Story of a Match: Wolves

Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Match Analysis | 3 comments

We only hate the Wolves and the Ipswich…

With the real scum screwing their season up in the division below, last nights match with Wolves was the first with the Gold Scum for a few years. Why do some of us hate them so? There are different reasons, but for most it comes back to either Kevin Muscat or the play-offs. For me, it has a bit of added intrigue with it being my dad’s homeland, so a win is always good. As it turned out, we left with a point after a frenetic match. It could have been more. It could have been less. So let’s see why…

Cubs

For the first half an hour, Wolves were a shambles, and it wasn’t hard to see why they’re battling down at the bottom. We lined up with the same side that beat Newcastle and drew at Everton, while they replaced the overrated Doyle with Sylvan Ebanks Blake, so at this point I knew we wouldn’t keep a clean sheet. He always scores against us. As well as him, Hunt and Jarvis were obvious dangermen so the decision to go with a diamond and expose the fullbacks could have posed problems. As it was, it was this diamond which overran them for the opening third of the game, and a trio of players in particular. Andrew Surman, fresh from a great game against Everton and facing the club who sold him to us, put in a man of the match performance and ran the midfield with Wes Hoolahan. Together they linked with Morison to great effect, constantly getting the better of a high Wolves backline, creating space and threatening. With Fox behind offering stability, and Holt continuing to bully, it was no surprise that Norwich went ahead.

Liquid football. Starting with Naughton on the right, the move involved Fox, Wes, Surman and Tierney on multiple occasions, before Surman powered in a header. It was no more than Norwich or he deserved and they continued to dominate the opening period. Surman put in arguably his best performance in a Norwich shirt, ample response to some fans who continue to question his place in the side, and was instrumental in the way Norwich played the game.

As you can see from the bottom half, Norwich overwhelmingly favoured the left hand side of the pitch, taking advantage of the great play between Surman, Tierney and Hoolahan. Above you can see just how efficient Surman was with the ball, putting it into promising attacking positions repeatedly and rarely losing it. On top of this, he did his defensive duties and continued to track back and try to offer support to Tierney when Wolves did attack. Surman was again involved shortly after his goal when Chris Foy, yes him, failed to give a penalty despite this…

It wasn’t the only claim Norwich deserved last night, as a clear handball in the box in the 2nd half also went unpunished. After seeing Foy’s performance in the Spurs vs Stoke match recently, this is not surprising.

Things began to change when Wolves started playing like an actual football team around 30 minutes in. After being on the back foot for much of the opening stages, they began to stamp authority on the game and pressed high up the pitch. This tactic, one I always whinge about Norwich not doing enough of, forced our backline and midfield into mistakes, to long hopeful passes and giving the ball away.

In fact this pattern was reasonably consistent for the rest of the game. After Wolves drew level the confidence returned and it turned back into the game of established Premier League home team vs newly promoted away team. They had more of the ball, yet Norwich remained a threat on the counter when they were able to string passes together. I don’t accept the views of some that from here on in Norwich were by far the poorer team, that Wolves dominated or that we struggled to create. We were always dangerous going forward, and you just have to see the highlights here to recognise that. What I will say is that Wolves were the ones who had the measure of the game, who were playing it to their strengths – pressing high up the pitch and getting the ball to flanks. When they did score both goals, they came from balls out wide; a cross and a corner.

By pressing the ball high up the pitch, they forced the defence in particular to make rushed decisions and hopeful punts. Most of this is down to the Wolves tactics, but part has to go to the Norwich midfield who needed to do more to offer space and give options. The midfield four (Fox, Surman, Hoolahan and Crofts) were responsible for giving the ball away 37 times during the course of the match, and while this may seem like a high number, it’s worth noting that our fullbacks (Naughton and Tierney) gave it away 36 times between them. The pattern was familiar; a ball was played back to Zak or Martin who were put under pressure, so they slid it out wide to a full back who then played a long, hopeful ball towards a striker.

All too often this gave the ball straight back to Wolves who then went on the attack again. This has been a pattern repeated over the last few games – since the fullbacks were given less protection by the diamond. As ever this is one of those tactical trade offs, and was less a problem in the Championship when the quality of opposition wasn’t so high to force fullbacks into making poor decisions. By giving them cover and protection out wide, you either surrender a striker or a midfielder. This is part of the selection dilemma that Lambert faces in upcoming weeks.

