If you have come here looking for rays of hope, an upbeat prediction of brighter times ahead, turn away now. After watching the team that destroyed Stoke fail with a whimper at Carrow Road, Pete Sixsmith despairs of our version of Premier League football …
Our last three away games have been against clubs who have recently been playing in the third tier of English football. We have failed to win any of them.
All three (Swansea, Brighton and Norwich) are managed by bright, imaginative young managers who clearly think very deeply about the game and get the maximum out of relatively limited players.
If we look at last night’s game ( and believe me, I don’t want to see any of it ever again|), we had a fluid and flexible Norwich City, managed by the up and coming Paul Lambert, against a plodding and predictable Sunderland side, managed by Steve Bruce, a man who may well be heading for a lengthy spell on the golf course.
Whereas Norwich pl;ayed with spark and verve, once again we turned in the kind of performance that, the opening 20 minutes excepted, makes one want to give up on Premier League football altogether.
It was the same XI that played so well the weekend before against Stoke, but virtually unrecognisable as the team that had comprehensively destroyed the Potters.
Why was this? One reason is that Stoke are a relatively easy team to play against because you know exactly what you are going to get with them and the management team can work on that.
With Norwich, we encountered a style of play so fluid that we never got to grips with the pace and movement that Paul Lambert demands of his men.
We opened well and had them on the back foot, but as Geoff Mangan said to me: “We need a goal soon.”
We didn’t get it. Dreadful marking by Larsson and Bramble allowed Bennett and Fox to rampage down the wing and for centre half Barnett to arrive unmarked to sweep the ball into the net. A fine goal if you were a Norwich fan, a shoddy one if you were one of the 1,500 Red and Whites there.
From then on, City were in control and the second wrapped the game up for them. O’Shea was easily beaten by Tierney and his excellent cross was headed home by Steve Morrison, a man who was playing for Bishop’s Stortford Town four years ago.
Our midfield was increasingly bogged down and failed to support Bendtner. who worked hard and was foiled by a good save from the edgy Ruddy. However, Sessegnon had a nightmare, lifting the ball over the bar and into the crowd on at least three occassions.
Wickham came on, but his body language suggested he would rather have been hitchhiking down the A12 to Ipswich than playing for Sunderland at Carrow Road and the improvement shown against Stoke regressed alarmingly.
Richardson’s goal should have heralded a grandstand finish, against a team that had not won at home, but we huffed and puffed again and kept giving the ball away.
There were some shouts of “Bruce Out” towards the end, and while the majority remained silent, there was a lot of grumbling as we filed out into the cool East Anglian night.
As for Norwich, they did well but will have far tougher tests than we offered. The whole club reeks of niceness; nice fans, nice manager, nice stadium, nice stewards (“Would you mind sitting down, please?”) and you almost want them to do something awful just to show that they can. Norwich is a lovely place to visit and I hope to do so again, but I am back to having doubts about our manager’s ability.
Once again, he blamed the players for letting him down. Well, Steve, you bought them, you coach them and you pick them, so perhaps a long look at yourself might be in order. He would be well advised to heed the old Russian prover: “Fish rots from the head down.”