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Norwich City 4 Watford 2 (11/05/2016) 12/05/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- On the face of it, this had the potential to be fascinating. At least, that was the situation when we booked tickets, before Sunderland beat Chelsea to rather diffuse the anticipation. A spoiler on Twitter betraying an upcoming plot, “Ohhhh, that’s how it finishes”. Nonetheless, having opted for East Anglia on a Wednesday night ahead of Merseyside on a Sunday afternoon, there were plenty of considerations to factor in. How would the home side approach it – nervously? Bloody-mindedly? How aggressive and professional would we be? How would the narrative of the evening, inevitably influenced by events on Wearside, change the mood as the ground suffered hope, anxiety, frustration, despair?

It’s been ten years since I was last at Carrow Road. Admittedly there may have been reasons for recollection of that trip being less than crystal clear… but I’m sure there were decent pies, commensurate with the profile and reputation of the club’s now joint-majority shareholder. So it was something of a disappointment to see Pukka Pies on offer, one of several respects in which Norwich’s offering felt a little bit unconvincing… the pre-match kerfuffle was a bundle of ideas pinched from other clubs, the home crowd shifting around uncomfortably unconvinced and unrallied by an excitable announcer. The (welcome) vogue for welcoming visiting supporters by customising the away end with appropriately coloured decor or posters of the visitors’ heroes of yore, was pursued… but in the most token, half-arsed of ways.

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2- But even half an arse was more than Watford could muster. It’s not unreasonable to argue that, our situation and form being what it is, travelling supporters kinda ought to have known that a non-performance like this was a strong possibility. It’s also true that Norwich had an awful lot more riding on this than we had. To be expected, perhaps, that they’d be the more focused, the more motivated. But even accounting for both factors and to whatever degree you sympathise with the position that Quique Flores is in – of which more later – there was no excusing this pathetic shambles. The club, the team, the manager do still have a responsibility to uphold… to their supporters, those daft enough to come have nonetheless spent time and money, and so on and so on. A well-worn argument. As importantly, but for the way the evening transpired in Sunderland, fans of both north-east clubs who may have been depending on this outcome would have had every right to look at this and ask “what the bloody hell was that all about?”. We’re not the only ones to take our foot off, sure. That doesn’t make it acceptable, whatever the magnitude of achievement that has or hasn’t gone before it. Lack of ability you can forgive. Lack of effort, less so.

And the lack of effort started from the top. So much for taking the shackles off when safety was secured; the line-up was as uninspiring as it was predictable. No question that the “difficult to beat” thing was a valid and successful means to an end, but having achieved that end we were entitled to look forward to more than this perfunctory twaddle. The ever-willing Ikechi Anya’s retention at full-back, occasionally a worthwhile selection but not against an opponent like Nathan Redmond on an evening like this, rang alarm bells straight away and not just because of the story it suggested about Flores’ relationship with his four professional full-backs one of whom – the admittedly appalling Allan Nyom – appeared to have been selected purely out of necessity. The concern rose not from the selection now and on Sunday, but from the implication that the other four, all of whom having impressed at least intermittently, were inferior options. Flores’ impotence in correcting this tallies with the most galling betrayal, for me, the public concession that his team was effectively ready for the beach. As if that was outside of his control. Whatever your beliefs about Flores’ future, he’s not making it very difficult to say goodbye.

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3- And so we are dragged, kicking and screaming, to the football itself. The first ten minutes or so weren’t too bad… we started the more positive as the competing emotions around the stadium took a while to settle. We looked reasonably bright in attacking positions all evening in fairness, where the front two – including the extraordinary Deeney, again more later – didn’t stop plugging away. The goal came, a bit of a gift – not the only instance of uncertain handling from John Ruddy – but 1-0 and we’re away and singing the predictable songs about the goal’s implications.

