Norwich vs Reading Match Preview
I'm trying not to panic.
...The above is the exact phrase that many supporters, me included, utter after the latest failure to win a football match as the season draws to a close. I certainly wasn't panicking at the start of the season when we were having a rough patch. After all, Hughton was still putting his own stamp on things and there was plenty of time to turn it around, right?
That initial positive outlook on my part proved to be well founded. Well, for 10 games at least. It seems that recent events are karma-inspired on my part. I should've stopped bragging and bleating on endlessly about how we'd beaten Arsenal, we'd beaten Manchester Flipping United, and how we were second on the European form table, only behind Barcelona (!!!). I was already convinced that we'd basically assured survival and now we might even be able to push on for the same amount of points and position we'd attained last season, or possibly even higher.
I should've probably followed my own advice, as there was still plenty of the season to go and still plenty of time for cock ups.
Here's the conundrum I have with Chris Hughton; On the one hand our defence is so, so, so, SO much better than last season as a whole. The arrivals of Bassong and Turner have totally changed our complexion in that regard. If we had them last year, we might've finished even higher. (quick sidenote: Praise also has to go to Mark Bunn for admirably stepping in for the injured John Ruddy).
But for all the progress we've made in that area, we've completely regressed going forward. It was our bread and butter last season. I'm all for a more defensive emphasis, but I think Hughton has taken it to the extreme one too many times. Goals change games. If he'd adopted a slightly more gung ho approach and had managed to turn some of these draws into victories, our defence might've even kept more goals out as the momentum of the respective games would've been firmly on our side.
He's actually taken some steps to address this in terms of the personnel; Steve Morison was shipped off Leeds and in return we pinched Luciano Becchio in addition to bringing in Kei Kamara. Sadly, Bechhio has done precisely nothing since his arrival and Kamara's cult status is already dwindling as he struggles to get to grips with the Premier League.
I'm not entirely sure why this hasn't worked. Maybe the formations that Hughton employs are too stifling from a creative standpoint, or they're not getting the service from midfield. Or, as many seem to think, they just aren't trying hard enough to bang the goals in. Either way, it's something we need to get right, and quick. You know you've got problems when Michael Turner, no disrespect to him, is your most in-form source of goals.
Key Oppo Threat-
Shane Long. HE ALWAYS SCORES AGA....Oh, hang on, he plays for West Brom now. Hey, we might be alright!
Adam LeFondre is their top scorer with 12, followed by Pavel Pogrebnyak with 8, and Noel Hunt is a traditionally tricky customer. Otherwise though, I'm a bit stumped for this section. They've been so lacklustre in recent games (They've lost their last five on the trot) that it's been difficult to establish who the key men actually are.
I feel a bit for Nigel Adkins. I thought he was harshly dismissed by Southampton (in spite of how well his successor has done) and he's walked in to a seemingly impossible task. I don't doubt that Reading can be a force again in the Championship next year, but any hopes of survival are now surely doomed, even if they beat us. All that would do is potentially drag us down with them.
I liked Brian McDermott too, and he did a fantastic job since taking over so long ago. But for whatever reason, this particular squad of players just wasn't ready for the Premier League. It all comes down to bottle: And their lack of bottle was most evident when they threw away that 4-0 lead in the game against Arsenal in the League cup. I think that was a psychological blow they never fully recovered from, and as a result they've gradually regressed to the point where they're rock bottom. It's a shame, because their general style of play is very positive and there are some talented individuals in their ranks. Maybe a season a restructure in the Championship and more time for Adkins to put his stamp on things will actually help them grow again in the long run.
Last time we met- Norwich 2-1 Reading
The clubs last met at Fortress Carra in the Championship two seasons ago. In the first part of the season, an entertaining game at the Madjeski saw Norwich take a commanding 3-1 lead before Grant Holt was sent off, which then allowed Reading to get back into the game. Paul Lambert was also sent to the stands as young referee Michael Oliver made himself public enemy no #1 in Norfolk that day.
That set the stage for an entertaining rematch between the sides in February 2011, and some sweet revenge to boot. Henri Lansbury's impressive loan spell continued as he put us into a 16th minute lead, before Shane Long equalised with yet another goal against us in his career.
But disappointment at chucking away 2 points turned into delirium as Holt netted a 94th minute winner -one of many late winning goals for Norwich that season- to send the place bezerk. Reading pushed on, butultimately their season ended in dissapointment as hey lost the play-off final to Swansea, thus their return to the Prem would have to wait another year. As for City, you know the rest!
Earlier this season, a drab 0-0 was contested on their patch with the only notable highlight being a mistake or two from Bassong. But what it did show was that we were far tougher to break down at the back now, and that we were turning the corner after a dodgy first few games.
What's in store this time around?
It's difficult to know what kind of tact Hughton will take going into the game. Does he turn it into something of a scrappy affair and hope to battle his way to 3 points, or does he try and do it with a gung-ho, attack minded approach akin to the past few seasons? I'd like to think it'll be the latter. On paper I still think this is a fixture we should win, though I do have a healthy respect for Nigel Adkins and the way he tries to get his teams to play positive and attacking football.
Reading are almost certainly goners now, but again this could work two different ways. 1) They give up and just play out the season knowing they can start afresh next term, or 2) They go out in style, fighting for their places in next term's promotion pushing Championship squad or looking for big money moves elsewhere in the Prem.
With 3 home games out of the last five, we have GOT to win at least one of them. I think by virtue of other sides cancelling each other out, this might just get us over the line. Despite our winless endeavours of late, I think we're due one here. It's a gift-wrapped opportunity when we desperately need it: A home game against the league's bottom club.
If we don't take it, *then* I'll start panicking.