MATCH REPORT – City 2 Norwich 1

The Championship – 25/8/2007

For the second home game of the season, Phil Brown ditched the tee shirt and shorts he wore on opening day and chose a more formal look for the visit of Norwich. It wasn’t what he was wearing that made him look smarter though, it was the righted wrongs of team selection that did that, at least in the eyes of those who only get to home games. That’s not to say eyebrows weren’t raised when he submitted his team sheet for a game that Brown himself described as a must win game however. Matt Duke continued in nets and with Sam Ricketts suspended and Damien Delaney installed at left back, you’d safely assume Nathan Doyle would step in for the banned Welshman. Not so, instead Andy Dawson switched flanks.

So City lined up thus; Duke; Delaney, Turner, Brown, Dawson; Elliott, Ashbee (capt.), Marney, Garcia; Windass, Barmby.

Norwich have made sartorial changes too, having traded in their all white change kits for an all red affair, and with City having won the toss and decided to kick off, the redshirts elected to switch ends so that they defended the South Stand goal.

Sunshine rained down on the KC, and with the temperature at 25 degrees there was never going to be a breakneck paced start to the game and so it proved, though City were clearly a good deal quicker and more enterprising than the visitors. They had the first attempt on goal when Garcia, cutting in from the right wing, hit a cross/shot hybrid that travelled across goal and to Elliott who slid in but his shot was wide.

Phil Brown was accused by many of playing overly direct football late last season and many feared it would continue this campaign, but it wasn’t in evidence today as we played the ball to feet in bouts of neat short passing, one such passage fell apart prematurely when Garcia erred by running straight at a Norwich man, and not at him in the sense of beating him with the ball, he just ran to him and was cheaply dispossessed allowing Norwich to break down the left, thankfully Dawson, not looking uncomfortable in an unfamiliar position dealt with it.

Jamie Cureton elicited boos whenever he touched the ball for reneging on an agreement to join City in the summer, many feared he would be motivated against us and he scored against us last term, but he looked curiously uninterested today, and his partner up front, Chris Brown, well, we knew he’d be no threat given his inept performances during his loan spell with us. Incredulously,  Brown walks with a swagger and a confidence that belies his utter jenkitude.

Marney played a clever ball to Deano on the right wing, he produced an even cleverer pass, chipping the ball over a man to a far advanced Dawson, who’s attempts to beat a man on the edge of the box were clumsy and the move fell apart. The ball was mostly in Norwich’s half nonetheless, and the Tiger Nation roared in approval and encouraged City to go for the Canaries’ jugular.

Dean Marney delivered a Garcia won corner to the unmarked Australian but he couldn’t wrap his foot around the ball enough to put his shot on target and it flew wide right. He hit another shot on target, it wasn’t fast paced but caused the dodgy looking Marshall in nets for Norwich some bother and he somehow deflected it wide for a corner using a knee/shin. The keeper then muffed collecting the ball in from that corner and spent much of the first half spannering the ball into touch.

Stuart Elliott looped a ball into the box and Deano went up with the nervy looking Marshall and won the header, somehow he put it wide, but it mattered not as the ref took pity on the hapless looking Canaries keeper and gave a free kick. Elliott then challenged the keeper in an attempt to get to a Windass cross. It wasn’t the most robust of challenges but Marshall reacted angrily as if he’d been splattered by Nat Lofthouse. The wuss.

Nick Barmby crossed from the right and raged that it wasn’t attacked, he sensed as did the Tiger Nation that this game was there for the taking if we stepped up a gear. One time City loanee Jon Otsemobor was Norwich’s most potent threat, the centre back went on a run from defence to near City’s box where he fired an always rising shot over.

On the balance of play City were by far the better team but lacked the incisiveness and directness to make it count. The visitors’ chances were few and far between and dealt with comfortably by our defence. In one uncomfortable moment a ball was played through for Cureton that caught City’s rearguard flat footed, but Turner was quick to react and his slide tackle quelled the danger.

Back at the busier end, Deano span and played a cheeky through ball for Elliott inside the box but it was just behind him, he lunged to make contact with the ball but it was weakly hit and Marshall dealt with it comfortably. Nick Barmby went off after half an hour, replaced by Michael Bridges. It didn’t seem to be a tactical change so presumably Barmby was hurt. Bridges though would prove to be key that would unlock Norwich’s defence.

