap or the compliant manner City’s exposed backline parted for Albion’s third and fourth goals, but the travelling support were becoming restless.
Chants of ‘attack, attack, attack’ were audible in the direction of Darren Moore and a group of players already under pressure from claiming just one league point from their opening two forays, following Premier League relegation.
The scene was set up perfectly. Carrow Road was bathed in sunshine, fans were in full voice, and those they came to acclaim were on the front foot and a goal to the good.
But within nine minutes of Rhodes’ opener, the game had tilted on its axis.
Dwight Gayle’s cunning earned a penalty. Jay Rodriguez did the rest. City spurned their free shot from 12 yards to go in at the interval ahead, when Rhodes’ tamely lost his battle of wills with Johnstone from the penalty spot.
This is the phase Hanley was referring to in his post-match dissection of how City contrived to let a game they were in control of slip away.
He labelled it a lack of streetwise nous, a naivety to continue to press forward and chase a second instead of pausing and assessing how vulnerable the visitors were before surgically picking the moment to apply another body blow.
Albion had already surged through wide tracts of Norwich’s vacant midfield on two occasions before Marshall lost the flight a of deep cross and Krul took emergency action to fell Gayle.
Leitner or Pukki are not in the side for their defensive instincts but neither is Onel Hernandez, yet the wide player drew applause for a superb last ditch tackle deep in his own territory in another committed display after his Birmingham City brace.
You could turn the focus on Farke and his team selections but that is to absolve those he entrusts with the responsibility to realise Championship games are a patchwork of ebbs and flows. Periods when you are in the ascendancy and spells when you have to dig in and take just as much pride in protecting your own goal as punching holes in the opposition rearguard.
Farke was right to suggest this was an opportunity spurned to harness real early-season momentum against a club rightly touted to be in the promotion mix. After the opening half an hour it looked the perfect time to catch Moore’s men.
By the final whistle, it was all about the quality at Albion’s disposal and the enviable attacking options for the opposite head coach.
Norwich need to address an alarming concession rate, after shipping six goals in the first two league games.
But more than that it requires a far more ruthless, streetwise approach.
Success in this league is not some aesthetic quest for the beautiful game.
It is as much about a willingness to resist in the difficult moments and come through the other side.
There was just as much beauty to be had last season in those backs-to-the-wall triumphs at Middlesbrough, or Brentford, or even Ipswich to a degree. Tweaks are now required.
After falling the wrong side of the line in a game of such fluctuating fortunes it is tempting to focus on the negative.
But there are positives to build on.