Paul Lambert couldn’t have wished for a better fixture after the international break than West Bromwich Albion at home. The Baggies had yet to win so far this season and I saw this as an excellent opportunity for Norwich to get a win and really kick start the season.It’s hard to criticise Paul Lambert, he commands respect and is a cult hero at Norwich City for obvious reasons. But the concerns I had before the start of the season haven’t gone away. The side are suffering from an obvious lack of experience and that was evident from the first whistle against Brom today. Lambert’s strategy in the transfer window raised a fair few eyebrows, instead of taking the more tried and tested route of bringing in players with Premier League know-how Lambert opted for a different approach in signing a group of younger, hungry players from the lower divisions looking to prove themselves at the top level. So far it’s safe to say that this has not paid off.
Norwich’s problems all stem from the back. The back four were unorganised and nervous from the start and looked helpless to protect a young goalkeeper making his Premier League debut in the shape of Declan Rudd. The lack of an experienced central defender was always a major concern for me. Defending at Premier League level requires a level of concentration that the players Lambert has signed seem to lack, the main culprit being Richie De Laet.
Yet again De Laet was found out at Premier League level. He has now made three mistakes that have led directly to goals. Giving away a penalty at Wigan, mistakenly passing the ball to Mata at Chelsea and missing an easy header today gifting Odemwingie the opening goal. Despite the error, credit must also go to the striker for gambling on the mistake and having the poise to finish neatly.
Norwich simply cannot afford this level of charity. It would prove to be the only goal of the game and is testament to how even the smallest error is punished in this league, something the Norwich defence need to learn fast. Lambert said after the game that we’re new at this level and we’re learning, well you don’t have time to learn in this league, that’s why you buy experience.
Promoted teams that don’t start well very rarely recover to survive. Getting that first win is massive, in recent season’s both Hull and Blackpool have both made terrific starts to league campaigns and then struggled hugely in the second half of the season. Lambert is perhaps hoping Norwich can do the opposite and improve as the season goes on. The trouble is that by that point we could already be left behind, with the January transfer window only a viable option if the team are still in a good enough position in order to attract good players.
So a shaky start in the first five minutes ultimately led to a defeat. Another easily preventable goal was leaked and it’s hard to see how this won’t start to effect players confidence. Huge credit must go to Declan Rudd who recovered from a horrible start to save a penalty in the second half, perhaps if the rest of the Norwich team can show a similar level of improvement then we have a fighting chance. But then we look at the other end of the pitch and things are equally worrying. Chances have to be taken, goals must be scored, you must score when you’re on top in games, you must win your home games. It’s conventional football wisdom, which Norwich have so far ignored. Three points thrown away against Stoke and three points that were never anywhere near being taken against West Brom, this is not the start city fans had hoped for. Holt, Morrison and Bennett all wasted chances and yet again I was left with a huge sense of frustration at our seeming lack of quality in the final third. Vaughan was bright when he came on and his fitness seems crucial to Norwich’s hopes of survival. Hoolahan made a fantastic impact from the bench and really got the crowd going which left me wondering why he wasn’t included from the start.
In reality Foster was never really tested and Norwich were lucky to only leak one goal. However, Norwich were denied a penalty. Gabriel Tamas’ challenge on Vaughan was a clear foul, a blatant penalty and an obvious red card. How referee Mark Halsey contrived to miss it is really beyond me. This only added to the frustration, which is becoming the word to describe Norwich this season.