It was not the send off that we wanted to see. For the fans or for Pat Rice. The 90 minutes was the shorter version of what our season was. The bright start (Udinese) to the shoddy defending (United away, Fulham away) to coming back strongly (Chelsea away, Sp*rs home) to more lapses in defending (QPR away, Wigan home). Perhaps our season review video should just be of the entire Norwich game.
It’s no longer in our hands, that 3rd place finish. We are now left with praying that Newcastle and Sp*rs don’t win tonight. Why don’t we ever make it easy for ourselves? I hate it when the team that I support makes me hoping for favours from other teams. The side that chased and harried and frankly, showed more appetite to get something out of this game should be very happy with the point they took home.
We got off to a bright start with the beautiful Yossi Benayoun curler from just the inside of the penalty box. That should have rouse us into confidence but it was the opposition who took the initiative. We sat back believing that the one was enough. Norwich came out fighting and got their just rewards. Their equaliser was well made with decisive passing and a powerful shot at the end. However that shot was straight at Wojciech Szczesny. How the Pole allowed that to squirm in behind him was unbelievable. As much blame attached to our defensive shape as to the keeper.
It got worse from there. As we tried to get back into the lead, Norwich broke and scored. We’ve been susceptible to counter attacks in recent games, not unlike when Wigan came to visit. Yet, we don’t seem to ever learn. When the play broke and Norwich countered, both Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song didn’t bust a gut chasing back. Why they think that Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs is sufficient to stop a counter attack when Norwich had 3 players running at them is some serious miscalculation of the matter. We were unlucky with the deflection that looped over Szczesny but that was all down to poor defending once again.
It took us 27 minutes into the second half to find the equaliser. The combination that has worked quite a few times this season, worked again. Song floating in the ball for Robin Van Persie to stroke it in the bottom corner. Just 8 minutes later, we took the lead. RvP with his 30th league goal of the season, benefiting from a deflection that rolled kindly into his path. Cue huge sigh of relief from red and white fans all over the globe. This was it, the 3 points that we need. Norwich are surely deflated now and we can surely hold this out.
That pretty much didn’t happen. Another moment of poor defending allowed Steve Morison to break free unchallenged inside our box. Szczesny initially went to close the angle down but change his mind halfway and ran back to his goal line. It was the wrong decision as it gave Morison a little more time to pick his spot as there was no defender closing him down either. When the ball hit the back of the net, a sense of realisation could be felt. Realisation that we’ve screwed this up and the 3rd spot that looked so secured previously, could very well be snatched away.
RvP tried as much and got those 2 goals. Of course he could still be disappointed over some of his other shots that didn’t go in when put through. Easy to say from this point but it wasn’t easy to finish those two goals that he did either. Gervinho looks bright and dangerous. Helped by the fact that he did what he did best in this game. He ran straight at the defender and turned them inside out. In other games, he could be seen as reluctant to take his man on but not this game. You can only wonder why he doesn’t do it more often.
I also thought Koscielny did well but was not helped by his defensive partner. Thomas Vermaelen tried to do too much, when he should perhaps be more concern about keeping our shape at the back. Far too often, Koscielny was left alone to man the defence when the Belgian goes bombing forward. Also partly because Song didn’t drop back to cover when such instances happen. Marouane Chamakh got 21 odd minutes and did well too. One of the rare bright spot for him this season. That’s not to say we have a real gem on our hands now but it was an improvement on his other performances this season. As for the other players, the less said about them the better.
To add injury to insult, Bacary Sagna had to be stretchered off in the 33rd minute with a broken fibula. Replay shows that he was stepped on prior to him going down. That looks the likeliest cause of the injury. He will now miss the final game and probably the Euros as well. Get well soon Bacary.
For those who want to lay the blame on the referee, please save your breath. Anthony Taylor had a poor game yesterday, denying clear penalty decisions for both teams. But we can also be thankful for his deficiency because he didn’t send Ramsey off when he clearly could. Ramsey with one too many late tackles. Had we gone down to 10 men, I’m not sure we would even get a point out of this. How crucial will that point be? We’ll know by the end of today.
On this showing though, it’s hard to be confident.