I find it interesting that before the game the main focus was on how Martin O’Neill wasn’t as interested in tactics as Paul Lambert. Neil Lennon alluded to it in the studio on Sky before the game as the key difference between them. With this in mind, it’s surprising to see Lambert get his tactics so wrong when up against his mentor. Lambert was more subdued than usual on the touchline and his behaviour mirrored the team on the pitch.
It’s rare that Lambert gets it wrong and when he does he usually fixes it pretty quickly. Against Sunderland it took him an hour. No half time substitutions, no change of shape. So often watching Norwich when it hasn’t been going our way this season we’ve seen Lambert use his subs effectively. Bring on Holt, bring on Hoolahan, change the shape, change the style. Against Man City we were outclassed and I don’t think any of the fans were that upset despite the 5-1 scoreline. Stories from the dressing room were different, Lambert didn’t share the fans sympathy and gave the team a wake up call tell them their performance was unacceptable.
When the Sky cameras found Lambert during the Sunderland game he wasn’t on his feet shouting at the team, he was sat down, quiet, subdued. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the shadow of working in front of his mentor took its toll on him. It affected him and the team. Bradley Johnson was unacceptably poor, Crofts struggled again and the lack of David Fox was painfully apparent. We couldn’t keep the ball, we looked vulnerable. What I found most frustrating was that when we put Sunderland under pressure they didn’t cope with it. Holt and Morison both had good chances and despite such a poor display if those chances were taken the outcome of the game could have been different.
This season Norwich have had a real go at just about everyone, with perhaps the exception being Spurs at home where we simply could not get into the game at all and Man City away where we couldn’t cope with their pressure, although we did notch a consolation. Against Sunderland we were negative, both in terms of our approach (playing long balls, not being brave in possession) and team selection (no Fox, no Pilkington, Crofts in to combat McClean) and that isn’t like the Norwich we’ve seen for most of this season.
What that result does do is ask questions, questions I’ve not had since we lost at home to West Brom. The performance and result at Sunderland was actually what I expected to happen a lot this season, we looked short of class and got totally bossed out of the game. It’s a credit to the players and Lambert’s management, especially his tactics and match preparation that this simply hasn’t been the case in most games this season.
Sunderland complete with Martin O’Neill was a test and Lambert blinked, he is human after all. I think this puts pressure on the Bolton game, as if Norwich are to lose again, those nagging doubts that have been put to the back of everyone’s mind suddenly get a bit louder. Belief starts to ebb away and suddenly you’re in a relegation scrap which so far we’ve been good enough to stay away from. It doesn’t get an easier from then on with a trip to Swansea and you quickly reach a situation where you’re worried about the prospect of having to beat Wigan at home just to stop the rot, that’s how quickly the wheels can come off during a season in the Premier League.
This season has been amazing so far, but if you offered it to me now, I’d still take 17th at the end of it.