Robin Sainty: Display against Preston has teed up a nervous spell for City
PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 September 2020
If Daniel Farke had forgotten how tough the Championship is last Saturday’s game should have served as a salutary reminder.
As you would expect from an Alex Neil team Preston arrived with the intention of getting into City’s faces and managed to disrupt the home team’s system with worrying ease.
Pressing high up the pitch they were able to stop City playing out from the back and invariably got on the end of the resulting long balls. In fact, for periods a neutral observer might have thought that they were the home side, such was their grip on the game.
City on the other hand looked muddled, exemplified by the fact that their best early move resulted in a promising run by Todd Cantwell which ended unceremoniously when he collided with Kieran Dowell just outside the Preston box.
Even Oliver Skipp, a star last week, looked off the pace early on, with a terrible back pass, a totally unnecessary push to gift the visitors a penalty and then being caught ball watching as Scott Sinclair ran in behind him to set up Preston’s second.
However, he improved markedly as the game went on to outshine his senior partner Kenny McLean in a midfield that still looks unbalanced. He isn’t yet the finished product and will make mistakes, hence the fact that he is playing for City this season rather than starting for Spurs.
While it is important to acknowledge that Preston are a strong, well organised side it was slightly worrying to see how much they were able to physically dominate City, and that was certainly something that other Championship managers will have noted.
In fact, there was a strange lack of intensity about the Canaries’ performance, with rather too much readiness to go backwards whenever a challenge appeared imminent rather than looking to commit defenders, and it’s no coincidence that City’s best moves of the second half came when Skipp began to run with the ball, and particularly when Adam Idah injected a level of directness that had hitherto been absent.
There is no doubt that City were much improved in the second half and much of that can be attributed to the arrivals of both Idah and Przemyslaw Płacheta, although the Pole was guilty of a dreadful miss before notching the equaliser.
Like Skipp he is on a learning curve, but his pace as well as an ability to pop up in the right place in the box may well serve City well as the season goes on.
What will worry Farke is that some of his senior players seem to be struggling. Christoph Zimmermann was poor in possession and currently isn’t the commanding figure that we grew to love before his injury at West Ham last season, while Onel Hernandez was innocuous and Cantwell drifted deeper and deeper as the game went on.
However, on the positive side, City twice came back from behind, something that was well beyond them last season, Teemu Pukki’s return to form continues and while a point at home can’t be seen as a good result their long run of home defeats was broken in a game in which City were far from their best and could easily have lost.
The news that Dowell will be a long term absence is obviously a worry, and hopefully isn’t a precursor of last season’s terrible luck with injuries, and with players going out on loan and others attracting interest from other clubs there is nagging concern that what initially looked like a powerful squad may end up being a little threadbare in places, so the next three weeks will be a nervous period for City fans.
Only once the transfer window closes will it be possible to make a realistic assessment of the club’s prospects and an awful lot of fingers will currently be crossed amongst the City faithful!