Red Tide Washes Over Canaries
After the fantastic season that we have had, the last thing we all wanted was to be seen to run out of steam at the end.
But, ladies and gentlemen that is exactly what seems to be happening. When I looked at the fixture list last summer I, along with the rest of you, thought that we would need to be safe by March due to our nasty run in.
Fortunately we have performed to such a high level that any let up is seen as poor.
The draw against Wigan prompted a bit of a moan but considering that was the start of a tremendous run by the Latics it doesn`t look such a bad result now.
My point being that we have been absolutely brilliant for three quarters of the season and that maybe we have punched above our weight but we have done so consistently.
The moment it slips a bit we have been punished and beaten.
Prior to this game against Liverpool, we hadn`t lost three in a row and due to the reds indifferent form I fancied us to get at least the point we needed to make us mathematically safe.
Five changes were made to the team beaten at Blackburn with a change of formation as well. Steve Morison made his first start for a while, alone up front ahead of a five man midfield. Holt, Surman, Hoolahan and Vaughan were all rested as well.
The first twenty odd minutes saw the game plan almost go to work. I saw Paul lambert throw his water bottle down in fury when it became apparent that Adam Drury had to be replaced with a groin injury after just 12 minutes, with speculation that Drury might not get a new contract (on Vital last week) I hope this isn`t the last we see of the great man. Russell Martin came on and Naughton switched to left back.
In the first twenty odd minutes at Anfield, we were battered by Liverpool so I think Lambert went to match them in midfield with one eye on using the subs later to bring on Holt, Hoolahan and Vauaghn - it seemed likely anyway, although the use of a sub so early meant that the plan would have to be a bit different now.
On 24 minutes came the first of three poor defensive lapses. David Fox was dispossessed easily by Gerrard and his first time pass inside found Suarez in space from where he curled the ball into the net.
It was a nice finish but poor defending - you`d probably get away with it in the championship but not here against these type of players.
Just four minutes later it was 2-0 and Suarez again.
City lost possession when a slack pass came to Elliot ward on the left. He was easily dispossessed by Suarez, far too easily, but just like Tevez a couple of weeks ago, the South American still had a lot to do. He surged towards goal with no other Liverpool players in support before firing a hard, low and deadly accurate shot across Ruddy`s despairing dive and into the far corner.
City huffed and puffed for the remainder of the half but created little - this was a hammer blow.
Jonny Howson`s booking for a desperate pull back on Gerrard just before half time summed up the half for Norwich.
At the start of the second period, Lambert replaced Fox with Vaughan to go two up front. As I say, if he hadn`t already had to bring on Martin I reckon we`d have seen Hoolahan as well at that point.
Morison had been very isolated in the first half and had zip in terms of chances to score. Despite this he won plenty of headers and held the ball up quite well, he just needed some help.
But by now, Liverpool were in full flow and the score line could`ve been much worse. It`s no exaggeration to say that it could`ve been another Man City if chances had fallen to say, Gerrard instead of Jonjo Shelvey.
Shelvey headed against the bar and then moments later, incredibly missed a tap in from four yards as he slid in to meet Enrique`s cross.
And then there was Suarez - he also should`ve scored again, before he eventually did, when he nutmegged Ryan Bennett on the edge of the box and decided to try to chip John Ruddy and lifted the ball over the bar from 16 yards. If he had placed his shot he would`ve scored.
When the third goal eventually came it was a moment of terrible defending followed by genius.
A spell of City pressure was ended by a long ball out of the Liverpool box towards the half way line and Suarez - but nothing to worry about, Ward was there. Ward met the ball tamely and looked to control it but Suarez took the ball off him in a flash and he was away.
He looked up and saw Ruddy off his line fully 45 yards away and decided to shoot.
As the ball flew through the air and Ruddy scrambled to get back there was time for my six year old son, Callum to say "He can`t score from there!"
Which was exactly what I was thinking…
But he did. The ball was perfectly weighted and hit the top corner above Ruddy`s fingertips. It was an astonishing goal for anyone to score but even worse to gift Suarez the opportunity.
For Norwich`s part, they were reduced to an Elliot Bennett shot that was parried by Reina and a blocked Vaughan shot as about their best efforts on goal. Vaughan had another header go wide and looked lively, a positive at least. But that was how it finished.
This could easily have been six nil - no exaggeration. In the last three games we have conceded eleven goals and scored just once and now lost three in a row.
Saturday`s performance was as poor as I have seen this season.
It`s fair to say that Liverpool have some very good players. Gerrard was excellent and Suarez`s finishing was as deadly as that of Aguero or Tevez. Agger and Carragher had Morison, Vaughan and ultimately Holt in their pockets - our lads didn`t get a sniff.
Dare I say it, we didn`t look hungry enough. Maybe the players are already thinking about the summer but with several out of contract you`d think they`d be trying a little bit harder.
Elliot Ward is one of those out of contract in June and he was given the Captain`s arm band today - his performance will give plenty of ammunition to those who think he isn`t up to the Premier League.
Against Suarez here, he looked ponderous and slow and also was at fault for giving the ball away for two of the goals - a day to forget for him.
There is no doubt that we need to strengthen our defence. In the Premier league you have to expect to concede goals but not at this rate and so cheaply.
Perhaps Lambert feels Ayala and Bennett are his best pairing but he has been forced throughout the season to chop and change in the centre, which can`t be good for stability.
This was the eleventh centre back pairing he`s been forced to use so far and if I`m honest I would rather see Russell Martin there than Ward. But with Drury`s injury it looks likely that we will have to use Martin as a full back for the rest of the season.
I would buy Kyle Naughton if he`s available (which I think he is, maybe on a free as he`s out of contract?) but we will need others. Perhaps letting a few contracts run down will help the manager in his summer recruitment.
We were also outplayed in midfield for long periods. Howson was outmuscled and Johnson was not too effective either.
Elliot Bennett and Pilkington ran and worked but didn`t beat their men often enough.
Midfield possession has been a feature of our play this season but we couldn`t make it work today and they looked like they missed Surman and Hoolahan in there.
Holt was rested after playing a lot lately, giving Morison a chance. I hear the moans about him but I think he looked okay here, although a striker will always be judged on the goals he scores.
He had a very tough job here until he was supported by Vaughan in the second half. When he was replaced with Holt with 15 minutes to go there was a tremendous cheer from the crowd to see the Captain come on.
Realistically, Holt has to have some help as the main focus of our attack. I hope that Vaughan might provide that if his injury problems can be left behind and as for Morison, well he might want to leave, we just don`t know but his goals have directly been responsible for seven points this season so he has played his part.
Let`s support him and not get on his back - I know how Carrow Road loves a scapegoat.
Next up is Arsenal away and that will be very tough indeed. Hopefully by then the lower teams results will have us mathematically safe.
It will be tough but not impossible - no one gave us a chance at Tottenham, did they?