By Andrew Lawn
Gary Neville was asked the other week what he had learnt from his 6 months in charge of Valencia.
His response, once Jamie Carragher had stopped sniggering and gleefully made himself comfortable, propping his feet up on the desk in front of him and lighting an imaginary cigar, was surprising. At least to me.
Neville left unmentioned how to deal with the threat of Messi, Suarez and Neymar one week and Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema the next, the constant pressure to win, the language barrier or even getting players to perform to their maximum. Instead he said;
“You learn a lot about decision making. The responsibility that there seems to be a problem every day. It appears from somewhere, an injury, or a problem with a player, or something in the crowd, whatever it might be. I learned a lot about being a Head Coach. I’ve been a coach for 3 years with England so I knew some of the decision making process, but being a Head Coach is different”.
The point is this. Lots of us would do an OK job on a Saturday.
A fair proportion, although it often doesn’t sound like it, can understand the game in front of them and see what is working and what isn’t. I would harbour that comfortably over 50% of you reading this could see why Alex Neil brought Mulumbu on for Jerome, as Sheffield Wednesday had us pinned back at 0-0 in the opening game.
Whether or not you would have done the same thing in his position is a moot point; you saw the problem and you understood the solution. You will also have recognised in hindsight that it was the right decision. As Paul Lambert constantly used to say; “If you can’t win the game, make sure you don’t lose it”.
It’s a job I would love to do.
It’s a job I have done many times before, in my pants, on Football Manager.
But it’s not a job I could do.
I could not deal with the rest of that shit. I couldn’t put up with Martin Olsson being consistently late to everything. I couldn’t deal with Kyle Lafferty marching into my office, clutching his latest betting slip, to ask why 0 top-flight goals should earn him a start. I couldn’t deal with pronouncing Tony Andreu’s name or remembering what he looks like. I certainly couldn’t deal with people who don’t have any inside knowledge of either club finances or the transfer market questioning why we don’t chuck another million in and get a deal done.
In short, I couldn’t do Alex Neil’s job.
Following our distinctly underwhelming 3-0 defeat at Birmingham on Saturday, Alex Neil and the decisions he has made have come under increased scrutiny.
Predictably his decision to start with Naismith up front instead of the aforementioned Mr Kyle, caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth, which seemed to stem from a belief that it was better to have someone who is arbitrarily labelled as a striker up front, than a man with a much better goalscoring record.
Being spanked 3-0 did Neil’s cause no good of course, but the reasoning behind the decision is still clear; we went to Blackburn, played expansive one-touch football and ripped them apart. Same again please.
In hindsight that didn’t work of course, but as Alex Neil himself pointed out after the game, bringing Kyle on didn’t help either.
The point of all this is that Alex Neil makes mistakes and he has been the first to admit that in the past. But Alex Neil also learns from his mistakes. Stubborn or thoughtless are not labels you can apply to someone who has shown himself to be a man who analyses everything before making reasoned and reasonable decisions.
Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but as time goes on experience will allow him to make the right decision more often than not.
Not only that, but as Gary Neville’s remarks alluded to, there is much more to being a manager than just writing down your XI best players names and telling them to do their best.
Not only is Alex Neil making thousands of decisions all week, he is making those decisions with much better information than we have as fans, considering them against much more experience than we have and working with a team around him who add even more to that mix.
He’s not sat in his pants with the Bake Off on in the background and filtering his squad by “strikers” and then picking the one name that appears with one finger and his nose with the other.
8 points from 5 games for a relegated side is a reasonable start. It’s not perfect sure, but it’s not worthy of the meltdown City fans underwent Saturday evening.
We won’t win every week, but with Alex Neil in charge we will win more often than we lose and we aren’t likely to make the same mistakes twice.
Never mind the danger.
Jim Vanderpump takes a comedic look into the Norwich City squad from 1998. We'll let you decide if there's any truth to the tales. (hint - there definitely isn't)
“How comes you’re wearing a Rasta hat with fake dreadlocks coming out the sides?” asks Darren Eadie.
“It’s a disguise int it,” I tell the dim-witted tyke. “I’m a famous footballer; Alex Ferguson once described me as the best man-marker in England. I can’t just walk the streets of Norwich looking like meself, it’d cause a riot.”
“So why is your stage-name DJ Flem-boyant?” chips-in Keith O’Neil, the cheeky beggar.
