John Ruddy: Let’s make this clear from the outset. John Ruddy has been a fantastic signing for us this season. We are conceding well under a goal per game, have 17 clean sheets and his ability to step up and make big saves despite being frequently underworked has already earned us points this season. But there’s no hiding place as a keeper; and when a last minute 35 yarder goes in, costing us two points and it really should have been saved, fingers will be pointed. It’s not squirmed through his arms, he’s not fumbled it in à la Emi Martinez vs QPR and it did rear up in front of him. Has to save it though. No questions. He made the ground and it’s still evaded him. He’ll know that as well. Premature to call for his replacement, yet the claims of Will Norris for a run in the team will inevitably strengthen for every error that the incumbent makes.
Ryan Bennett: Outstanding against his former club. Plenty of strong tackles and good work in the air. Hard to see him relinquishing that spot on the right hand side of the back three for the rest of the season.
Conor Coady: Standard stuff from the skipper who extricated himself well from some tricky situations and showed some much needed calmness on the ball.
Willy Boly: Just allowing the odd error to creep into his game among the usual elite standard defending. On this occasion a lapse in concentration let Harrison Reed in one-on-one early on and he should really have put us behind. Not a huge concern and still a huge asset to us, but it’d be nice if he could tighten that up.
Matt Doherty: Had a decent first half but when we switched to what was more a 3-5-2 shape after the break, the onus of defending was placed more on the wingbacks as they had no-one directly in front of them to offer support. And as we all know, defending is not Doherty’s forté. Bailed out more than once by Bennett and in the final 10-15 minutes, allowed far too many crosses to come in from Josh Murphy, ramping up further the pressure on our goal. It’s not that hard to get close enough to your man and stop him from having free reign to swing the ball over. Pretty basic.
Barry Douglas: An improved showing and a 10th assist of the season with a trademark near post corner. Was not overly threatened defensively as Norwich placed Reed wide on the right for much of the game and decent footballer that he is, he’s as likely to beat a man as Alan Pardew is to impose an effective curfew. Still doesn’t quite get forward to the same effect as he did early on in the season; rarely do we see him pushing right into the final third from open play.
Alfred N’Diaye: Another mixed bag from the big man. Got his goal (partly thanks to some atrocious Norwich marking) and on occasion did help us drive forward from midfield. However, it was his own slack marking which allowed Christopher Zimmermann to pull a goal back and his inconsistency in passing does impact on our control of the game from time to time.
Ruben Neves: Always seemed unlikely that he would reach mid-March without receiving a 10th booking of the season and he was rightly pulled up for a rash tackle in the middle of the pitch. Of course, we will miss him greatly against Fulham and Reading. We can’t replace him anything approaching like-for-like. Shouldn’t escape criticism for giving away a very soft free kick in a dangerous area for Norwich’s first goal, but otherwise was very good indeed. At least we now know he’ll be available at Villa Park.
Helder Costa: Produced a couple of dazzling runs and looked the most dangerous of the front three…and yet was replaced at half time. Even if he were injured, the change in shape didn’t appear to make much sense; as it turns out, it was a purely tactical decision. Strange one.
Ivan Cavaleiro: Probably the quietest game he’s had for months. Didn’t do a great deal wrong per se, we just struggled to get the ball to him and as a result there were few of the fireworks we’ve been accustomed to seeing since the autumn. Possibly should have hit the target from a Doherty cutback in the second half.
Diogo Jota: Wonderful spin away from Zimmermann for our opening goal (which I’m sure he’ll feel he should have put away himself). Tried hard but not a great deal else came off for him. On a couple of occasions should have pulled the trigger from the edge of the box but looked for a layoff and the move broke down. As great a work of artistry as his goal against Sheffield United was, sometimes it’s better just to have a dig.
Romain Saiss: On for Costa at half-time as we decided for some reason that we needed an extra man in midfield. It didn’t really work out. The balance of the three in there never quite looked right and Saiss didn’t impose himself on the game as we know he can. Possibly a slight question mark on whether he could have got closer to Nelson Oliveira before he fired home.
Benik Afobe: I had my doubts about his signing right from the time that we were inevitably linked with him. While his application and endeavour aren’t in question, there remain serious concerns as to whether he can ever fit into this team. He still cannot hold the ball up. At all. Doesn’t even attempt to do it on occasions and the frequent concession of possession after his introduction played a large part in Norwich’s ascendancy. His presence seems to make us look to go far more direct, which is not really our game and doesn’t look to be a likely route of success. Hampered by a knock (after we had used all our substitutions) but it was still disappointing that he didn’t back up Morgan Gibbs-White when he attempted to run the ball into the corner late on. It sounds harsh, but the clock is already ticking on his chances of earning a permanent deal here. You won’t get a £10m+ move if you aren’t scoring any goals or contributing much in the way of general play.
Morgan Gibbs-White: Another superb showing from the bench with an array of tricks, remarkable confidence for an 18 year old and further evidence that he is going to be a serious player. But with one quibble; he really should have squared the ball to Jota having done some great work to get into the box. Outside chance of a start at Craven Cottage this weekend.
Nuno Espirito Santo: I haven’t bothered giving the manager a write-up in most verdicts this season, because there’s little point. Endlessly repeating “got it spot on, everything went right, we won again, he’s a genius” isn’t of much value. He did get it wrong last night. There was no call for us to change formation and it’s hard to see why he viewed it necessary to deviate from what has served us well all season. We sat off Norwich too much and allowed them back into the game when it was ours for the taking. As detailed, he hasn’t come close to finding a role for Afobe as yet (though this is a two way street and Ben needs to do much better in his own right too). So, a bad night at the office for the gaffer. A very rare one. I don’t expect there to be many more between now and May. He is the man who has put us in this incredibly strong position and while it’s fair to criticise him when he does make mistakes, he’s more than earned a bit of leeway. He is not Dave Jones. We are not going to mess this up. A bit of faith required.
Oscillating Wildly is a “pay-as-you-feel” website. The content will never disappear behind a paywall. However, if you enjoy my work and would like to help me continue to write – as this is essentially my main focus now – please consider making a small donation via the button near the top of the page. If you want to and can, that’s great. If not, then no worries.