On our latest podcast, we discussed Newcastle’s recent drubbing of Norwich, and Wijnaldum’s four-goal haul. Here to react to that result and Norwich City’s start to the Premier League season is James Stangroom of Canadian Canaries. Follow the group on Twitter at @CanCanaries.
With the Premier League season a quarter complete, Norwich City find themselves where most expected them to be: in the bottom half of the table, flirting with the relegation zone. Despite their predictable place in the table, the first two months have been anything but mundane at the Norfolk club.
The euphoria of winning promotion at Wembley had barely waned when the season kicked off in mid-August, but questions over the defensive quality of the squad still loomed. Despite reconciling with exiled centre back Sebastien Bassong upon taking the manager’s job with instant effect, the weak link in Alex Neil’s squad remained the defence. Neil’s attractive, attacking style often compensated for the defensive shortcomings in the Championship, but after doing little to bolster the back end over the summer break, concerns grew about the ability to withstand the inevitable onslaughts from Premier League opponents.
It didn’t take long for a distraction to emerge when Lewis Grabban, reportedly disappointed at being named to the bench for the League Cup tie at Rotherham, left the team without permission just hours before kickoff. Being only days before the transfer deadline, it was speculated that he had played his last match in a Canary yellow shirt.
In the days and hours prior to the transfer window closing, supporters were eagerly waiting for news of the obvious addition: an experienced, high calibre defender. The need had been apparent for months, the club had funds available for Alex Neil to spend, and the board assured everyone that he had the freedom to use it.
As the clock ticked closer to the deadline, and no sign of an incoming defender, the club dropped a bombshell: Bradley Johnson had been transferred to Derby County. In four seasons with the Canaries, Johnson quickly became a fan favourite for his gritty style and, in the Championship last season, his goal scoring. His fifteen goals were exceeded only by striker Cameron Jerome’s eighteen, making it the best season of his career. But he found himself on the outside looking in once in the Premier League, starting only once in the first four matches. Still digesting Johnson’s shock transfer, Canaries supporters watched the transfer window close with the defence not reinforced.
One small consolation was the late news that Matt Jarvis had joined on a season-long loan, bringing some more Premier League and pace to the midfield. Not be overlooked is the loan signing of Dieumerci Mbokani from Dynamo Kiev, who has found the net in two of his four appearances and appears to have moved to the top of the striker depth chart, at least for the time being. A transfer for Lewis Grabban didn’t happen, he eventually apologized for his actions, and has even managed to make the bench on a couple of occasions since. Water under the bridge, apparently.
Some encouraging results followed the transfer deadline. A home win against Bournemouth and away draws to Liverpool and West Ham gave reasons for optimism, as did a decisive win over West Brom in the League Cup. Norwich had inched toward mid-table, and with only a few exceptions, the team had played attractive and positive football.
A good number of Norwich City players played for their countries over the international break, but no performance would match Wes Hoolahan earning Man of the Match in Ireland’s historic win over Germany.
Waiting for Norwich at the end of the international break was a trip to struggling Newcastle, but anyone hoping that there were points for the taking would be in for a rude awakening. With two leaky defences on display, it came as no surprise that plenty of goals had found the net by half time, with the score favouring the Magpies 3-2. The second half, however, would end up being the worst half of football for Norwich in recent memory, with three unanswered goals capping off a miserable afternoon. If there was any question about the Canaries’ ability to defend in the Premier League, it was answered abruptly on the pitch at St. James’ Park.
For the January transfer window to provide some relief, Alex Neil will have to have the chequebook ready to fix the defence. Until then, the team has ten more games to play, including run-ins against each of the current top three clubs (Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal), and only one against a team presently lower in the table (Aston Villa). It may be a bit early to hit the panic button, but a response to the drubbing at Newcastle will need to be swift in order to right the ship. Every point earned will be needed for the Canaries to remain in the top flight, and there is little room to squander any along the way.