Norwich City 2 Hull City 1

Faltering Norwich spring into life and closely resemble a Premiership side once more. It’s all too much for the Tigers despite an early score.

Ach, disappointing. We were completely outplayed last night. The scoreline doesn’t tell the half of it. Flowing attacking football on view, an almost full and frequently noisy ground on a mild evening in Norfolk – yes, it was overall a better experience than trudging across to Rochdale and Macclesfield. But by the time we finally escaped Norwich’s gruesome town centre traffic “system” (are there City fans trapped in there still?) I felt pretty gloomy. I don’t expect to get pulverised by a team in the same Division as us. But we really were thrashed by Norwich.

Not coping:

Wiseman Cort Delaney Edge
France Curtis Welsh Elliott
Brown Fagan

Barmby, presumably resting, was not even on the bench. Marc Joseph was, but had been squeezed out of the right-back position by the rangy Wiseman.

Norwich had a shot inside the first minute, as Boaz was lured from his area by a fast attack, but it flew well wide. And then we went ahead in the second minute. Curtis lobbed in a free-kick towards the back of the box where Cort rose majestically to send a header soaring gracefully over Green into the far corner of the net. Superb power and judgement – it seemed that we might have the beating of the home side in the air from dead balls. In fact it was near enough the last time we could even think that.

An impressive City turn-out of 800 or so generated delighted racket after that early score, enjoying the confines of a reasonably tight, albeit largely newly constructed stadium. The Norwich fans were louder than expected too, and at this stage of the game we looked set for an exciting contest. All the more so because of the quality of the Norwich attacking that was becoming increasingly visible. Worryingly so.

Darren Huckerby is asking for trouble by wearing white boots. And you might have thought his patchy career so far would have induced a dose of humility. Not a bit of it, and on his first-half showing last night he’s got every right to play the peacock. It was a forceful, periodically irresistible display, studded with surging runs, clever flicks, whipped crosses and underpinned by the most vital of all ingredients, savage pace. As he flew down the left flank with the agility of a gazelle, the pace of a cheetah and the furious power of a panther, Huckerby, in fact, reminded me of myself in my own footballing pomp. He, however, was supported by quality passing of a type that I could only have dreamed of from some of the clots I used to line up with.

Wiseman was Huckerby’s immediate opponent, and he struggled manfully to cope, but the problem was that man-for-man we were second best in most positions. Still, when the equaliser arrived, on 15, it was one that we should have dealt with. A corner was played back to Safri, twenty or so yards out, and he was under no pressure at all as he lined up a firm low shot that flew through a crowded penalty area and bulged Boaz’s net before he could react. The scorer, Safri, was excellent last night but he should not have been allowed so much time to choose his option.

On 22 Huckerby fizzed through our defence, and fell with studied professional guile over a proffered Delaney limb just outside the box. Marney’s floated free-kick sailed just wide of the post, with Boaz beaten. Our 4-4-2 is well-organised, but we’re under pressure all over the pitch from the quality and pace of the opposition. We enjoy a decent spell after the half-hour mark, and Elliott hoists a right-foot shot well over the bar, followed by a tame Welsh effort hit straight at Green. But on 38 the game is won and lost.

It’s a rare foray down our left, but a cross is eased into our box with little difficulty and Doherty, trotting forward from centre-back to join the attack, has even less difficulty in letting the ball bounce off his forehead into the net. Quality cross, and an ambitious advance by the defender. But he scarcely needed to leap off the turf to convert the chance. Shoddy defending.

Two minutes are added, and in the first of them Huckerby orchestrates a slick one-two that opens us up cruelly down their left. The cross is vicious but Edge does well to insert a clearing boot. That’s half-time, Norwich lead, and even One-Eye Turgoose of Dairycoates, City fan since 1905 and convinced to this day that with a better referee we’d have beaten Wolves in that famous game in 1911 which we lost 0-8, is heard to admit that we deserve to be behind.

And Mr Taylor decides on radical surgery. Off come Edge and Brown, on go Price and Green. The idea – switch to 4-5-1. France drops back to right-back, Wiseman moves over to the left. The midfield reads, from right to left, Price – Green – Curtis – Welsh – Elliott. That leaves Fagan all alone up front. If the alterations were a shade tough on Edge, they should also not be read as a slur on Curtis and Welsh, who worked hard in midfield, but hadn’t quite been able to arrest Norwich’s flow, built around the industrious Hughes and the elegant Safri. We’d been outplayed but we’d been outmuscled too, not for the first time this season, and Mr Taylor had evidently decided he needed more bodies across midfield to make it harder for Norwich to manufacture the bombs which Huckerby in particular was detonating among our defence.