“Listen, I’m not going to discuss the nuances of my whole performance paradigm wi’ the likes-a you. Now gimme a hand setting up me decks, will yer, and watch the Wailers vinyls, they’re worth a Bob or two.”
These two numpties are s’posed to be ’elping us set up the stage, ready for the show, but they’re about as much use as a flamin’ library in Great Yarmouth.
Ey-up, let me explain what’s occurring. About three week back I wor up at Colney having a shower on me todd (well, on all the parts of me body actually). We ant had training, I just always use the showers there to save money ont lecky at home. I was washing the last of Iwan Roberts’ conditioner out me eyes (I’ve tried ’em all but his is the best) when I heard a commotion coming from t’ changing room. It wor someone speaking, but not in the conventional sense. They wor speaking dead quick-like, and the last word of each sentence rhymed with the last word of the sentence before. Some of you may recognise this pattern of speech as ‘rapping’. I just knew it as talking like a soft beggar, but there we are.
Gently, I turned off the tap, picked up Darryl Sutch’s towel (I’ve tried ’em all but his is the softest) and tiptoed around t’ wall, to take a peek at this siren who had disturbed me free shower. Well, when I saw who it wor I wor reet flummoxed. Standing in front of mirror, a baseball cap on his head, all wonky-like, big gold chain around his neck, wor Adrian Coote. Aye, that’s right, the shy kid who wunt say boo to a goose. Well, the words were flowin’ from him now alright, he wor coming out wi’ all sorts-a tripe:
“They call me MC Rain cos I like to soak bitches,
Any fools from Ipswich gonna end up getting stiches.”
And so on.
Fook me, I thought, this kid’s onto summat ’ere.
I’m a proud Yorkshireman, see, born and bred, but my spiritual homeland has always been ont other side of t’ Atlantic, on a little island called Jamaica. I’d been doing my Reggae DJ-ing around town ever since I moved down from t’up North, but I had to admit that there wern’t much of an appetite for the genre down here. Slow-paced, jarring, occasionally misogynistic and homophobic; no, the people of Norwich weren’t really forward thinking enough for Reggae. But Reggae fused with rap? Now that had potential.
“Adrian,” I interrupted.
The lad spun around from t’ mirror, a look of horror that someone had caught him int act etched across his face, in black smudges. No, he just had black smudges on his face, and all over his polo shirt too. The oversized chain around his neck must-a been off of his BMX and the oil had made a reet mess of ’im.
“Mr Fleming,” he stammered. Bit of respect, see- I like that. The kid wor perfect.
Long story short, I convinced him that wi’ my help he could make it all the way to t’ top of t’it parade. After some mild flattery, medium bribery and heavily implied threats of violence against members of his family, he agreed and DJ Flem-Boyant became official partners with MC Rain, forming the best double-act since curry met goat.
I had to set him straight on a few things first, mind. His lyrics for one thing.
“Adrian,” I said. “Nobody wants to hear about driving fast cars and having sex wi’ beautiful women, it’s just not realistic. As for spending a shed-load-a money- eeee, it makes me shudder just thinking about it.”
He took it on-board and from then on started focusing on what ordinary Norfolk folk could relate to: how difficult it wor finding a decent parking spot at Pleasurewood Hills, how long it takes to walk to t’ sea at Holkham beach, hole bleedin’ 7 at Eaton Park pitch ‘n’ putt, the usual sort-a stuff.
We used Neil Adams’ garage as a rehearsal studio, to save money ont lecky. Neil din’t know owt about it, but I’d borrowed his car so the garage was just lying there empty, any-road. We’d freestyle to start wi’, I’d put on an instrumental of Junior Murvin, or summat, speed it up until Adrian- soz, MC Rain- found ’is rhythm, then he’d ‘drop it like it wor a hotcake’ (start rappin’ n that).
Our first 3 gigs were intimate dos but went down a storm non-the-less. That’s not to say we din’t encounter some resistance. People are bound to be scared of change (I know I am, apart from loose change; got jars-a the stuff), especially when you’re creating an ’ole new genre of music. I call it ‘Rap-Gae’, but Adrian’s not so sure.
“It sounds like ‘Rap’s Gay’,” he said, his mouth smiling, but in that upside-down way that he does.
“Well, Rap is gay,” I told him triumphantly. “Doesn’t it make you feel happy and gay inside?”
“I prefer ‘Reg-Rap’,” he said quickly before I could talk again.
