I hope no-one reading this is expecting a positive assessment. My abiding thought coming away from the ground was just how bad does a team have to be to get beaten by us? Certainly the Norwich team of the first half was bad enough. That over 90 minutes we can’t say we deserved to win is about as damning an assessment as I can come up with. They made changes, were more positive, and once more we were neither good enough to hold onto a lead or to regroup and win a game that in the first half at least was there for the taking. The new faces had better come in quickly because we are so short of self-belief and conviction that it is becoming painful.
It’s just not good enough to think about why we have the upper hand in games for periods but can’t play well for 90 minutes; we all remember how superb we were for 20 minutes against Bristol City. The fact is that at this level every game is going to have periods when you are on top and when the opposition is on top. Our basic problem is when we do have the upper hand we either don’t score at all or don’t kill off the game; when we come under pressure we concede goals. Not strong enough in key areas. This game may not have been important compared with the next home fixture, but getting a win of any sort would have changed the atmosphere for the visit of Forest. They just went and won at Man City.
Stripped of Hudson, Gray, Waghorn and McEveley and with Cranie having gone back to Portsmouth and Ambrose unwell, anyone on the books could have been named in the squad. As it was, Moutaouakil came in at right-back while Basey was preferred to Youga at left-back, and rather surprisingly Holland instead of Semedo was asked to play centre-back alongside Fortune. Semedo and Bailey formed the central midfield partnership, with Sam and Bouazza down the flanks. Burton played as a lone forward and Shelvey was brought in to play in the hole. I have to say that my starting X1 would have been different. Todorov, Dickson and Youga would have been in my team; instead they were on the bench along with Wright, McLeod, Wagstaff and the returning Randolph, leaving them to wonder just how bad things have to get before they are picked.
However, the plus was a roving role for Shelvey and in the first half at least Norwich singularly failed to pick him up. With that formation we needed good contributions from the wide players and Bouazza and Sam – after an anonymous first 25 minutes – did what was necessary. And Burton did the lone forward’s job better than I expected on past performances. With Moutaouakil after an indifferent start (which nearly cost us a goal) getting forward to far greater effect than Cranie ever did, and Holland slotting in admirably, the set-up worked better than I thought it would, which is both to the credit of the players and a reflection of how bad Norwich were in the first period.
With little or no threat from the opposition (except at set pieces, which is par for the course), it was a case of whether we could fashion chances and get ahead. And we did. An excellent ball out to Bouazza, he took it on and squared it. It looked like a 50-50 but Shelvey coming in at pace made it his and buried the chance. Well worked, well taken. Then for the remainder of the half we had the opportunities to kill off the game. A Fortune header from a corner was tipped over but the two best opportunities went begging. First Bouazza was in space down the left and instead of repeating the dose for Shelvey went for goal and missed. Then from the other flank Sam drilled in a shot-come-cross which a couple of flailing bodies at the far post just failed to get on the end of.
Half-time and the abiding thoughts were surely we can’t fail to win this one, can we keep it going, and can Norwich be as bad again? We know the answers. They made a double-substitution at the start of the second half and looked more composed – and more determined after I assume a suitable bollocking. We did have a couple of shots which were well saved but increasingly we were being pushed back and lost control of midfield, while Bouazza and Sam were getting less joy out wide. Thoughts were turning to whether it was time for a change as Shelvey and Burton were looking tired and we were being outplayed.
No changes came and instead Norwich passed their way through our team from their own half, culminating in a turn and shot from some former Arsenal trainee with a Finnish name. OK, it happens. Still enough time to go out and win it. Fact is we didn’t have fashion another chance worthy of the name. Youga came on for ... Burton. Basey was pushed forward and Bouazza went into the middle to play somehow with Shelvey. Then Dickson replaced Shelvey. Youga looked rusty and Basey carried no threat going forward. Dickson did create one chance with a run and cross, but we looked shapeless and vulnerable. In the last 15 minutes it wasn’t us going to win the game and the final whistle made it another case of what might have been.
Well, that’s happened too often. Change gotta come and soon. I don’t know what Todorov has to do to get a game, or just how crocked he may be, Dickson still looks like he has something and I’d be disappointed to see him go, but if we aren’t going to play him so be it. If he goes he’s just another that with us hasn’t progressed enough, or hasn’t played enough football to have the chance to develop. Shelvey was the clear plus point (Holland pushed him close for man of the match) but do we stick with this formation with the players returning and those we assume are coming in? No easy answers.
Elliot: 7/10. No chance with the goal, did everything else capably (apart from one clearance that went for a corner).
Moutaouakil: 7/10. Not everything he did worked, but far more mobile than Cranie and provided good support for Sam going forward.
Basey: 6/10. OK at left-back but looked poor when pushed forward, the change didn’t work.
Fortune: 7/10. Nothing wrong, nearly scored, but another home game without a clean sheet.
Holland: 8/10. Did what he was asked to do admirably. So what’s new?
Bouazza: 6/10. If he’d squared the ball second time around and Shelvey had scored again we would probably have won the game. Ineffective when moved inside.
Semedo: 6/10. OK, nothing dramatic, but with Bailey we lost control of midfield in the second half.
Bailey: 6/10. Having scored two against QPR getting into the box went back to a more holding role.
Sam: 5/10. One good moment, but was nowhere to be seen in the first 25 minutes and failed to deliver in the second half.
Shelvey: 8/10. Tired in the second half but was the player that Norwich failed to cope with in the first and was nearly a match-winner.
Burton: 7/10. Better game for us as lone striker than playing alongside Gray. The case for signing him is still unproven, but did a job today.
Youga: 5/10. Looked out of sorts. We need to either pick him and stick with him or let him go. With McEveley I assume coming back it doesn’t look like the former, which is a pity as when he plays well he is our best option in the position.
Dickson: 7/10. Not much chance to impress in a game that was going away from us before he came on. Am I mistaken in thinking he could still be a match-winner for us? Parkinson obviously thinks so.