It worked, after a fashion. We did spoil Norwich’s rhythm. The second half was much more even and Huckerby faded from view.

And, following a most excellent ten minutes of “Peter Taylor’s black and amber army” which was as sustained as any in which I’ve participated since the grand old days of the Moys End at Peterborough, we even had a shot on goal, a 25-yarder from Elliott which Green fubled unconvincingly round the post for a corner (English goalkeepers eh! Rich comedy nowadays).

That, however, was as good at it would get. A shot. A single shot. No more. The overwhelming problem with the second half’s 4-5-1 was that, though it blunted Norwich, it did the same to us. Fagan was tireless, but operating solo against a strong and confident centre-back pairing of the quality of Doherty and Davenport was hopeless. Did Mr Taylor get it wrong by choosing a less adventurous set-up for the 2nd half, and condemning us to largely chance-free stalemate? Well, maybe. On the evidence of the first half though, I would have been happy to back Norwich to get 7 (seven) had we not done something to plug the gaps in midfield.

It’s no use moaning for Ashbee. He’s gone for a while. But how we could have used him last night. Ellison’s arrival, to replace Curtis, just didn’t cut it. I’m telling you nothing you don’t already know when I report that Ellison looked lost, like a small child in woods full of wild animals, marooned a couple of Divisions higher than his talents deserve.

We were competing with the home side much more gamely in the second half than we had in the first, but even so the goalscoring chances mainly fell to Norwich. On 64 one of theirs steps round France and belts the ball into the side-netting. It signals the end of our decent 15-minute spell and we’re forced on to the back foot once again. On 71 a divine one-two in the box is blocked by a desperate saving tackle (up the far end, don’t know who deserves praise). On 80 a break down the right, a powerful cross-shot, a fine block by Myhill. Norwich aren’t as terrifyingly razor-sharp as they had been for much of the first period but football like this is too good for us.

Elliott, pushed up front in the later stages as we reverted to 4-4-2 after Ellison’s arrival, had another worrying game where he wandered about ineffectively, gradually dropping deeper to positions where he could not conceivably hurt the opposition. He is a surprising addition to the list of players who simply may not be quite good enough for this Division, and though his excellence last season justifies continued faith in his selection, at present he needs to find a bit extra to disturb the meaty defences most opponents offer up. France is another one looking a shade lightweight at present, while three players last night who could confidently be filed under “move on to the lower leagues” were the three substitutes, the eager but limited Ellison, the wearyingly ineffective Green and the half-paced Price.

I suppose that the obvious criticism that could be aimed at Norwich last night was that for all their possession and for all the devastation they inflicted with their fast pass-and-give style, they scored only twice, and on both occasions as a result of disappointingly feeble marking by us. But they had us beaten now. Cloughie famously observed that it only takes a second to score a goal. True enough, but you’ve got to get the ball somewhere near the opposition goal in the seconds that precede that crucial second. As the game limped to its inevitable conclusion we simply couldn’t achieve that.

So. Sturdily efficient defence, a mix of grace and aggression in midfield and a pacy muscular attack. What’s to halt this Norwich side in this Division? Do they have any weaknesses? Well, a few years ago Michael Chang, after taking a fearful beating from the then top dog Pistol Pete Sampras, was interrogated about whether his conqueror had any weaknesses. Chang frowned, thought for a moment and then brightly remarked “well, he can’t cook!” Norwich too. Shame on you Delia. Your special match day pies were bland, dry and entirely lacking in imagination. The cooking needs attention down Carrow Road. Their football is plenty good enough. Unless Norwich are to be this season’s Bristol City – tearing us apart in hugely impressive style but doing the same to absolutely no one else – then investing in them at attractive each-way odds to win this Division this year will not be the worst decision you make this week.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Welsh, Woodhouse, Elliott; Brown, Fagan. Subs: Price (for Edge, 45), Green (for Brown, 45), Ellison (for Woodhouse, 72), Joseph, Duke.

Goals: Cort 2

Booked: Delaney, France, Woodhouse

Sent Off: None


NORWICH CITY: Green, Colin, Drury, Doherty, Davenport, Marney, Safri, Hughes, Huckerby, Ashton, McVeigh. Subs: Lisbie (for Ashton, 45), Brennan (for Marney, 78), Ward, Fleming, Henderson.

Goals: Safri 15, Doherty 39

Booked: None

Sent Off: None