Well, we’ll let the music moguls down at… Funky FM, or whatever it might be called, decide.
Any road, whatever its name the kids down at the bandstand in Heigham Park loved it. Even the crying ones were smiling before the sweary bit in the uptempo ‘See You in Hellesdon’.
Notcutts Garden Centre was a challenge, I’ll admit, security’s tight over there nowadays, but we got a good track and a half in before I was dragged off-stage (two upturned wheelbarrows) by the fake dreads. Ruddy fascists, dunno what their problem was, the patrons were loving it. The old lady with the hydrangeas couldn’t get enough of Adrian’s verse about mekking cups of tea in ‘Plantain at the Post Office’ (set to Barrington Levy’s ‘Wedding Ring Aside’:
“Leave the tea-bag in for 30 seconds, mother-f*cker,
Don’t be a damn fool, add the milk after the zucker, (‘Zucker’ is German for ‘sugar’. You see, educational as well this ‘rapping’ lark.)
Don’t offer me no earl grey, Mamma didn’t raise me that way…
This is DJ Flem-boyant and MC Rain introducing you to ‘Reg-Rap’.”
“Rap-Gae!” I corrected him, from beneath the armpit of a security guard.
So now here we are, our biggest show to date, in front of t’ other Norwich lads, int pool room at Colney. MC Rain’s int zone, pacing up and down on the stage that Michael Watt’s made out of old book cases for us. We’ve lined out rows and rows of chairs, invited all the staff, including the gaffer and his coaching team. I’m bouncing around behind the decks, itching for the thumbs-up from Jacko, who’s doing the lights from the main door. I’ve got the vinyl (‘Sweet and Dandy’, Toots and the Maytals) all cued up and ready to rock!
Adrian’s nervous, of course he is, but he soon gets into it and really comes into his own during the second verse of ‘Megazone Playa’. Then when I drop the needle on ‘Pass the Dutchie’ there’s no stoppin’ ’im:
“They call me MC Rain and I’m about to get torrential,
Norwich City council need to build more residential,
Housing, for the growing migrant population,
And while you’re at it build another platform at the station.”
We finish big, me fading up to full blast then cutting the music altogether, allowing him to deliver his knockout couplet about unloading the dishwasher in an order based upon which cupboards you’re going to put the contents away in, acapella-style. The room falls into an awestruck silence, and someone coughing over by the dart-board.
After a few seconds, once the lads have pieced their blown minds back together, they smother us wi’ praise.
“Yeah, it’s alright that,” says little Che Wilson from t’ front row.
“I like the bike chain around his neck,” beams baby Darren Kenton.
“Have you been using my conditioner?” asks Iwan Roberts.
Aye, it’s all very positive feedback. Even Neil Adams doesn’t mention the flat battery on ’is car.
“Fleming,” yells the gaffer as he’s filing past us on his way out. “You’re dropped for Saturday.” His glasses’ve all steamed up and the vein in his temple has popped out, like a caterpillar doing sit-ups. “And Coote,” he says, turning to Adrian. “You weren’t gonna be playing anyway, but you’re dropped as well.” He exits, shaking his head and muttering under his breath.
“Don’t worry, lad,” I tell Adrian. “He only listens to UK Garage.”
By Jon Punt
The very nature of football fans is to be fickle, its in our DNA.
Cast a glance over to North London only yesterday and it wouldn’t take you long to find a mouthy Arsenal supporter bemoaning the club’s lack of spending, questioning the ambition of the board and the future of Arsene Wenger. Fast forward 24 hours and the imminent arrivals of Shkodran Mustafi, Lucas Perez along with a possible centre back and its all rosy again.
The dizzy world of football revolves quicker than most.
Over in Manchester Raheem Sterling’s suddenly a good player again, after his horror show of a tournament this summer. It makes you think Sebastian Bassong is only a couple of decent performances away from being crowned King of the Carra.
Now this kind of capricious behaviour is not exclusive to London or Manchester, in fact it’s rife in the fine city of Norwich.
On the back of his performances at the back end of last season Ivo Pinto is being touted as the next Cafu in some quarters of NR1. A fine player he may well be, but he’s shown glimpses of defensive fragility which may be targeted by canny managers down the line. Out muscled for Stokes’ consolation goal at Ewood Park and Kodija turning him inside out then hitting the post moments before Howson’s winner against Bristol City leave question marks. The jury is still out for me, but I’m relatively confident he’ll come good.