And then Norwich come back at us, and immediately things looked very much less than comfortable. Gone is the solid, well-drilled, obstinate block that was the bedrock of much of our early success in the season… Norwich ran at us with pace and purpose and, with the obstinate exception of Ben Watson, we ushered them through. Not so much losing the battle in midfield as denying it’s existence altogether. Runners weren’t tracked, City frequently overloaded, and at the back we were all over the place as City’s breaks frequently saw Nyom shuffling back from a central position and Cathcart forced wide to cover, or Pinto and Redmond doubling up, or the massive Mbokani pullig wide to bully Anya. Watson spent much of the first half shouting impotently at Jose Jurado; in the admittedly less catastrophic second, as we pondered the potential for a red card, the suggestion was made that the already booked and increasingly impotent Watson probably didn’t fancy another 90 minutes of this on Sunday. At which point he got the hook from the bench as Guedioura’s reliable energy was finally introduced. Alongside him, Suárez looks magnificent with the ball at his feet and the time and the space to pick a pass – one instant arcing ball from the centre of the pitch to the left flank was breathtaking. Anything involves running, however, is altogether less satisfactory and we’re yet to see any evidence to decry the unwelcome suggestion that there was a reason that Fiorentina weren’t picking him – that his legs have, as the label goes, gone. Certainly little evidence of them this evening, despite his bafflingly being afforded a full 90 minutes.

4- It would be wrong to suggest that this was an entirely unenjoyable evening. The sunshine was warm, the fare on the pitch was dramatic, however incompetent, and the neutral in our party confirmed the value of the entertainment. Wes Hoolahan lining up a free kick from a dangerous position in the first half before chipping it delicately into the wall was hilarious; City fans probably enjoyed the creative inadequacy of the defending for their third goal in particular. In the second half, Troy was propelled beyond the goal into the noisy Barclay Stand where he appeared to shake hands with the City fan he landed on, introduce himself and quickly return to the action to apparent hilarity in the vicinity. And throughout there was the distracting mystery of an army of stewards and policemen congregated between the Barclay Stand and the Hornets in the Jarrold Stand. Such are the lavish extravagances of the Premier League, I suppose, although you had to wonder whether they couldn’t have spared a couple of redundant yellow jackets in favour of enough hands to open the second kiosk in the away end.

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5- The crowd were buoyed into a noisy frenzy as City equalised, took and extended the lead through a series of goals that were increasingly – that word again – pathetic from our point of view. As the relegation situation was being confirmed elsewhere the crowd, inevitably, settled but roused themselves again for a defiant finish.

City were vastly the superior side, and should have won the game by a more comprehensive margin. Their predicament, however, the reasons that they’re relegated were suggested by the fact that they weren’t able to do so. Indeed, even late in the game and certainly for long after Miguel Britos had waved Dieumerci Mbokani through for a fourth, helpfully carrying his luggage for him as he wandered through to poke a shot over Gomes before heading back to Kiev or wherever he pitches up next, you wouldn’t have completely ruled out us stealing some utterly undeserved points from the game such was City’s vulnerability to our limited counter-attacks and their inability to kill us off.

It may well be that they do come back again next season, but the replacement of two or three of the competitive clubs at the top of the Championship with the carcasses of Newcastle and Villa is unlikely to render the division less frantic. As the City fans sung Alex Neil’s name during the second half it was difficult not to share the sentiment implied by the question, “I wonder if they’ll still be singing that when they’re eleventh in November?”.

It’s hard to sympathise with Norwich. There’s was easily the most graceless of the approaches to the epic promotion chase last season – although at least they’ll be able to re-establish their claim to being “The Best Side in the Championship” next year I suppose. Wes Hoolahan’s swallow dive at Vicarage Road remain’s hard to forgive, as does the City player’s fondness for celebrating in front of rival fans rather than their own. Similarly Alex Neil’s peevish assessment of the Hornets’ “very basic” approach before this game. The fact that he flattered the performance that was to come doesn’t change the reality – that the Hornets have been able, basic or otherwise, to do what City did not and comfortably stay in the division.

6- As for Flores, whilst his achievement in dropping our anchor this season has been huge, his viability in the role hinges upon how well-suited he is to what comes next, not whether he has enough brownie points in the bank, and if any of us were to dispassionately look at the formative Premier League line-up for next season in the context of each club’s trajectory over this campaign you’d have to be very concerned. The collapse in form since Christmas is real, and reflecting, “yes, but we lost to good teams” is no consolation. This is the Premier League, good teams are the norm. The stuff that we can see, the performances and team selection, the frequent ostracising of players, would be cause for concern on their own. We don’t see what goes on at the training ground, the mood in the camp. Pozzo, Duxbury et al have much greater visibility of that and for all that they’ve made bold calls in the past, they’ve not often got it wrong. The departure of Jokanovic, for all the smokescreen about contract demands, would appear to me to have been a far more brutal one at the time, in context… yes, he was operating at a different level but it doesn’t follow that his job was any easier. The maelstrom that we navigated to gain promotion is too easily dismissed… but that decision appeared well-founded. Personally, I’m happy to trust the club management’s call.

