Chasing down Rotherham, errant game plans, Graham Dorrans, false bargains and overtaken by Aston Villa - Six things we learned from Norwich City's defeat at Villa Park
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Norwich City fans have seen it all before, especially at Villa Park - but it doesn't get any easier. Michael Bailey delivers his six learnings from Saturday.
1 – Can you pay them every week?
Norwich City’s travelling support have had almost nothing to smile about over the current season – but at least they could sit down on their return from Birmingham on Saturday, and consider the fact they only spent half the amount their ticket cost.
Everything at Villa Park, they had seen before: the neat movement, pleasing football, possession, defensive frailty and ultimately defeat.
There is absolutely no criticism here of the gesture from Norwich City to subsidise half the ticket cost. It was spot on and the least their travelling supporters deserved – about 2,200 of them at Villa.
The issue is you can only do it so often. If the trend in results and – to a degree – performances doesn’t alter, the good will runs out pretty quickly.
It’s a shame City look like running out of games – they’re only 19 goals behind Rotherham’s conceded tally on the road. Even Norwich couldn’t manage that goal-swing in three games, surely?
2 – The game plan was supposed to work
Speaking to Steven Whittaker after Saturday’s game, you could sense his frustration – not simply at how things had gone.
It was more the point City had carried out their instructions, followed the game plan – and yet still ended up on the losing side.
They had worked on it all week: to move the ball quickly, keep possession and work their openings. Much like the way Alex Neil’s more effective sides would almost sit on their opponents and squeeze them into submission.
The clear issue was Villa knew that would be City’s game plan – and duly invited them on, hit them on the break and waited for the inevitable defensive errors to take hold. City’s attempts at repelling Jonathan Kodjia’s second goal would be offensive to everyone who played Sunday League Football the following day.
Alan Irvine isn’t in the easiest of positions and is keen to keep things ticking along as they were. Sadly, they are.
3 – Desperate for Dozza
I’ll admit it can be difficult to work out how much influence Graham Dorrans has on City when he is available.
He’s excellent with the ball most of the time, but not immune from being careless in possession either. Goals should come more frequently for a man of his talents, while the midfield around the Scot has sometimes been hit and miss.
But there was no denying it was good news Dorrans returned from injury before the international break – and he was definitely having a positive influence in the starting XI at Villa Park, as he moved the ball quickly and helped City at least appear to be on top.
So quite clearly, his ankle injury and half-time withdrawal is another big blow for a player who has had the potential to be key for the Canaries since he arrived two years ago.
What happens to his influence from here is even harder to read.
4 – Full-back? Take your boots!
The upside of Norwich being the masters of their own downfall is there has been minimal refereeing controversy.
Not that the officialdom has been any good. Saturday’s referee Jeremy Simpson was the latest fussy and inconsistent man in charge who with some proper scrutiny, would’ve almost certainly been found to have come up short on several occasions.
Ivo Pinto’s pair of silly misdemeanours earned a punishment arguably greater than it deserved – certainly for Alan Irvine.
The caretaker boss now has some big decisions to make as his Norwich City side travel to a wounded Huddersfield Town on Wednesday, with both first-choice full-backs suspended. Right-back Pinto will serve a one-game ban, while left-back Mitchell Dijks still has a game left on his ban from the draw with Blackburn.
Will it be Russell Martin moving back across or Ben Godfrey coming in? It feels a lifetime ago City had a left-sided choice between Martin Olsson and Robbie Brady.
5 – Villa are already ahead of City
Maybe it wasn’t the most convincing performance you will season, but for Aston Villa it signified a major step forward.
There has been huge investment of course, but the work needed after several seasons flirting with Premier League relegation – through to screwing up their start to Championship life – was vast.
It’s already accounted for their hopes of an immediate top-flight return. But given the players they’ve recruited, the manager in charge, plus the way they played on Saturday, they have all the blocks in place to go very close next season.
When you then sit back and wonder how City will fare come 2017-18, it’s hard not to feel Villa are already ahead of the game. They may well finish above Norwich this season too.
And if you can’t get past the money Villa have spent, let me remind you that Fleetwood Town have just spent £8m on a new training centre. That’s just how it is.
6 – The mathematics have spoken
Much talk continues to rely on the fact City could still finish in the top six, in terms of raw mathematics and delusion.
But what we do know now, is they definitely can’t finish in the top two. It officially became impossible on Saturday, not that anyone has considered it anything more than a pipe dream since 2016.
Maybe we’ve become blasé to it but let me just state for the record: City’s automatic promotion hopes became mathematically impossible when there were still seven games to play and 21 points on offer.
That should register the colossal failure of City’s promotion bid; their sole goal this season. Sadly stating it three times didn’t make it any more likely.
Once Stuart Webber – who I believe was at Villa Park on Saturday – can finally get to work publicly, the personnel has to change and some youngsters have to be given game time. Anything else would be yet more wasted opportunity.