Conversely Steven Naismith is the new favourite social media scapegoat, and this only after a couple of average displays this season (I’m abundantly aware he was far from great during last term, but fitness may have played it’s part in that.)
So lets rewind to August 6th. We’d comprehensively taken apart what now looks like a Blackburn side who will battle for relegation. A free flowing and expansive style of play was employed by the Canaries, with the plaudits deservedly received by Naismith and Hoolahan for their ability to link the play, create chances and make us tick. Some even started talking of 100 points and 100 goals with the two experienced campaigners at the heart of things. Yet just 3 weeks later and the Scottish international should be consigned to the bench, or the North East, dependant on how fervently you feel about the situation. I get it, an £8 million outlay for a club of Norwich’s size needs to yield better results, but you’d hope they’re down the line.
Similarly Jacob Murphy started that match and showed signs of the promise we’ve all become accustomed to hearing. His pace was clearly well suited to play alongside the respective guile and artistry of Naismith and Wes. Suddenly the Murphy twins were to be integral to our Championship promotion hopes, filling the void left by Nathan Redmond. Finally the Academy production line was starting to bear fruit.
Then his sibling Josh puts in a couple of less confident outings and they’re not ready yet. Shall we all make our minds up?
Even the style of play is up for derision. Let’s not forget Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday did very well against us tactically. They nullified much of Norwich’s identity, the fact that we like to move the ball quickly with intricate precision won’t be lost on most Championship managers and we’re going to have to get used to teams trying to combat that. But that doesn’t mean we should lose patience and start questioning the ethos of the club.
Now I’m as guilty of doing this as the next man. It’s very easy to become drawn in to forming conclusions based on the microcosm of a couple of games. We’ll all form snap judgements which will be proven to be wrong at some point in our time following football and we’d do well to remember that.
Patience is the key. Finally, having broken off the shackles of previous regimes, Alex Neil is starting to overhaul the squad in a considered manner. Now is his time to be ultimately judged, based on the side he moulds in his own image.
Quality is being added where we can, the signing of Alex Pritchard for a reported £9 million fee underlines that. Planning for the future is in place with the likes of Maddison, Canos and Godfrey all suggesting they have bright futures based on their fledgling club careers before joining the club.
The only issue is progression can take time, and this is a luxury we can ill afford with parachute payments in place for only this season and next. Thus far, the fact we’re unbeaten, have some defensive resolve and have picked up results when not playing at optimum levels bodes well.
The manager has to find a balance between being competitive at the top end of the league while making long term changes which will benefit the club. I for one think he deserves our trust while he tries to do that.
In the words of a formerly chubby northern singer song writer, “Just have a little….patience”
Follow Jon on Twitter @puntino
By Andrew Lawn
Nelson Oliveira, the deal is almost done and most people are underwhelmed. It seems 26 goals in 143 games (1 every 5 and a half games), doesn't buy you a lot of love in a Norwich fanbase desperate for a striker.
Critics will point to the fact the 6ft 1 Portugal international has had a new club every season, or that he failed to hit the net much at all in the Premier League during his 10 appearances for Swansea back in 2015.
Interesting side note; he has more Premier League goals than Kyle Lafferty.
More recently Oliveira has been plying his trade in the Championship, where he spent last season on loan at Nottingham Forest. On paper 9 goals in 28 games (1 in 3) looks underwhelming, but, and there is a big but, Forest fans seem to love him.
A winning goal against Derby helps of course but the consensus seems to be that Oliveira succeeded even in a team that floundered around the bottom half all season and struggled to create chances, let alone tuck them away.
We spoke to Forest fan David Marples for his take on Norfolk's newest Nelson;
"Banging in what turns out to be the winning goal against your local rivals provides the kind of currency that can get you things should you ever be unfortunate to find yourself behind bars. If the aforementioned winning goal skims in off Richard Keogh's arse then you are king of the penitentiary.
9 goals in 28 appearances in a goal-starved team which produced a set of results for the 2015-16 season that resembled an elongated set of binary code was no small feat. Furthermore, Oliveira was often asked to play the role of the lone target man in a team set up to reduce concessions at the back and maybe, possibly, if we were lucky, nick a goal at the other end...preferably a late one.