More of a concern for me that Flores, or the seemingly inevitable and perhaps necessary departure of Ighalo, is the position of the captain. Troy’s performance, as so often since Christmas, stood out an absolute mile this evening. The contrast in his application to that of so many of his team mates was palpable and vast, our second goal which saw him bully Martin and defiantly, delicately tee up he onrushing Ighalo, just reward for his refusal to be dragged down by the apathy of much of his team. Now, as for the last three years at least, he’s the beating heart of the side, the club. Since we were promoted I’ve not been concerned about losing him… there’s little incentive for him to move to a similar sized club now that we’re in the top flight, and a move to a bit-part role at a bigger club might not attract a man who so clearly revels in being the focal point, the main man. So Leicester’s position, remarkable and tremendous as it is, seemed like a threat to me before the rumours of their (rekindled) interest in Troy surfaced this week. Faced with a need to strengthen their squad in the light of their Champions’ League campaign to come, what sort of player are they going to sign? More N’golo Kantés and Riyad Mahrezs (Mahrezzes?) if they can find them, sure. But not an Anthony Martial, an Alexis Sanchez or a Sergio Aguero. An oft-voiced sentiment since the final whistle blew at Carrow Road is that folk can suddenly not wait for the season to end. Me, I’m apprehensive. If Troy’s still with us at the end of August I’ll be absolutely delighted but you have to be concerned. Was this performance just another example of his indefatigable bloody-mindedness? Or is he determined to go out on a high?

Yooorns.

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Comments»

1. Simoninoz - 12/05/2016

Good on you for going to Norwich midweek, Matt. I think I must have clocked off along with the players (except Super Troy) as I did not only fail to get up at 4.45am to watch but also forgot to record it. Can I be the first of many to thank you and ig for your magnificent reports this year, and also note the impressive lack of trolls from your blog; everyone is civilised whatever the situation. And if, after the somewhat disappointing last 4 months, there are any negative trolls reading this I would like to introduce them to four words: Blackpool: Portsmouth: Aston Villa.

Matt Rowson - 12/05/2016

We get a few trolls, but only a few. And they don’t make it past our bullshit filter.

Matt Rowson - 12/05/2016

…and thanks!

2. Adam Segal - 12/05/2016

Great report Matt and sums up how I personally feel! Being in the States I have been lucky enough to see every game live this season through NBC. This was a first and is really quite amazing considering this would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. However, the alarming decline in the team’s fortunes has been hard to stomach. Last night the BBC said we were a joke; that hurts. I doubt the players concerned are too fussed because what I’m really stating to notice is a distinct lack of togetherness. This maybe down to Flores strange decisions these past few months which may have alienated players (also his impending departure), especially when he seems to play favourites with Jurado and now Suarez, when both have been relatively poor, but there is little evidence of team spirit other than Troy and perhaps Ben Watson. The defense was a shambles last night, Britos has been woeful of late and yet Prodl (or Ake) can’t get a look in. I for one will not be that sorry when Flores leaves this summer, my hope is that with the impending signings from Granada and a new head coach, we can become motivated again to push on from this season. if not we will almost certainly be facing a very unwelcome relegation battle. I trust in the Pozzo’s but it’s a rotten way to end what ultimately has been a very positive season overall.

Cheers
Adam
Florida ‘orns

ps. a big thank you to you and ig for all your blogs, this seaosn. They really are a joy to read.

3. Jamie Parkins - 12/05/2016

Good read and echo the thoughts – thanks for all the effort in publishing these this season. I thought the quality of national print write ups in the Premiership would cover stuff, but time after time I’ve enjoyed turning to the real fan’s eye view. So thanks Matt & Ig.

Re: Deeney – I share the same concern. I can’t see anyone overseas wanting him and the list here is probably reduced to Leicester, West Ham (although I think their post Carrol future is in a more delicate style….the West Ham way you might say (groan)) or Southampton. I think Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal et al will sniffly look at him and instead spunk millions on someone overseas that is better at back heels.

Regardless, if he does leave, we’ve little to feel bad about. Great ROI on £500k from Walsall, all those goals and the chance to see someone develop so magnificently both on and off the field. It’s been a delight the last 4 seasons watching this strange looking chunk of a player morph from stranded right winger to talisman.

