View from the South – Norwich City v Birmingham City
I hadn’t been to a match in a while. We had been on the TV on a Friday night (never been a fan of Friday evening football as we usually don’t do well anyway) there had been international week of course which was as dull as dishwater; in fact it made dishwater look positively effervescent! Wedged in the middle was the closing day of the transfer window. What a stupid carry on that is! Why oh why – having had three months to negotiate and conclude deals – do Derby and Blues contrive to be too late in getting the paperwork in on time for the transfer of Maikel Kieftenbeld? On the subject of transfers, Birmingham City have of course been very busy acquiring no less than fourteen players and moving an equally impressive number out. We appear to have plundered three of Brentford’s best players and I can fully understand their resentment but they know that is how football is nowadays. We have had to take a fair amount of this unpleasant medicine ourselves in recent times and the losses of Nathan Redmond and Demarai Gray are particularly painful to recollect. Although we got some money for them it was nowhere near their potential value as has been shown if reports of bids from Premiership clubs during the window are to be believed. At least Brentford had some choice in selling their assets, for that is what players are in the final analysis, whereas we had to sell in order to keep the club solvent.
It promises to be a very different looking Birmingham City team taking the field in the coming weeks and like many I’m excited to see the fresh approach but I would add some words of caution here. The likelihood is that it is going to take time for the new players to get to know each other and our style of play. We have got off to a poor start only achieving a paltry four points from our first five games. Although it is early season and people say there is plenty of time, a team does need to to be in contention. They say you get an idea about how things will pan out about ten games in. I reckon we have to have amassed 14-15 points by then to be on the shoulder of the front runners. That means we have to win three out of the next five and get something out of the other two games; this is a tall order in this league regardless of who is in your squad. I am not wishing to pour cold water on the fevered expectations of the Bluenose nation but our players have a lot of ground to make up and many more slip ups in the bedding in period will leave Harry with too much ground to make up even at this early stage; with every defeat the statistics loom ever more ominously. Harry Redknapp maintains that we will make the top six provided he gets the players he wants so we’ll see eh?
The journey from Blackwater to Norwich is a lengthy one but at least it was a sunny morning and the walk down to the station was pleasant enough. I caught the train to London Paddington, which was packed to the rafters but at least it was a fast one and I was in London by 10.40. Unfortunately, the Circle Line was affected by engineering works and was closed despite the online information to the contrary. This meant a diversion on the Bakerloo Line via Oxford Circus where there were no hold ups and I got to Liverpool Street for my connection to Norwich in plenty of time for the 11.30 train. The journey was uneventful from there and I arrived in Norwich at 13.30 and went to a hotel bar on the bridge directly opposite where the home fans were drinking. I met a couple of Ipswich fans who had come along for a laugh but I told them if they were expecting us to provide entertainment they should have found some DIY!
There is an excellent hog roast kiosk just outside the ground and half a pig with sage and onion stuffing inside a soft bap with apple sauce went down a treat. As for the game, it was OK I suppose but in a bright start Blues went behind to a tap in at the far post from a cross that should have been prevented. It came about following an early corner for Norwich and resulted from Blues not clearing their lines effectively. Josh Murphy headed the ball back towards the bye line and from their a first time cross it was bundled in at the far post. Our faithful were screaming for offside but the cross came in along the floor six yards out so there was little margin for offside anyway and I’d have to see it again but I suspect the scorer, Nelson Oliveira, timed his run perfectly. It was a poor goal to concede and frankly, after that, we never looked like we were going to score and in truth they carved out at least another three chances throughout the game that they will feel they should have done better with. Oliveira should have added a second on 20 minutes when Tettey threaded a ball through to the front man down the left flank. The speedy forward got in ahead of Dean and cut inside before slotting past Stockdale and fortunately for us, the post.
Blues huffed and puffed and forced a corner from a deflected shot from Boga and the one time we did create some space and broke quickly Jota was hacked down at the expense of a booking for Tettey. This is where football could take a leaf out of rugby union’s book here. If there is an infringement that cynical which prevents a dangerous move by the opposition but is nevertheless not a clear goal scoring opportunity then the carded player should go off for ten or even fifteen minutes. Gallagher headed wide from one of a series of corners forced by Blues as they pressed for an equaliser and there was a shout for a penalty for Blues just before the halftime break when Colin went down to a challenge in the box but Mr Hooper immediately waved away the protests. Apart from the goal and the odd incident mentioned the players departed to the dressing room for a cuppa after an uneventful 45 minutes.
Norwich continued to work hard and press well preventing us from getting any rhythm or forward momentum in the second half. Blues had plenty of the ball but the possession was at the expense of sideways and backwards progress and I do not recall the home keeper having a single save to make apart from a tame free kick by Boga. When Norwich got the ball they broke quickly, were more direct and switched to their wide players to exploit the space down the flanks. Oliveira once again missed a good chance when his curling shot from the inside right position drifted just wide; he really should have scored. Harlee Dean cleared off the line for a corner following a scramble from a previous set piece. Blues had very little to shout about in truth. Jota curled a 25 yard free kick well over the bar and Jeremie Boga took the next one later in the half and although his was on target it was easy fielding practice for Angus Gunn in the home goal who could frankly have read the paper for most of this game.
In short, it is difficult to judge Blues at the moment. Blues made seven changes from the team defeated by Reading and six of those were making debuts. Blues didn’t play badly, in fact, they enjoyed nearly 60% of the possession, it was just that they did very little with it and failed to penetrate a stubborn, well-organised Norwich rearguard who defended well, pressed high and collectively and caused problems for us when they broke. They could easily have had three or four and there can be no complaints about the result; Norwich were the better side and deserved their victory.
The Good: The pork bap.
The Bad: The goal we conceded.
The Ugly: our prospects if we don’t start scoring. A repeat of this and we’ll lose again on Tuesday.
Norwich City: Angus Gunn 6, Marco Stiepermann 7, Timm Klose 7, Christoph Zimmerman 7, Ivo Pinto 7, Alexander Tettey 6, Tom Trybull 6, Mario Vrancic 7 (Yanic Wildschut 67, 6), James Maddison 6 (Grant Hanley 90 + 3, N/A), Josh Murphy 8 (James Husband 90, N/A), Nelson Oliveira 7.
Subs not used: Wes Hoolahan, Cameron Jerome, Michael McGovern, Harrison Reed.
Goals: Oliveira 5.
Yellow cards: Tettey 37.
Birmingham City: David Stockdale 7, Maxime Colin 7, Harlee Dean 7, Michael Morrison 7, Jonathan Grounds 7, Jose Ramallo 7, Jason Lowe 6 (Ndoye 78, 6), David Davis 8, Jeremie Boga 6, Sam Gallagher 6 (Jutkiewicz 78, 6), Liam Walsh 6 (Che Adams 57, 6).
Subs not used: Marc Roberts, Tomas Kusczcak,Craig Gardner, Jacques Maghoma.
Yellow cards: Colin 24, Walsh 36, Lowe 44, Dean 45 + 1, Davis 80.
Referee: Simon Hooper 5: A very average game by the officials I thought. The assistant on our side did not help by not keeping up with the play and missing a lot of obvious niggly fouls especially in the second half. A lot of people around me were convinced that Oliveira was offside when he netted from close range but as explained above I suspect it was the correct decision. Mr Hooper got very card happy in the first half and booked five of our players to a single Norwich player. These data do not reflect the reality of the game as it was physical but not a dirty match and there was a lack of consistency. There were at least three other Norwich infringements that could easily have been carded in the name of even handedness.