Lord Nelson - remember, winning goal against Derby - treads the line between looking outrageously talented one minute yet having sausages for feet the next; sometimes all in one beautifully clumsy moment. He'll run around a lot early doors in a game; less so towards the end. He is not blessed with pace. He is prone to sustained bouts of glove-wearing.
His absence for the tail end of last season through a groin injury laid bare the team's struggles in front of goal. Indeed, after he limped of having scored what turned out to be the winner in a 1-0 victory over Preston on 8th March, Forest suffered a horrendous run: chalking up only a point from their next 8 games and scoring only 4 goals. With Britt Assombalonga out for the season, he was pretty much our only realistic goal threat. Besides, even when he was provided with a strike partner, that man was usually Chris O'Grady so, you know, you can only work with what you've got.
There is a hugely talented player lurking within Oliveira's frame. His gait and style doesn't' do him any favours - he often looks knackered - but in a more attack-minded team, he'll score goals. His propensity to bang shots into the stands from distance despite there being other, better options will drive you up the wall. But when he gets it right - like he did on his debut against QPR - it's a sight to behold.
In short, he's not John Deehan but he's probably better than Cameron Jerome. "
David writes for Bandy and Shinty, a Nottingham Forest quarterly fanzine. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidMarples
James Chaplin official signing rating
Nélson Oliveira. A Portuguese international who made several appearances for his country as a 21 year old in Euro 2012, Oliveira has been somewhat of a journeyman in his club career. Now aged 25, City will be his eighth senior club after the Benfica man has had multiple loans away from Estádio da Luz and I have to question why he hasn't settled anywhere.
At 6'1" and broad-shouldered, Oliveira is a powerful, aggressive player and his performances for Forest last season suggest he is a decent all round striker with a good workrate and an eye for goal. Will provide some much needed competition for Cameron Jerome.
If the rumoured price tag of £5m is in the right ballpark, he will be good value for money. 72 footballs.
By Ben Davey
I have to admit it, at 6:45pm yesterday evening I wasn’t planning on gracing Carrow Rd with my presence on what appeared on paper to be yet another one of those ‘the competition now known as the EFL’ Cup banana skins.
However, a glance at Twitter and the announcement of the teams increased my intrigue, so I made a last minute decision to make the short trip down to the stadium and have a look at what a team made up of largely fringe players and potential outcasts could deliver.
Fortunately the queues around Carrow Rd I had feared after the announcement of a certain Northern Irish Messiah in the team did not materialise, meaning that I comfortably made it into the lower Barclay just in time for kick-off.
On an initial viewing of the line-up, the youthfulness of our line up was possibly the first thing that struck me, however the starting XI had over 2,200 league appearances between them, plus another 123 full international appearances.
Now granted the back five consisted of four players over 30 which clearly helped with the experience. However, the recent policy of recruiting young players from other clubs who have already tasted first team football, i.e. Canos (38 appearances in the Championship last season), Maddison (35 appearances for Cov) and Louis Thompson (90 appearances for Swindon) coupled with sending out our best youngsters on loan (Jacob Murphy, 77 appearances, Toffolo 42 appearances) quickly proved its worth. As the first half progressed we saw a team full of confident players, clearly intent on impressing the manager and staking their claim for more regular first team involvement.
Maddison and Canos were certainly the stand out players, the Spaniard in particular looks to have cemented his place in the first team squad with two excellently taken goals and an assist. It was also pleasing that approximately a minute before his first goal, he was in an almost identical position but chose a pass to an overlapping colleague who sadly was not on the same wavelength. Presented with a similar position just moments later, he backed himself and delivered.
Maddison looks so comfortable on the ball and his vision brings other players into play. We really are fortunate to have the quality of Wes and Naismith who currently operate in a similar position but if they were watching last night they will be in no doubt that they will have to remain on top of their game.
Louis Thompson certainly grew into the match, he was harshly booked in the first half but did not let that stop him from getting stuck in and providing a solid base in the heart of the midfield.
Much has been written about Mr Lafferty, on last night’s performance I think that he is worthy of being in the 18, he took his goal very well and played one or two nice passes, linking up play well. I was also impressed with how he conducted the lower Barclay to make themselves a nuisance for the Coventry penalty. While the manager has challenged him to follow up that performance, I guess ultimately his NCFC future will be decided in the next 7 days.
There were other notable performances from Jacob and Josh, the former took his goal sublimely. Josh may have given Alex Neil another line of thought with the work he put in as the lone frontman in the last 15 minutes and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself.