Matt Rowson - 12/05/2016

No, absolutely. Nothing to resent his decision for. Just… hope it’s not the one he makes.

4. Stuart Campbell - 12/05/2016

Hats off, Mr Rowson. Your unexpected and welcome report was as excellent and perceptive as always. Going to Norwich was a great effort specially as it’s a city that, wherever you start from in the country, is always farther away than you thought.
The troll-free point by Simoninoz is very well made, too. The WO site is quite simply an abhorrence these days.
As for big Troy… He may not be this season’s player of the season but he is, by far, the most important player in the team. One can only hope that senior management understand this and make it clear to him that, whatever head coach is in charge next season, and however many new players arrive, the next phase of our Premier League team will be built around him.

5. Goldenboy60 - 12/05/2016

I feel we are about to enter into a new chapter of our football club. Its always hard to see a ‘favourite’ leave the club, and especially such a talisman as Troy. There may or may not be suitors, but Troy deserves the chance to play at the very top level if he wishes. He has been magnificent, and whilst it would be sad, there is always the next Luther, John Barnes, and Troy waiting to come through.

I enjoyed the game last night as it was so open. We got a bit of a battering, but we also had chances and to be honest it could have finished 9-7. The back 4 was all over the place, but have to say Cathcart was so unlucky with that deflection as he was trying to block the cross. Now looking for the players to deliver on Sunday. A nice win to finish on 47 points and possibly 11th place would be a marvellous achievement.

JohnM - 12/05/2016

I have to admire your determination to find diamonds in the compost heap. I was there, too. Remove Deeney, Watson ,Gomes and, to a lesser extent Ighalo and the rest were truly awful without any mitigation. What made it worse was the knowledge that, when the almost unchanged team was announced, I knew a trouncing was coming. I admire your optimistic perception of Sunday fare, too. This has the feeling of Beppe Sanninos end of season

JohnM - 12/05/2016

Sorry, should add, upon reflection, that Anya did, at least, try.

Goldenboy60 - 13/05/2016

For the first time we were defensively poor, and Norwich played between us too easily and got into great scoring positions. Going forward I thought wee were ok and Ighalo did have his best game for some time. I always thought it would be a difficult game with them hanging on to their last chance saloon, so the result came as no surprise to me. But I did enjoy the game, even though our defending wasn’t what it has been.

6. Lincoln Hornet - 12/05/2016

Great read as always, I always used to look at the Observer but don’t even give it the time of day now due to the rubbish that so many people choose to put on.
I must say that I completely agree with all of your comments re: Troy, last nights performance etc. but what does everyone think if QSF is actually still with us come the start of next season, who knows it could easily be the case as it looks as though nothing is set in stone just yet.
This season has just gone so completely flat that it is difficult to imagine him in charge but you still have to give him credit for what he has achieved. I for one have been inclined to stick with him but my patience and it seems many others is wearing decidedly thin understandably with the same team selection, tactics etc.
Fair play to you for travelling to Norwich and being witness to what we all probably feared would happen, I can only see a similar result on Sunday but like a fool I have a ticket. When I decided to attend it was because I like to make sure I am at any historic game in the history of the club and this of course is one of them, first time we have maintained our Premiership status.
When getting tickets I also thought I would like to be there if it’s QSF’S last game in charge as it wasn’t that long ago every single one of us was singing his name. Strange how things change!
Keep up the good work for us all and let’s hope for one out of the blue high tempo performance from the lads to finish off what should have been a really great season, Something similar to Manure away where we lost but definitely didn’t deserve to would do me, at least we looked as though we cared.

P.S Does Troy have a cat because it must have had some bruises lately.

7. NickB - 12/05/2016

If I may be so bold, Matt, I think that heartfelt post is your best effort since the heady days of 99 (we still dig those reports out occasionally and wallow in the dramatic prose).
What an odd season. Must admit to being sorely tempted to miss Sunday, but the above makes me think I should make the effort, in case it proves to be the swansong of the extraordinary Mr. D.

8. Andy Castle - 12/05/2016

I can only add to the appreciation of the other posters by saying a big thanks to you Matt and ig for the balanced and good humoured summaries this season. The contributions on other sites, particularly the WO, have been pretty depressing, so thanks for providing a high benchmark for how a fan based blog should be. I doubt the others will ever achieve your heights!