Throughout the second half, the pattern remained. Norwich continued to threaten but did not force the game. Wolves had the majority of the ball, but failed to make their chances count. It was great work from Morison that set up Jackson’s goal, before Wolves went and scored a goal that looked like it came straight from our Newcastle game; a good corner met by a powerful header. As the match wore on, Wolves naturally had more of the ball as the established, home team, but the game was reasonably even. A third for them was ruled out for offside, before a good save from Ruddy stopped another. When the final whistle went, a lot of Norwich fans will have been disappointed to have again only drawn after leading, but for me this is a point gained; away points always are. Norwich have no divine right to beat teams below them in the table and, much like the Blackburn game, I think some may have expected an easier game than we got. The stock answer is that there are no easy games in the Premier League, and nine times out of ten you get the result you deserve. Barring catastrophic referee injustice, if you can’t finish your chances, you deserve nothing. Still, it’s interesting to think where we’d be if we had that penalty for Surman having his head booted…

One final note to add is that since the introduction of Zak to the backline, we’ve conceded 5 goals in 3 games. I know some wanted him to replace Barnett, but the backline looks no more secure than before, and this is ultimately because our defensive problems do not really lie in our defensive players. They lie in giving the ball away, from midfield and fullback,  and a lack of pressing up the pitch meaning opponents have too many chances to test the defence in the first place.

3 Comments

  1. Good analysis as always. Another important point for us during this season’s survival campaign. I thought that Lambert would revert back back to the 4-4-1-1 formation for this game, but for that first 20 or so mins we were excellent. By half-time I thought we were lacking a bit of bite in midfield and would liked to have seen Johnson come on for Crofts. It also looked to me that Holt and Morison were visibly tiring by about the hour mark and was expecting a change a bit sooner. But credit to both teams for what was a very entertaining game, glad I got out of bed at 3:30 am to watch it

  2. As well as being one of the most exciting matches of the season, this game had some of the best football I’ve seen Norwich play in some time. You are right to pick out Surman, who was outstanding, and his link up with Hoolahan, Fox and Tierney on the left was beautiful at times, and it looked for a while like we might absolutely destroy them.

    Regarding the penalty, I wonder if Surman had actually made less effort to try and win the header, and instead had just let Zubar floor him without winning the ball, and gone down clutching his face or whatever, it might have ‘looked’ to the referee more like the insane foul that it was? Players criticised for diving do talk about the ‘need to go down’ under contact because referees tend to be reluctant to give free-kicks when players remain upright. It’s admirable that Surman did do everything to win the ball, and I’m not saying he should have dived – it’s the referee’s responsibility to make the right call – but it might have turned out differently if he had gone down more obviously. I don’t know.

    I think your analysis of why they got back into the game is pretty accurate. I think one of the problems we sometimes have with this team in this formation, is a lack of any pacey outlet for counter attacks. One way to stop teams being effective pressing you high up is to attack quickly and make use of the space they leave behind. It’s another reason why I have a problem with Crofts playing on the right side of the midfield. I can understand from a defensive perspective – given Wolves’ strength on the wings – that a ‘battler’ like Crofts should be good protection for the fullbacks in a system which, as you point out, can leave them exposed. I’m personally not so sure that Crofts is actually the right player for this though. Surman, for example, was in my opinion a lot more successful defensively protecting Tierney than Crofts was on the right. The two wide men of the diamond need to be the outlets for counter attacks as well, especially when the defence is being pressed, and again I think Surman is better at this than Crofts. If you look at the sequence of play for the first goal we conceeded:

    http://i.imgur.com/dd6Ls.jpg

    Wolves had just had an attack cut out, and after getting a quick ball from Russel Martin, Fox turns and find Crofts wide open near the halfway line. As the ball comes into Crofts, Wolves have 7 outfield players still in our half, leaving just 3 back, dealing with Morison and Holt – so if Crofts opens up and runs, it’s 3 on 3 bearing down on their goal. He doesn’t even need to control the ball, he can just let it come across him, turn and run. But instead, with his head down, he takes a terrible heavy touch, mis-controlling it back in to the path of a retreating Wolf, who nips it off him and spreads it out wide. Now out of position, and not fast enough to get back in time, it is left to Fox – who would be a useless fullback – to deal with the marauding Ward while Naughton is occupied with Jarvis. Ward waltzes past, plays it into the middle, we all fall down, and the ball trickles into the net. From a promising 3 against 3 to a conceeded goal in 20 seconds. I’m conscious that I seem to be singling Crofts out a lot, but this was one of those moments in the game when you get that “oh man if we concede a goal after giving it away there…” thoughts.

    • Agree with the points regarding crofts, that’s not only the fault of the midfield but also having Holt and Morison who aren’t going to cause most defenders problems with pace, so bringing on Jackson is a good option to improve us on the break.

      As for that goal, as criminal as it was for Crofts to lose the ball, look at the terrible ball watching Fox does, I think he has to take a lot of the blame. Instead of making any attempt to cover Naughton and mark Ward, he gets into a useless defensive position and watches the ball instead of simply tracking the runner and trying to stop the cross. Mistakes like this get punished and far too often too many of the Norwich players are guilty of these kinds of lapses in concentration defensively which end up costing us.

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