Special mention must go to Ben Godfrey who unleashed an absolute thunderbastard on his debut and defended solidly in an unfamiliar Right-Back position. On the evidence of the 90 minutes the defence as a unit looked solid and will be more than good enough to step into first team duties as and when required.
Overall, while it is important not to get too carried away, what last night demonstrated was the depth of our squad should be something of envy to many of our Championship rivals. Granted there will be tougher tests ahead as the season progresses and injuries and suspensions start to bite but we should be confident that we have a group of hungry professionals, young and old who if given the chance are more than capable of stepping up when needed.
Keeping them all happy is another matter…
Follow Ben on Twitter @BenDavey79
By Lee Payne
Norwich City have had eventful league campaigns over the last 8 years. In that time, they have been relegated 3 times and promoted 3 times.
What has remained consistent, though, is the club’s capacity for letting cup competitions pass them by.
In that same 8 year period, City were knocked out of cup competitions in their first game on 7 occasions.
They reached the quarter finals of the League Cup in 2012, the furthest they had been since 1995.
Our FA Cup record is particularly bleak – exits at the first attempt in 5 of the last 8 years, and no further than the fifth round since 1992. Are we, as fans, that bothered by our team’s ineptitude in knockout football? Or is there a real appetite for a cup run around here?
To get an idea, I did a poll on Twitter. Not particularly scientific, granted. There were 151 respondents, and of course I can’t guarantee they were all Norwich fans. Of those 151, however, 51% said City should approach the EFL Cup (what they are now calling the League Cup) in a way so as to get as far as possible. 27% said the club should concentrate on the league, while 22% said they didn’t care either way. So the majority want City to take the cup seriously and to try and go on a run.
When City fans made the pilgrimage from Norfolk to Wembley for the play-off final, I wonder how many of them thought that making it to the end-of-season promotion match was their best chance of seeing their team at the national stadium?
After all, we rarely threaten to get there in cup competitions. The play-off final was City’s first game at Wembley since 1985. We would have played there in 2002, of course, were the stadium not being rebuilt, but the closest we’ve come in a cup for 32 years has been the Southern Section semi-finals of the Football League Trophy in 2009.
I doubt you need reminding, but Norwich were leading against Southampton going into stoppage time, only for Papa Waigo N'Diaye to equalise for the Saints. With no extra time in that competition, the match went straight to penalties which City inevitably lost. Southampton beat the MK Dons over two legs in the area final and then thrashed Carlisle at Wembley to win the trophy.
Our best League Cup performance since winning it in 1985, the 2012 run to the quarter finals mentioned earlier, promised much but ended in collapse.
By the luck of the draw, all of City’s games in the cup that season were at Carrow Road. Having beaten Scunthorpe and Doncaster, they then impressively overcame Tottenham on Halloween. Just 16,000 fans were inside the ground, as many were protesting against high ticket prices, but those who were there saw Gareth Bale put Spurs in front in the second half, only for City to score twice in the final ten minutes to go through.
On an astonishingly freezing cold night in December, we took the lead in our quarter final against Aston Villa but went on to lose 4-1. Villa would be knocked out by Bradford in the semis, and Swansea would beat the Bantams in the final. It really could have been our year.
It’s only from researching for this article that I have realised just how rubbish Norwich have been in the FA Cup.
We all hear about the famous 1959 run to the semi-finals, but we’ve reached that stage twice since then without ever making the final. Pat Nevin scored the only goal in a 1-0 defeat to Everton at Villa Park in 1989, when the game was somewhat overshadowed by the awful events going on in the other semi-final at Hillsborough.
In 1992, City lost 1-0 again, this time to Sunderland, who were in the Second Division at the time. Since then we’ve been as far as the 5th round four times in 24 years. It really is a sorry tale. If we manage to get past our first game this season it will be the first time since 2013.
I had hoped to provide some answers as to why Norwich as so poor when it comes to a knockout scenario. But I can’t. It just seems to be a fact of life when you follow the yellow and green. It’s very ‘along come Norwich’. More often than not, if it’s an early round of a cup and they are up against lower league opposition, along come Norwich to meekly exit with little more than a whimper.
For some reason, we don’t have it in us to be a Reading or a Sheffield United, who have a knack of getting far in the cups.
We can always hope that this year might just be different. This might be the year that we go on a proper run, toppling the giants of English football as we head to Wembley once again. We can always hope. And it’s the hope that kills you.