9. PaulV - 12/05/2016

Having seen Troys first performance in yellow at Carrow Rd, albeit a short cameo, what a leader he has become.

Last night was a truly appalling spectacle, and for me, only he, Ben Watson, in part Anya showed desire and intent, although to be fair Ighalo got some passes in (and a goal) so that was to be applauded in the context of some of his recent performances.

To see TD belligerent with everyone around him for poor play illustrated to me how, he like us as fans, feels let down by a lack of application around him. We lose him and we lose our heartbeat…..simples.

This has been said plenty of times recently but Flores playing square pegs in round holes hardly helps to develop a cohesive unit. Shouldn’t he know his best team by now ?

Lovely sunset though wasn’t it !!

10. JP - 13/05/2016

I can only concur with everyone’s comments. Bhappy is an oasis of calm against the reactionary drivel posted on another site.
Not being at Norwich I don’t feel qualified to comment. It’s just a shame that the achievements of the season are being overshadowed by its shambolic end. No one is coming out of this very well.
I do feel a little more upbeat about Troy Deeney. He is less than half way through a long contract and thus would command a large fee. Even more so on the domestic market with all the extra Sky money. Should he try to engineer a move then the Pozzo’s are as likely to let him sulk in the reserves than let him go on the cheap. Anyway he comes across as bigger than that. More likely Ighalo will leave. In a yellow shirt at least, I think we have seen the best of him. The Vydra situation will be interesting. I think he has the talent but does he have the attitude? A new man maybe what he needs, jury’s out there.
Whatever the future holds I’m sure that the make up and style of the team that plays next September will be as different from the 2015 version as that was from 2014.
I look forward to the end of season player reviews eagerly. If I may quote you gentlemen “Bring it on”

11. Old Git - 13/05/2016

Having had half my guts removed last week (OK, slight exaggeration but enough to make a difference) and being now held together with staples, I have already failed the fitness test for Saturday’s QSF swansong and I’m truly sorry not to be able to wave him off on what will surely be an emotional farewell.
But I also feel a sense of relief. I was shocked at the gutless (pardon the pun) display at Wembley and seeing the same tired selections repeated again and again I can only assume that QSF lost interest at that time. Why else refuse to experiment with those players who, in their brief cameos, have shown that they want to make things happen? Why persist with the ineffective Jurado and the lame Suarez, whose presence weakens the team? Ben Watson and Troy looked absolutely gutted (again, pardon the pun) at the final whistle at Wembley, their ambitions blown away with a shrug of indifference.
I see my surgery as a symbol of the end of QSF’s reign…painful but necessary. My surgeon says I’ll be back to full fitness before the summer is out. Let’s hope that applies to WFC as well.

12. tonyfirasse - 14/05/2016

Thank you as ever, Matt, for yet another thoughtful, evocative match report for us hornets fans in exile. We feel as if we were there with you.
Imagine if the season’s halves had been reversed 29 points in the final 19 games as against 15 points or so in first half, what a different scenario we would be facing.
As the old saying goes “If ifs and and and were pots and pans, there’d be no trade for tinkers” not many tinkers in WD18 and even the man who used to tinker now seems to place value on a settled squad with an indomitable team spirit.
The Pozzo process goes on, with a new Head Coach to mould July’s raw material assembled at London Colney into a top 10 Premier League outfit, we trust. We are not comparing ourselves to Leicester or aiming to do a Southampton or Stoke, even a Swansea. Some continuity would be appreciated, even some of the Championship stalwarts are still doing the business.
It will be fascinating to see what legacy QSF left behind and how the next coach raises the standard from ‘getting promoted’, ‘not being relegated’ to ‘established top ten Premier League side with enhanced stadium and world class training facilities’.
Such aspirations would have been a pretentious dream right out of Alice in Wonderland not that long ago …

13. Martin G - 15/05/2016

Some more great reports this season from you and Ig Matt. Thanks. Always entertaining and considered.
Since Christmas, Arsenal in the cup & Palace away apart, the games have been very predictable ( and pretty boring ) it’s a mystery why QSF just kept repeating much the same misfiring line up. I was a big fan at first, and he did keep us up, but the Pozzos have a very good track record so I think the decision made was required. Quinque will get a good send off today I am sure. Onwards and upwards.


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