Story of a Match: Wigan (H)
Not for the first time this season, a “lesser” side, on this occasion bottom-of-the-table Wigan, came to Carrow Road and came away with a result against a City side performing at a sub-par standard. Why did this happen? In this game, I think it was down partly to Norwich’s own faults, partly to Wigan’s credit, and partly (blasphemously) to a bit of a tactical error from Paul Lambert. I know… I know… contain yourselves.
For the first 15 minutes we outplayed Wigan, having most of the ball, creating some good chances and scoring the opener. You can see from these passing boards that we made more passes and had a good proportion of our play was in their half, whereas Wigan struggled to get out of their own, failing most of their passes in attacking positions. It felt, after our goal went in, that we had a real opportunity to turn the screw and we were well in control.
Shortly after, however, we let them get on the ball a lot more and they generally dictated play from then on. It is well known that Wigan like to get the ball down and pass. Norwich have, largely very successfully, been adept at recognising the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and adapting their game accordingly. Both games against Swansea are prime examples. Here they tried a similar tactic – letting Wigan keep the ball at times but trying to keep all the play in front of them. We were generally good at getting men back behind the ball, and for the most part Wigan looked pretty tame in front of goal. Nevertheless, it felt like their chances were coming because we were happy to let them play, and there was a definite feeling among the crowd that we were not as involved, not as on the ball as we would like.
In the first half in particular, even when they did manage to get into good positions they failed to make many good efforts at goal, either shooting wildly off target or straight at Ruddy – this is a trait of Wigan’s, as was pointed out in the preview, evident from their general lack of goals as a team and players like Moses’ goals-to-shots ratio. When done well, letting teams like Wigan keep the ball, if they are not doing anything particularly useful with it is not necessarily a problem. It’s dangerous, though…
…and for a couple of reasons today, it ultimately proved costly. As you can see from the pass maps from the whole game, Norwich just let Wigan have too much of the ball, in dangerous positions, and were ineffective themselves at using it when they did have it – the gulf of successful passes around Wigan’s area show that Norwich didn’t control possession enough in the final third. Once again, we resorted to a few too many hopeful long balls that came to nothing (especially from Ward and Ruddy). Wigan can be given some credit for this too, given that they employed a good pressing policy across their front three, causing Norwich problems passing out of defence, and they managed twice as many interceptions in our half as we did in theirs. On top of this, the usual outlets for the defence, Wes and Fox, regularly had markers, giving them zero time on the ball.
I can’t say I was too disappointed when I saw the team sheet and the apparent intention to line up in the favoured diamond formation. The 4-5-1 shape at Stoke the week before hadn’t exactly clicked, and the diamond has worked many times before. But today, up against a Wigan side playing an attacking 3-4-3, we unfortunately looked regularly exposed in wide areas. The two wide men of their front three, Moses and Jordi Gomez, were consistently good at dragging our fullbacks wide and leaving space for their wide midfielders/wing-backs, Beausejour and Boyce to get in behind and cause trouble. You can see from their Dashboards how high up the pitch and close to the sidelines they both played.
The above might look confusing – each symbol relates to something different, like an interception, a headed clearance, a take-on of a defender etc. The specifics in this case aren’t important – what you can see is that they stayed wide and posed a constant threat with balls into the box. Crofts and Surman, whose nominative roles it was to track these players, were unfortunately found wanting – often because they were too narrow as part of the diamond midfield, and regularly left Drury or Naughton in acres of space. To compound the problem, neither player is the quickest, and Wigan’s pace was difficult to handle. On far too many occasions, Wigan made good use of overlaps and short through balls to set Boyce and Beausejour free down the wings and looked dangerous. The Norwich fullbacks were constantly exposed, and to be honest, Lambert probably should have known as much and set the side up accordingly. As with the away game on the first day of the season, the trickiness and pace of their players is not something Norwich’s side is too well set up to counter.
Here you can see our respective take-ons – that is, the times we tries to take on an opponent with the ball. Wigan did a good job at taking on our defence and attempting dribbles, looking much more threatening than us in this area. They had a real urgency about their play – as is to be expected for a team fighting for their lives in the bottom of the premier league – and Norwich, until the final 15 minutes or so, never had the same urgency or fluency in their attacks. The whole team, and particularly the defence, lacks pace, and they are also not too good at coping with having players run at them. Ward and Whitbread, who have been generally solid of late, do look at their most vulnerable when players take them on – as with the half-hearted tackle attempt for Stoke’s winner last week – and unfortunately, following Ruddy’s sliced clearance, Maloney’s quick through ball and Moses’ pace was too much for the back four and we conceded the equaliser.
As an aside, and this is a minor gripe and I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes, but some of the refereeing and referee-assistanting was awful. The officials consistently gave the impression they didn’t really know one way or the other how to make a decision. Calls on corners, goal kicks, throw-ins, fouls and offsides were often made late, and too regularly incorrect, the officials seemingly leaving decisions to each other or relying on player reaction, and it felt as if they had no real authority over the game. It’s not the reason for the result going the way it did, but made for a frustrating game.
Most frustrating of all though, was that Lambert had actually identified the tactical problem, and was about to change things immediately before Wigan got their goal. Bennett and Pilkington had stripped off their tracksuits and were ready to come on to replace Surman and Crofts, to spread the midfield out and give the City fullbacks better protection, literally right before the Wigan goal. If Ruddy’s kick had not been sliced and gone straight into touch, the result could have all been different.
Indeed, after the introduction of Bennett and Pilkington, we did improve, attacking with more urgency, creating some good chances, and but for a great save by Al-Habsi from Morison’s header, we may have grabbed a winner. But we probably wouldn’t have deserved it. Wigan had a couple of great chances to win it too, and frankly over the whole game Norwich were just a bit off the pace all over the pitch. It was just another one of those days, which seem to be coming a bit often of late.