By Stephen Curnow
Now the hullabaloo of the local derby is dissipating, Alex Neil will be back behind his desk today facing one of the familiar dilemmas for managers in the modern game, that of deciding how much to risk in a cup game during a season which will be ultimately judged on league position alone. In all probability, when Coventry City come to Carrow Road on Tuesday, Neil will go down the usual route of fielding a team largely made up of second-string players who could do with a run out, some promising academy prospects and maybe someone who needs some game time post-injury. The match itself will probably be of only passing interest to him and will pale into even more insignificance once our next league fixture comes around.
Iain Dowie dealt us a spectacularly uninspiring hand, drawing us against a lower-league team that we friendlied against just a few weeks ago, attaching an element of repetitiveness to the mundanity that comes as standard in the early rounds of what we now call the EFL Cup. The FA Cup continues to command a certain nostalgic esteem, a competition that teams that accidentally stumble through the opening rounds suddenly find an appetite for winning. But the League Cup, in its various guises, seems to be a perpetual irritant to everyone other than the eventual winner.
Clearly, this is partly due to the exacerbation of Premier League riches meaning that clubs are ever more compelled to prioritise their league position at all costs. The brutal reality being that 17th in the Premier League can represent a greater tangible success than picking up a trophy on a lush sunny day at Wembley. However, another lesser recognised factor in the ostracisation of the EFL Cup has been the gradual removal of the underclass of competitions that once saved it from being the runt of the litter.
English football has a longstanding appetite for expanding into other competitions, a road fraught with resistance and invariably destined for failure. Along this road we find the carcasses of Texaco, Simod, Zenith Data Systems and Screen Sport, presumably accompanied by the careers of their respective marketing directors. City’s fair-to-middling status in the hierarchy of English football has meant our various fluctuations have enabled us to do some time in many of these arenas.
The first time we fell into this competitive quicksand was during our Texaco Cup appearances in three consecutive seasons between 1972 and 1975. This competition attracted a ramshackle assortment of British sides, the only stipulation being they mustn’t have qualified for European competition, a forerunner to the Intertoto Cup we mercifully dodged, a pitiful consolation to losers worthy of a modern school sports day. So it suited us nicely in those days, City even qualifying once by finishing bottom of Division One with seven wins all season. Which must have been a trifle embarrassing. Our three seasons encompassed collector’s items such as trips to Dundee, Motherwell, St Johnstone and even more curiously, a two-legged defeat to Ipswich. Can’t have been that important then.
The real halcyon days for the pointless cup competition were undoubtedly the 1980’s, when English teams being banned from European competition meant managers were frantically padding out their diaries to the point where they could get back to complaining about fixture congestion again. Our Milk Cup win of 1985 (that’s a “major” by the way) was rewarded with us being spared the frying pan of the Full Members Cup and instead entering the fire into the Screen Sport Super Cup for 1986. We were grouped with the FA Cup holders, Manchester United (who were actually a bit rubbish at the time) and the reigning league champions Everton (who were actually very good.) It seems remarkable now that our starting eleven in our first game at Everton was exactly the same as in the previous league game against Hull.
Nevertheless, one win from four group games was a relatively half-arsed means to qualify for the semi-final. Having by then got the hang of picking a weakened team, we were beaten over two legs by Liverpool, with our centre-forward, one Paul Clayton, presumably not having the firepower to do the business at Anfield. The Mexico World Cup meant the competition had to be carried over until September of the following season, making it look rather like that one unwanted present left under the tree, but Liverpool eventually won the final against Everton in front of 20,000 at Anfield. That one of the few enduring memories of the competition was Ian Rush handing the trophy to a ball-boy probably tells you everything you need to know.
Our subsequent league mediocrity condemned us to the Full Members Cup for the following six seasons, generally featuring further mediocrity. This competition was intended to establish itself as a genuine fourth English domestic competition, but it was never more than an unwelcome imposter amongst the real three, a bit like that greasemonkey mechanic up there on the podium in Formula One.
