And so, the prize for not having missed an away game for X seasons is …… a chance to go to another away game! As prizes go, only the Reader’s Digest can rival that. 250 of us got invited to make that horrible journey across the barren flatness of reclaimed land that frankly we should have left to the sea. East Anglia really needs to discover the motorway. I ended up getting there too late to get to the pub where I’d arranged to meet people and had to grab a pint up by where I’d parked. As we’d been told, the away “end” consisted of two rows of seats low and pressed up to the pitch – oh and a quite ridiculous number of stewards and police ready to pounce on anyone who stood for more then the amount of time it took to shout “Graham Poll – you are a disgrace to a football match”.
All of this contributed to me not being in the mood to enjoy this game. So I didn’t. You could try lingering on some positives but I’m not going to. Since the excellent 3 points at Sheff U we have scored precisely one goal, despite playing some pretty poor teams (including Norwich in my view). It is not hard to see why. On Saturday we played with the expected team of Poom with Breen and McCartney at centre back, Julio and Dazza at left and right back, Healy and Whitley in central midfield, Tommy Smith on the left wing and John Oster on the right wing and Kyle and Stewart up front. The defence was pretty much sorted with Breen again looking excellent. In the first half Norwich didn’t really have any pressure on our goal. Their goal came from an unforced corner followed by Crouch seeming to foul to win the ball with their man on the edge of the box being able to get a shot that pinballed its way into our goal. Other than that, they were kept at bay. Down the other end, Oster had a glorious chance that he should have put away and we had a number of attempts that will look good on the Opta index but that didn’t have us going “ooh” and “aah” in anticipation. Graham Poll looked worried that people were paying too much attention to the match instead of him – something he got the chance to put “right” in the second half.
The second half really showed where we are suffering. Norwich were starting to sit deep with the result that Whitley (who I thought had a good game overall) and Healy (who I thought had a poor first half but better second half) were well in control of things. They were able to bring either flank into play and on both wings both the full back and the winger were able to get forward. So we were bombarding their goal? Well, no. We were bombarding their 18 yard box but unfortunately when they were drawing up the rules a hundred and something years ago they forgot to award points for that. Kyle had a header come off the cross bar and a couple of balls rolled agonisingly past the post or along the front of the goal but you (or rather I) weren’t sitting there thinking “a goal has got to come”. Why? What was it that meant that total domination up to the 18-yard box was not converted into meaningful chances? You have to look around the team. Poom is pretty much in the clear on this one I think. Breen was holding the defence so I’m going to clear him. McCartney got so bored with Breen and so little of real danger happening up front that actually he was pushing up to try to force things (mind you this may have been more after we went down to ten men and I’m just left with the impression of him pushing up). Whitely is a very limited player and his contribution to the attempt to score was some long-range shots. Actually I’m going to exempt him. I’ve been very rude about him in the past but in fact I think, within his natural talent, he played well. Healy is a much better player and really should have said “look Breen at the back and Whitley in the centre have this pretty tight – I can afford to push into the box”. But he didn’t. I point the finger at him. If they are packing the box we need players in there mixing it – we can’t just leave it to the centre forwards. Tommy Smith I thought was poor – not inventive enough for a winger and, like Healy, just not getting into the box enough – worse in Smith’s case as he is in fact a striker. Oster was better in that he showed imagination but again he was terrifying them on the wing when he should have been making them tremble on the six-yard line. Arca was very inventive but his balls into the box weren’t resulting in much because there wasn’t the people there to make use of them. Dazza’s overlaps on the right were canny but he consistently floated the ball into the box, a tactic that was never going to work with Norwich packing their defence.
I’m afraid you have to blame the manager for this. OK if Oster, Smith and Healy had all got into the box we would have been exposed somewhat but they should have had instructions to be making their game count where it mattered and not just in the midfield areas.
So what of the forwards? Kyle stuck to his task but was not having one of his better days. Stewart actually played some good football but, amazingly given what I’ve just been whinging on about, it was almost all outside the box – not really what we need from him. Most worryingly, you could count the number of telling balls from Kyle to Stew or vice versa on one hand. These two are not playing too badly individually but they are not operating as a unit at all – it is when your strikers operate together that you get the most out of them.
OK, whinge over, We did dominate the game and maybe with just a bit of luck things could have gone such that we got three points and not just one. A bright spot for me was Quinn who, although he had to play his football with only ten SAFC players on the pitch, showed some nice control and an ability to do something different. I’d be happy to have him start against WBA. Proctor came on and probably did something but I don’t remember.
And Oster got sent off. What a tit. We’ve seen him do this before. Losing your temper is a betrayal of the team and the supporters. I’m bliddy cheesed off at him. It is no excuse for Oster but their player (captain for god’s sale) should also have been off. He went in with an awful two footed lunge on Oster – if Oster hadn’t got out of the way, it could have been the end of his career – you can understand why he was so annoyed but he is paid a very large amount of money to stay on the pitch and you have to learn to bottle your anger for 90 minutes and turn it to good effect. At least it made Graham Poll happy. He could be the centre of attention, which, as he will tell you, is the important thing in football.
While we continued to attack after Oster had been sent off, if we weren’t getting men into the box with 11 on the pitch, we weren’t going to get them there once we only had ten. The final whistle went, as it is wont to do.