Undermining progress, the Steven Naismith enigma, Nelson Oliveira bucking the trend and Leeds United fans’ love for Garry and Jonny – Six Things we learned from Norwich City’s Elland Road bottle job
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Norwich City’s season would have been nothing if not erratic – Michael Bailey summarises in six points their latest inexplicable and final away chapter at Leeds United.
1 – City undermined their own improvements
“It’s been the case for a few weeks, but no doubt City look better organised and structured under Irvine” – my prophetic words on Twitter between City leading 2-0 and making it three at Elland Road.
Now there have been plenty of cases where words have been eaten this season, like any other. It’s an occupational hazard. But I’m not having that what happened next on Saturday disproved it.
In terms of Leeds’ goals, the first was due to an unforgiveable lack of concentration. The second, sheer will and desperation akin to what’s usually seen at Twickenham.
Some of that should be put down to the realities of the situation: City’s lack of anything meaningful to play for, and the exact opposite for their hosts. Still, in that first half City pressed in packs at the right times, were composed in possession and showed that they had a plan.
And that’s much more than we saw from them for months.
2 – Nelson profligate yet pivotal
The man himself brushed it off, which is probably fair enough given he scored a useful brace and took his Championship tally for the season into double figures.
But having missed a brilliant chance in the first half and taken too long over another one in the second, Nelson Oliveira really should’ve had at least a hat-trick to celebrate at Elland Road.
Still after an tricky start and a bit of time to hit his stride following his late transfer window move from Benfica, City’s much maligned recruitment got the job done with their summer striker signing – someone who will get goals and offers something different to Cameron Jerome.
What City’s next summer search needs to find now is a forward more able to get in behind and really mix up the Canaries’ attacking threat.
Do that and Norwich City’s next head coach will have a very handy trio of options up top to utilise next term.
3 – Josh is finishing how Jacob started
The Murphy twins’ battle for form and match time has been running for years – and it has effectively book-ended the current campaign.
From getting his head down in pre-season, Jacob started in such impressive style down the right that he could lay claim to playing an influential role for a lot of the rest of the season.
For Josh, it’s been more a case of showing glimpses here and there – at home to Cardiff and at Everton especially – until getting a longer stint on the left under Alan Irvine.
And at Leeds, he showed again with several great touches how easily he can ghost past people and make things happen.
Whether City remain too open if and when they start with both twins will remain a debate for a while yet, and may come to the fore next season. But the pair’s role at the club going forward continues to grow with each passing week.
4 – There’s no shaking the Naismith enigma
Alan Irvine’s effusive praise of Steven Naismith – along with his statement City’s new head coach should aim to keep the Scottish forward at Norwich next season – said all the more for the fact only a few minutes earlier, he’d been sent off for a reckless tackle.
There was misfortune in how it came about, as Naismith got into a bad position and then almost started to turn his back on the challenge.
None of that did him any favours with what happened next; the red card was inevitable.
Until that point, we’d seen a lot of what he offers and Irvine highlighted: football and positional intelligence plus exquisite quality in terms of his opening goal, his movement for Oliveira’s second and more than the odd piece of fluent linking up with Alex Pritchard.
His expected three-game suspension not only means his season is over, but his next season will start late. That may yet not be City’s issue.
5 – Leeds fans love Garry & Jonny
The chants started early in the match alongside the request of a wave, and continued until the last Leeds player had finished his lap of appreciation – One Garry Monk.
The Elland Road crowd made their feelings clear. It’s just a shame the Leeds United boardroom hasn’t proven to be the most attentive ownership in English football.
That will be partly why Monk heads into the summer unsure whether he will be kept on for another tilt at promotion, and why the Leeds owners may have to start again if their twitchy trigger finger breaks loose again.
At least Leeds won’t be promoted this season, meaning no ability to take Jonny Howson back home – as in both Leeds and the Premier League.
The decaying parts of Elland Road’s infrastructure reveal the difficult years Leeds have endured. The 34,000 crowd, atmosphere and buzz around the place reaffirmed why they really should be doing much better.
6 – The away misery is over
It wasn’t the biggest turnout of the season but given how things have been away from Carrow Road, there should be little surprise. Those faithful fans probably made the trip as much to see Leeds’ promotion hopes end as anything else.
They got to take in the 11th game from 23 City managed to avoid defeat, and only the fifth time all season they avoided defeat in successive away games. They never reached three.
It’s not been all bad. With half the division still to play one more game on the road, only four teams have scored more away goals than City’s 30. Sadly, only Rotherham have currently conceded more than Norwich’s 47 – although Reading could still beat it come the final Sunday of the season.
In the end the seventh worst away record in the division undermined City’s bid for another Premier League return.
Still, at least it’s all over now. Surely next season will be better. Surely?
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