Aside from an “Area Final” (not really a final at all, in case you were wondering) against Crystal Palace in 1991, and a semi-final (yes, an actual one) against Charlton in 1987, the competition gave us little joy. With hindsight, Ian Butterworth’s own goal that denied us a trip to Wembley in ‘87 looks like in a blessing in disguise, as our magical day out last year was partly born of the beautiful symmetry of it being exactly 30 years since our last trip there, and that we’d done Ipswich in the semis again. I don’t suppose that anyone would really have given it too much thought as Redderz rounded off those twenty-odd passes, but that particular something would have been lost from the back story if the likes of Mark Seagraves and David Hodgson had worn our colours at Wembley in the meantime. Fortunately, it wasn’t a risk for long, as the competition was discarded in 1992 once the successive sponsorships of Simod and Zenith Data Systems ran dry.
Our brief sojourn into League One in 2009-10 allowed us to duck our heads below the parapet of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, the erstwhile competition for the have-nots of the football league. Our first game in the competition saw Chris Martin and Goran Maric given the chance to stake a claim for more regular inclusion up front. Martin scored the winner and went on to get 23 that season. Maric got the hook after an hour and never played for the club again. A similar fate befell Jamie Cureton in the third round, as his winning penalty in the shoot-out at Swindon turned out to be his last kick of a ball in a yellow shirt, his decline from a promising teenager scoring with his first touch against Chelsea sadly complete. Having said that, he might have come in handy in the following round when we missed three times in a shoot-out defeat to Southampton. So that was the end of that.
However, in contrast to this assortment of banal curios to be filed under the “other appearances” column, the League Cup has been good to us, with two wins and three trips to Wembley. Let’s hope it is afforded due regard by our manager and team on Tuesday. Of course promotion is the name of the game, but there are evidently much worse competitions to try and win.
Follow Stephen on Twitter @thecurnster
By Jon Punt
So after all the nervousness, over confidence and genuine trepidation showed from a variety of fans on both sides of the border, midday on Sunday arrived, the now almost traditional kick off time for an East Anglian derby. It was what a lot of us expected, an anxious affair, sometimes played at a frenetic pace, at other times looking massively disjointed.
On reflection, its difficult to argue with the result. Ipswich did a better job of nullifying us than we did on imposing our strengths on a match which was devoid of quality for long periods. The home side certainly came out of the blocks quicker, lofting high balls towards Murphy and hoping for the best. Generally you’d be quite happy with this tactic employed against a central defensive pairing of Klose and Bennett, but both weren’t at their best for the opening exchanges.
Murphy caused a number of problems for the duo, often having the better of Klose in the air. He also did a capable job of bringing the lively Grant Ward into play, who was a constant threat for the out of sorts Robbie Brady. Without creating any real chances of note (aside from the disallowed goal) Town were in the ascendancy. That was until Norwich actually managed to string more than 5 passes together, and then the ball was in the back of their net. The first time we’d done anything of real note and Jerome was wheeling away in celebration after a fine placed finish.
Suddenly we started to tick, Mulumbu and Tettey had control in midfield, retaining possession became easier and Hoolahan was getting on the ball. The order of things had been restored in East Anglia. Then a sloppy period of defending cost us just before the interval. The ball made its way too easily into Murphy, multiple chances to close the ball down were ignored and McGovern was left with little chance after the ball came through a sea of bodies. Shit.
The second half came and went without anything really happening, Ipswich looking the better equipped to outmuscle us, yet when we got on the ball you felt they were vulnerable. But that was the issue, we didn’t get on the ball enough. Jerome was very often left isolated and when the ball was played into him he wasn’t anticipating its trajectory. The lack of alternative options is still a worry and you can only hope this properly addressed in the next 10 days. Otherwise we’ll do ok but won’t be challenging for the top 2 during this campaign.
In fairness Alex Neil tried to make things happen, but Canos and Murphy didn’t significantly impact a game which wasn’t becoming overly stretched – maybe they were the wrong picks. Had he been fit Dorrans would have been a more sensible option, given Norwich’s passing during the 90 minutes was pretty awful. But with no central midfielder on the bench and both Wes and Mulumbu tiring the manager was between a rock and a hard place.
There are plenty of positives to take. In my opinion we’ll play better and lose games, sadly for Ipswich they probably won’t play much better all term. We’re still unbeaten and have conceded 2 goals in 4 games, defensively we’ve had to reshuffle on a number of occasions yet we still look relatively solid at the back.
What we lack is that spark in the final third. There’s no fluidity to our play at times, yet we know we’re probably not far away from becoming a really strong attacking unit. With the plethora of options we have in attacking midfield positions it has to come good sooner or later. Get those striking berths sorted by the end of the month and we could be a real force.
Follow Jon on Twitter @puntino