Robin Sainty: Welcome to the dark - and improving – side of Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 11:17 23 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:17 23 September 2017
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I should go on holiday more often. When I left these shores two weeks ago the effects of two thumping away defeats were weighing heavily on the pre-season positivity of most Canary fans and there were even dire predictions of a season battling relegation doing the rounds on social media.
Now, after four games which have seen seven league points garnered from a possible nine with three clean sheets, as well as an impressive Carabao Cup victory at Griffin Park, the mood has changed completely, so I hope that my return won’t jinx things this afternoon!
I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised by the turnaround, having preached the need for patience as the new regime found its feet, but I don’t think even the most optimistic of us could have foreseen quite how quickly momentum could build up.
Most successful teams are built on a sound defensive base, and it’s that part of the unit that is usually the hardest to put together, simply because it’s so dependent upon understanding and familiarity between players and less so on individual inspiration and therefore generally takes some considerable time to gel.
At Villa and Millwall, City looked shambolic at the back, but that was partly due to the fact that the system favoured by Daniel Farke in those games offered relatively little defensive support from a midfield that was set up to maximise creativity.
It’s no coincidence that the greater defensive resolve shown in the last four games has coincided with a different midfield shape which is more similar to the format that Alan Irvine used so successfully in the latter stages of last season with two holding players sitting behind the more creative players.
While that has meant that City have lost a certain amount going forward in terms of chances created it has made them much harder to break down, and the return of Farke’s best centre back, Timm Klose, along with the continued development of Christoph Zimmermann, has been a key factor in that.
Clearly Farke is now getting to grips with the best combinations in a squad which is still, let us not forget, denied the use of its premier midfielder in terms of creativity and genuine goal threat in Alex Pritchard. The City manager has not had the best of luck with injuries so far, but hopefully those problems are slowly becoming a thing of the past.
What’s more, competition is always healthy and the emergence of Marco Stiepermann and Tom Trybull seemed to add greater focus to the performances of James Husband and Harrison Reed against Brentford, while Marley Watkins eased the sense of panic amongst fans that accompanied the news of Nelson Oliveira’s injury last week with a tireless and highly effective performance as the lone striker.
All in all, it’s been a great fortnight, but let’s not get too carried away just yet. There are tougher tests ahead, although the fortitude shown at Bramall Lane suggests that there is now a toughness to this squad which wasn’t apparent at either Villa Park or the New Den.
Farke also deserves huge credit for the way in which he dealt with the ridiculously childish behaviour of United manager Chris Wilder both during and after the game, although to be honest, it was quite encouraging to hear “nice little Norwich” accused of some of the darker arts, because it suggests that City are going to be no one’s pushovers going forward.
Finally, with the Canaries Trust celebrating its 15th birthday as well as becoming the 14th largest shareholder in the club this month we’re organising a meet and greet this afternoon so that people can find out more about what we do.
We’ll be in the area by the walk-through from Morrisons from 1pm until 2.30pm, so if you’re around why not drop by for a chat or to pick up a free car sticker?