Norwich City Report Card: Hard to ignore Watkins' torrid first season
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You imagine Marley Watkins hoped for a very different 2017-18 season to the one that took place. MICHAEL BAILEY assesses the Norwich City winger and the tricky game that now awaits, in our latest end of season report card.
Plucked from under Ipswich Town’s noses. You would have thought that was going to be worth a bit of favour for Marley Watkins, as he set about proving himself with Norwich City.
A free agent following his Barnsley contract’s expiration and someone on the fringes of an exciting Wales squad, the 27-year-old’s journey via Cheltenham Town, Bath City, Hereford and Inverness was stopping off at its biggest challenge.
Not only that, Watkins was the first signing of the Daniel Farke era and therefore a key arrival – albeit fitting a recruitment profile more apparently moulded by sporting director Stuart Webber.
Come one glorious strike at Carrow Road to round off pre-season against a Premier League-bound Brighton and Hove Albion, it was hard not to sit and wonder what Watkins could bring to City’s Championship party.
For several reasons, the forward was a significant tool. A hungry player that ticked the homegrown box – in a squad of ever-increasing influence from outside England and Wales.
Likewise among players needing to adapt and adjust, to work out what the Championship was and then how to counter it, Watkins had fought his way through the English leagues and out the other side. The right side.
Someone who already knew the Championship too of course, with a 10-goal season on the Tykes’ return from League One.
Sadly, once the real stuff got going it didn’t take long for theory to be replaced by some pretty taxing questions.
In fact, the frustrations probably bubbled from the very first outing – when Watkins’ knack of getting into great scoring situations at Craven Cottage all too often found his finishing abilities wanting.
City’s first Championship win came in the first game he didn’t start, while the forward went the entire season notching one assist – to James Maddison’s winner at Middlesbrough – and one goal, being the third in a 4-1 early Carabao Cup home thrashing of League One Charlton.
A straight red card in victory at Reading was deserved – although that did leave it out of kilter with the other decisions made by referee Tim Robinson at the Madejski that night.
And then there was City’s head coach fighting a losing battle that come January, Farke admitted was leaving him unhappy: “I was not content with recent performances or his performance on the training pitch…He understands the message and now it is up to him to show he is ready.
“We support all the players and bring them to the door, but they must go through it.”
That was around the same time Bristol City came calling with a seven-figure bid for a player who arrived at Norwich for free just six months earlier. The Canaries rejected that flirtation – but the conversation is set to continue over the summer window.
There is a wider discussion underneath an unhealthy tally of low points too – in terms of just how close to the door Farke was able to walk his forward option.
It never really felt like the City head coach could unlock some real performance from a man who struggled to recreate the role and influence he appeared to carry at Barnsley. Winger who could play more central and further forward, yet was being asked to play as a lone striker – which in Watkins’ mind, he had barely done before.
Even a bubbling half-time Carrow Road introduction that inspired City to a superb December comeback win over Sheffield Wednesday, proved little more than a false dawn.
Watkins managed a few seconds on the pitch at the end of Norwich’s return victory over Reading, and that was the last action the Wales international saw – 27 appearances that won’t offer much for the long-term City memory banks.
The man himself is an honest appraiser of his own abilities, and there was no hiding from his own disappointment at a failed first season with Norwich the last time he spoke to us – alongside hopes a fitter pre-season will help him fire come his second season challenge in yellow and green.
It remains to be seen whether that is a challenge Farke is willing to sanction, and whether Watkins will still be here to take on.
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