Ian Clarke: Norwich City must seize momentum in 'mini league' battles

Ibrahim Amadou earned special praise from Daniel Farke after his Bournemouth display Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Ibrahim Amadou earned special praise from Daniel Farke after his Bournemouth display Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

It was a good day for a whole range of reasons down in Bournemouth.

Tim Krul of Norwich celebrates his team's point with the traveling Norwich fans at the end of the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
19/10/2019Tim Krul of Norwich celebrates his team's point with the traveling Norwich fans at the end of the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/10/2019

Achieving only the eighth away clean sheet in 81 Premier League matches going back seven years was a real highlight for me (it was just the ninth in 96 games if you turn the clock back even further).

To do it with no fit centre halves for more than a third of the game made it even more remarkable.

I can't miss this opportunity to heap huge praise on Alex Tettey and Ibrahim Amadou for their strength mixed with adaptability to plug the gaps in the backline so brilliantly.

There can surely never have been a time in the Canaries' 117-year history when every recognised central defender has been crocked.

Teemu Pukki of Norwich and Emiliano Buendia of Norwich rue a missed chance during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
19/10/2019Teemu Pukki of Norwich and Emiliano Buendia of Norwich rue a missed chance during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/10/2019

Despite the performances of the dynamic duo, it is great news that Ben Godfrey can resume action as Man United roll into town on Sunday.

This season has seemed very start-stop with the international breaks, but the completion of the ninth round of Premier League games means we are virtually a quarter of the way through the campaign.

If I'd offered you seven points from those opening games would you have taken it? I would have hoped for at least a couple more - and even though beating Man City was unbelievable, there's a strong argument to have actually wished the results against the champions and Villa had been reversed.

There's a very interesting Twitter account called TheOther14 which provides a tracker for each club out of the top six and how many points they should have, taking the difficulty of fixtures played into account.

The traveling Norwich fans during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
19/10/2019The traveling Norwich fans during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/10/2019

The Canaries currently have one point more than they have been predicted at the start of term.

That probably has a fair bit to do with the low threshold which had been set for Farke's men, particularly when big spending Villa - who have a pretty respectable 11 points - are four behind their 'target'.

As the campaign is starting to really take shape, my thought is that we are going to be in a 'mini league' of seven teams in the survival fight.

Watford have been the surprise package of under-achievement so far and while a point at Spurs is nothing to be sniffed at, they will be gutted not to have held on for their first win.

The traveling Norwich fans during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
19/10/2019The traveling Norwich fans during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/10/2019

Newcastle, Southampton, Brighton, Villa and Sheffield United are, in my view, the others we can really call rivals.

Yes, I know Man United, Wolves and Everton are currently in the bottom half, but I really don't think that will carry on.

I watched the Blades beat Arsenal on Monday night and I have to say they were very impressive.

To have conceded only seven goals so far is testament to the toughness Chris Wilder has managed to create up there.

Norwich City will be tested again defensively against Manchester United after a clean sheet at Bournemouth 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdNorwich City will be tested again defensively against Manchester United after a clean sheet at Bournemouth Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Despite that, I still think they have to be considered in the mix, especially if they suffer a bad spate of injuries and go on a losing run.

So far Villa and Southampton have won both their games against others in the group of seven, while Sheffield United have just one point from two games.

Norwich's thumping 3-1 victory over Newcastle was as excellent as the drubbing to Villa was woeful.

Of City's next seven matches, four are against those in the 'mini league'.

Kenny McLean of Norwich in action during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
19/10/2019Kenny McLean of Norwich in action during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/10/2019

While of course anything we can get against the likes of Man United, Arsenal and Everton will be great, the battles with Watford and Sheffield United at Carra and away at Brighton and Southampton are key to determining whether we can extend our stay in the top flight.

Farke is learning quickly about the huge difference in the challenge of being in the Premier League compared with English football's second tier.

The impact of the injury crisis cannot be over-stated and has forced him to re-think his strategy in a far more extreme way than he could have hoped or imagined.

Massive credit to him for sticking to his ethos of playing attractive and possession-based football rather than panicking and parking the proverbial large vehicles. Remember, City had the majority of possession against Eddie Howe's men on Saturday.

Ben Godfrey of Norwich and Tom Trybull of Norwich applaud the traveling support at the end of the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
19/10/2019Ben Godfrey of Norwich and Tom Trybull of Norwich applaud the traveling support at the end of the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/10/2019

Clearly the fact that Josip Drmic's consolation goal is the only time Norwich have been on the scoresheet in more than six hours of football is a concern.

Teemu Pukki's brace for Finland last week proves his scoring boots haven't been thrown in the River Wensum and I'm confident he'll start firing again for his club soon.

If we can repeat that obduracy on the South Coast and mix it with the flair from the two victories and the Chelsea game, I still think we'll be ok particularly as the treatment room empties.

OTBC.

Ibrahim Amadou of Norwich in action during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267
19/10/2019Ibrahim Amadou of Norwich in action during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/10/2019

More VAR woes

I promise I won't spend every column moaning about VAR.

But week in, week out, the system which is supposed to be ironing out decision-making problems is creating more controversy.

Canaries head coach Daniel Farke spoke to Ben Godfrey after full-time at Bournemouth, as his players thanked the travelling fans Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesCanaries head coach Daniel Farke spoke to Ben Godfrey after full-time at Bournemouth, as his players thanked the travelling fans Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

While the system can give penalties for the tiniest brush of the ball against a hand and overrule goals for offsides by a few millimetres, obvious fouls are missed.

Surely Spurs' Jan Vertonghen's slide on Watford frontman Gerard Deulofeu was a stonewall spot kick?

How could Victor Lindelof's hack on Divock Origi in the run-up to Marcus Rashford's opener in the LIverpool v Man United game not have been punished?

They were just two of a rash of shocking mistakes at the weekend - and of course the VAR screen game in the Spurs match even managed to display the wrong decision after it had been made.

Another question is why has no referee been called to the side of the pitch to review footage in the 90 or so games this season.

Time to think again.....

What a story!

I'm a great fan of BBC Radio Norfolk's weekly Scrimmage show.

Chris Goreham and Rob Butler take a beautifully sideways look at all things Norwich City and unearth some really great stories.

Last week's edition - which I'd thoroughly recommend listening back to - had an absolute gem featuring hugely popular City fan Kathy Blake.

She took us back 26 years to Norwich's famous Uefa Cup adventure and the first away game against Arnhem.

I won't give the whole tale away but basically it involved her getting to Carrow Road at 2am to board a bus, only to discover the Club Canary convoy had left two hours earlier.

Kathy made a new mate - who she was reunited with down the phoneline on The Scrimmage - and somehow managed to get to the game.

Being a football fan is so much more than just those 90 minutes - and stories like Kathy's are a terrific reminder of that.

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