Otsemobor went on another run from the back, Ian Ashbee seemed content to run alongside him, then after him, rather than put a challenge in and thankfully his cross went over Duke’s bar. Wayne Brown further endeared himself to City fans when he crunched arrogant tossclump Chris Brown in the centre circle.

There was a reticence from City to really go for it despite having the tiger’s share of possession, Norwich seemed content with this while they remained on level terms, Cureton and Brown had posed little problems for our defence and their biggest threat thus far came from Otsemobor’s long runs. Duke hadn’t been forced to make a save and wasn‘t even after several shoot on sight efforts from Frenchman Julien Brellier that were laughably inaccurate. Michael Bridges shaped to take on three men gathered inside the Norwich box but then dragged the ball back to get in a shot, but when it came it was weak and wide. The half ended after an added minute of little action, all square.

City fans spent half time lauding the slick football but bemoaning a lack of cutting edge, but shortly after the break City showed some and took the lead. Garcia, frustratingly inconsistent in the first half, sent Michael Bridges free on the right wing with a beautiful through ball, Bridges dwelled on the ball to allow colleagues to get forward and at the opportune moment delivered a low cross to the edge of the box, there Ashbee cleverly stepped over the ball so Windass could bend the ball into the right bottom corner, beyond Marshall. 1-0. City fans enjoyed it again courtesy of the new big screen. Delicious.

The referee offered Norwich a way back into the game when he harshly adjudged Michael Turner to have committed a foul outside the box but the resultant free kick straight at the wall. Garcia, much improved in this half, played a deft flick forward for Marney who hit a lobbed shot that fell not that far over the bar. City looked rampant now and if they maintained this tempo they could run away with this one.

Andy Dawson saw yellow for clattering a redshirt before that clueless jenkbot Chris Brown was chastised for dimwittedly booting Turner in the head. Not long after Turner was brought down in the Canaries box but the ref waved the penalty appeals away with all the exuberance of a Turin taxi driver in a traffic jam.

Michael Bridges was playing quarterback today, spraying passes around the park after his earlier assist. He connected with Garcia who found Deano at the back post, but his goalward header hit the back of a defender. This was really encouraging stuff though, City looked comfortable and creative and delighted the crowd with some neat one touch passing. Well, the Norwich fans in the crowd weren’t delighted with it, but then they weren’t irritated by their teams lacklustre showing when they should have been.

Or maybe they were just patient, and knew that City, being City, would offer them a way back into the game. So it proved, on 70 minutes City failed to end a game of head tennis with a clearance, Garcia was out muscled (and claimed a foul) and the ball dropped kindly for sub Dion Dublin who wasn’t marked, and he lashed the ball in from the edge of the box. A great strike yes, but it was a sloppy goal to concede. 1-1.

For a while, City fell to pieces, and all the promising play of the previous 70 minutes went out of the window. That disarray was only temporary though and we re-established control of the game, and as a consequence, re-established a lead. Bridges played a magnificent oblique pass to Dean Windass to the left of the goal, Deano drew a slide challenge from his marker, dragging the ball away and taking him out of the game, and looking up to find a team mate, he picked out Garcia at the far post and lobbed the ball to him. Garcia didn’t have to belt it, he just had to guide it in, he did and City were deservedly in front again. 2-1.

Bryan Hughes replaced Stuart Elliott, then Dean Windass was granted a standing ovation as he made way for David Livermore. City adopted a defensive stance for the remainder of the game, looking to protect the lead but inevitably inviting pressure. This was disappointing, City were the better team throughout this game and didn’t need to resort to this. Frankly, they’re not good at it and Norwich were gifted a few clumsy chances they didn’t simply deserve, that they didn’t take them was more down to luck than good defending on our part. We need to work on closing out games, otherwise hard work can be thrown away, and the hard work today was impressive indeed. In terms of technical football, this may well have been our most impressive performance since we entered the Championship.

Four minutes were added, they passed with Duke’s goal not breached and City gleefully celebrated their first three point haul of the season. This performance and result puts a completely different complexion on things, four points from nine is the type of return that would see us quite comfortable if replicated throughout the course of the season. Granted, Norwich were compliant today and we’ll face sterner tests this campaign, but today’s victory was about the way City played. Just as formalwear looks better on Phil Brown compared to sportswear, so the confident, flowing passing game suits City better than one dimensional direct play. Clothes may not make the man, but good football can make the team. (LM)