Mickey Blue Eyes
Norwich away, East Anglian kissing cousins of the Ipswich Tractor Boys.
This fixture brings to mind a disgraceful chauvinist song by Stevie G (no, not that one, the one on The Bus) whenever we played a club designated "Woolyback":
I can't read an' I can't write
But that don't hardly matterr
I like sheep an' keep them tight
An' I can drive a tractorr
Utterly appalling and reprehensible, but nevertheless the hook of the song sticks in your brain, your craw too, like the worst of three quarters kecks. (To balance matters I am delighted to report our nationwide campaign to abolish this moronic pantaloon ensemble has gained some traction. Culprits are in ignominious retreat everywhere, toggles dangling, a hunted look over their shoulders. We see less of them now, though much work is still required if we are to win back a sense of couture d'homme and civilisation. The concern is, of course, we might see a return to dreaded "trackies" and "trainees," always a possible fallback position for ugly shaved head no-neck tattooed numbskulls). Meanwhile, I have not seen Stevie in years but I am willing to bet the song still echoed around The Bus en route to Norwich.
And therein lies a footy problem, for we tend to think these matches are "easy." If we lose - as we did, stupidly, in this fixture last season - there is a distinct air of humiliation about the long trip home across The Fens. How can we possibly lose a fixture to Delia fucking Smith and her weird lisp, gooey Middle England recipes and slight whiff of Sauvignon Blanc? It makes no sense to us with our history and tremendous in-depth knowledge of all things footy and real ale. Misogynist regional class chauvinism lives.
The first half had a familiar look to it. The main difference was Ross Barkley in for injured Darron Gibson and Felli playing deeper in midfield, which he says is his preferred position. Be nice, though, if he could explain his apparent lack of interest in this game, when he was at his easy-loping-do-the-minimal ineffectual frame of mind.
We had most of the possession and Norwich were restricted to an occasional break-out. We were fine up to the edge of their penalty area; then everything turned to mush, paradoxically despite twelve attempts, six on target, six off, the best of them by Barkley after a neat move sliced them open from our right and he smacked one just wide. Apart from that......cow's arse, banjo, the usual thing, though, encouragingly, young Barkley showed once again he has both outstanding ability and strength. Nevertheless, it was oddly unconvincing, soporific even, as everybody got used to full competitive games. Norwich had little to offer and made only three or four attacks while we weaved pretty possession patterns in their half and spurned every chance that came our way. In fact it looked like the only way we would let one in is if we gave the ball away or they got a lucky rebound......like last season. And, just like last season, that is what happened. If it existed, you would strangle the god of footy.
The second half was everything the first wasn't, and a perfect demonstration of why we love the game and its fluctuating fortunes. Five minutes in, guess what, we let in a stupid goal through poor defending on our left side. From no real threat, their right back made a determined charge at mid centre right, got a lucky rebound off Bainsey and two others and then ghosted on the right side past a spectator-like Felli, and was inside the penalty area before anybody could get across and cut him off. In the clear, his cross shot beat Tim Howard, hit the inside of the post and then kindly rebounded to their wide right to where the same man had run in anticipated celebration. Naturally grateful for two useful rebounds, he slotted from an acute angle. If that's what playing deep does for you and us, Felli, I grumbled, go back up front. Or something. Maybe he is readjusting. Maybe.
Anyway, it only served to fire up Our Boys. It is many years since we caved in after an unjust score. Ten minutes later we were in front with two brilliant goals. Similar deadly application in the first half would have had Norwich on the end of a rout. I have no idea why this is not so. After quite superb build-up play too often we lack the short, killer pass into the penalty area, a ploy we have missed badly since Mikky left. Certainly it is what is needed for Nik Jelavic, as he showed in the build up to the second goal.
The first came with Seamus tight on the right goal line near the corner flag after a throw in and a close exchange with Felli. He checked back in left footed, left a defender for dead, angled backwards to the edge of the penalty area, accelerated past another defender then laid it on the ground to Barkley outside the centre curve of the D. He moved it slightly to his left and then with minimal back lift bulleted a shot beyond Ruddy at mid height into his left corner. The ball came back out of the net while Ruddy still sailed through the air. Utterly magnificent, all the youngster's promise showing in an instant. Norwich scarcely had time to move.
Five minutes later another beaut, this time down the familiar left side route of Bainsey-Pienaar. Poor Norwich were mesmerised. Everybody knows the move by now, but it's one thing knowing and another thing acting spontaneously to stop it: Bainsey tight on the mid left touchline, a ground pass inside to Peanuts on the left edge of their penalty area, a little dink through left side to Nik, a quick close shot with a defender almost on him, an instinctive palm out by Ruddy......straight in front of an advancing Seamus closing in the centre and bingo! we were deservedly in front. All we had to do is stay solid and barring ill luck it was an opening win. Given our rural enemy's first goal we should have known.
Another five minutes and the homesters were level after a seemingly harmless attack through the left middle seemed doomed. But the ball got switched to their right just inside the penalty area, where stood the same full back unmarked. Still agog at his goal, he swung his left foot at an attempted volley shot, mishit it, and it skittered left in the air to the centre of the penalty area and turned into a perfect cross for their centre forward. He had a clear header and didn't miss. They had scarcely had a sniff all match and scored two goals. Lady Luck is a right bitch.
We still looked likely but missed a glorious opportunity when hapless Steven Naismith got in the way of a close in right side shot by Nik and the ball rebounded harmlessly. And that was after the Scot missed a knock-in from four metres. Had it been at the other end it would likely have gone in off two goal-line bodies. So it ended 2-2, two points dropped after overplaying the opposition much the way we did last season. Plainly, El Bob will have to solve the same problems as Moyesy. Our defence and approach work is fine, finishing luck non-existent or sloppy. We must hope Our Boys don't get dispirited if it happens again soon. The rest of us will have to bite the bullet until it gets sorted.
As a closer, a sense of perspective is needed for Ross Barkley. He is still very young and has a long way to go despite his obvious outstanding promise. What he doesn't need is lunatic expectation or hype. We need a hero, but not at the expense of the boy's future. In this match his natural playing arrogance had him sometimes attempt things and fail, which, in future he will either bring off as routine or not attempt at all......assuming he listens to experienced players. Seamus Coleman listened to his peers and has become a first class professional. Let's hope Ross does the same. Until then, don't heap too much on such young shoulders.