Last weekend a Norwich side encouraged by a transfer window which saw the arrivals of Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Leroy Fer and Gary Hooper faced tricky trip to newly promoted Hull. As Manchester City found on Sunday at Cardiff playing against a promoted side in their first home game of the season can be a difficult proposition, but when that team are reduced to 10 men surely things shouldn’t be so difficult anymore? You would think so, but playing against 10 men can introduce different problems.
Hull showed on the opening weekend of the season that they could sit deep and defend, with 20 interceptions and 7 shots blocked showing their commitment to the cause, as they held Chelsea to only 2 goals despite the title contenders dropping the intensity that they started with. After Yannick Sagbo was sent off Hull were already 1-0 ahead after Robbie Brady converted a controversial penalty a few minutes beforehand and with their striker dismissed had the advantage of not having to change their defensive shape or personnel like Arsenal and Newcastle last week.
With an hour to defend Hull sat back into two banks of four and tried to defend their way to a first victory of the season with a rare counter attack every so often. This left Norwich to try and break them down if they were to take advantage of their extra man on the pitch, but a lack of guild, imagination, and passing accuracy let them down.
When faced with a pack of bodies the decision making of when to release the ball and which pass to choose is incredibly important. The opposition will keep a strict line of defenders based around the edge of the box and the moment to quickly take advantage of one of those defenders being out of position has to be punished; instead Norwich took too long on the ball and regularly missed these opportunities that had arisen from the good movement of van Wolfswinkel, who was isolated in Hull’s deep banks of four, thus resulting in Norwich passing the ball without any penetration. Despite dominating possession (61%) only 115 passes out of 442 were completed in the attacking third and is evident with the top 3 passing combinations in the match involving a Norwich central defender passing to another member of the defence.
The number of successful clearances and tackles around the 18 yard box by Hull shows the strength of the defensive line, an impressive 33 clearances reminiscent of last weekend’s game at Stamford Bridge, meant that Norwich were restricted to long shots which looked unlikely to beat McGregor who made up for his indifferent performance against Chelsea. The position of the successful clearances and tackles are predominantly in the center of the pitch due to the narrowness of the defence was able to play with the midfield focusing on defending and coming deep to help in the wide positions -an area that the majority of the attacks came from (similar to how Manchester City attacked Newcastle with a spare man last weekend), especially the left side. The only failed clearance in the box came from a Javier Garrido cross, one of only 5 out of 21 crosses attempted that was successful by Norwich, and resulted in van Wolfswinkel header which was excellently saved.
Whilst a poor attacking performance was a reason for Norwich’s inability to beat the 10 men of Hull City, the task of breaking down a team who are only focusing on defending a lead that would reward them with crucial points is a difficult task and should remind fans and players that having an man advantage doesn’t give them the right to automatically win.