In the space of a week, we have seen 3 defeats at Deepdale with an aggregate score of 2-8. It’s been a tough start to the year for North End fans, and whilst there were a couple of positives to take from Saturday’s game, it was, on the whole, another poor performance.
Many will say, “Well, it’s only the cup” but the FA Cup matters, we’ve had many a good tie in this competition in recent years. Ultimately, you want to get as far as possible.
This is the second successive year we’ve fallen at the first hurdle with defeat at home in the 3rd round. Others will point out that we lost to a Premier League side.
However, it’s a side bottom of the Premier League having a tough season, who made numerous changes, and one who we comfortably beat 3-1 at Deepdale last season. Here are five things we learned from the Norwich game…
That was Ripley’s Last Game for the Club
In a very similar way to Michael Crowe in the Doncaster Rovers FA Cup clash last season, ‘keeper Connor Ripley proved that he isn’t good enough to play for us. He arrived last January from Middlesbrough following some good loan spells and he was expected to challenge Declan Rudd for the number one spot.
Rudd has beaten off that challenge and Ripley has mainly been restricted to cup appearances. Whilst it is a position where mistakes are highlighted it was still an absolute shocker from Ripley on Saturday.
For the second goal he let the ball go underneath him, despite being in the right position. The third goal, he comes out to clear it and rightly so but instead of getting his foot under the ball and booting it away, he plays it across the ground. The ball falls straight to Adam Idah who finished with ease from 40 yards away. Much to the frustration of Joe Rafferty who launched the ball into the Town End after it had bounced out of the net.
Ripley then completed the game by giving away a penalty, and handing Adam Idah his first professional hat-trick. Our recruitment of goalkeepers recently has been very poor. Rudd has had a decent season so far, but it is clear he has minimal competition and I would be surprised if we see Ripley again in a North End shirt.
The Game was Over After One Minute
We struggle to react after going a goal down these days. The opening goal of the match was all too easy for Norwich. Marco Stiepermann glided through the middle of the park before placing a through ball in the middle of Ben Davies and Jordan Storey which Idah went on to knock past Ripley.
After two awful displays already this week at Deepdale, the fans came into this one hoping we could turn things around with a refreshed and much-changed starting eleven. But after barely one minute we were already one goal down, and the players’ heads dropped.
Given how much we are struggling for goals of late, it never looked like we would get back into the game. We did offer a bit more in the second half, but that is easier to do once you’re already three goals down and the other team have taken the foot off the gas a bit.
They obviously received the hairdryer treatment at half time, because they started the second half well. Even at the end of the game, we had plenty of chances to score again, particularly through Billy Bodin and Tom Bayliss, but it was too little too late.
Perhaps if the goalkeepers had been switched around at the start of the game it would have been a different story.
We’re too Easy to Score Against
None of the goals we have conceded recently have been particularly good. Idah’s finish for his second on Saturday was good, but it was handed to him.
We are conceding scrappy goals, and it is far to easy for the opposition to play balls right through the middle of our team, leaving our defence on the back foot straight away. It’s hard to place your finger on why this is the case because when you look at the spine of our team, you wouldn’t expect it.
Is the season taking its toll on these players already? Something needs to change because we are stuck in a rut at the moment and are desperate for a win. That’s seven defeats from the last eleven games and we are in danger of throwing away another season after a promising start.
The Blackburn Game is Big
Having finally been allowed to buy tickets for the lower tier at Ewood Park, the tickets have been flying out the window for the game against our Lancashire rivals next Saturday.
Of course you always want the bragging rights in these games, and of late we have more often than not got them. A fantastic comeback earlier in the season, saw us run out 3-2 winners at Deepdale. We need another positive performance for the sake of our season more than anything else.
The lads will be backed by another strong following, and we need to start the game on the front foot and take it to Rovers. If they start stronger than us and get an early goal I would be worried.
We need our experienced players to lead the way in this one. A win could see us back in the play-off places but a defeat could see us leapfrogged by Rovers and down to 13th. With the table so tight, we are still in contention for the play-offs but so are many other teams and we could quickly fall down the table. Three points is needed.
New Signings Are Imperative
It’s obvious we are lacking a bit of quality in the attacking third, but more than anything I think we need a few fresh faces to give everyone a boost. Some flair, and pace to get the fans off their seats and to spark the rest of the team into action. It’s all become a bit too stale of late, and Alex Neil needs some backing in the transfer window.
Failure to do so from those at the top of the club and this season could quickly fizzle out, as it did last year as we got towards March. This may be the last season we have Alan Browne, Ben Pearson and Ben Davies with them all having 18 months left on their contracts.
Bring in the firepower to complement those players, otherwise, we could be back to square one come the summer. Based on the showing against Norwich I don’t think we have the quality in the squad to replace those three initially and we have to act now otherwise it could be a long few years ahead of mediocrity.