Michael Bailey: Nasty Novembers, magic Spud and a beaming Alex - six things learned from City's Preston pinch

PUBLISHED: 11:40 27 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:06 27 November 2017

It's been a familiar feeling, as Norwich City digest losing another lead at Carrow Road, this time at home to Preston. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

It's been a familiar feeling, as Norwich City digest losing another lead at Carrow Road, this time at home to Preston. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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From the bizarre to wearingly predictable - Michael Bailey brings his six things learned from Norwich City's 1-1 draw with Preston North End at Carrow Road on Saturday…

Josh Murphy's own lack of conviction in front of goal against Preston mirrored that of Norwich City at Carrow Road. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesJosh Murphy's own lack of conviction in front of goal against Preston mirrored that of Norwich City at Carrow Road. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

1 – You can see the cogs turning

Winning is entertainment. That’s what football boils down to. But giving yourself the best chance of winning helps too.

City had just three shots on target at the weekend, while Preston’s total shot count was more than double that of their hosts. Against Barnsley, Norwich managed two on target, two against Wolves and a colossal four in defeat to Derby. All at Carrow Road.

In fact, expected goals statistics in recent games simply say City aren’t creating anywhere near enough quality chances to score the goals they need to pick up points. When things were going well, it looked like efficiency. Now it just looks like a run where City excelled beyond their means.

Take Josh Murphy’s first-half chance, where when he and Norwich are flying he rolls the ball into an unguarded net without a second thought.

That is the barrier City are now faced with breaking down, and it’s not the sort of thing that’s done quickly.

Timm Klose was one of several Norwich City players out of their visit from Preston North End through injury. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesTimm Klose was one of several Norwich City players out of their visit from Preston North End through injury. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

2 – City’s so-crocked crew look crucial

It was hard not to have a go at the performance and result on Saturday, but there was mitigation for those willing to allow it.

Had City’s mounting list of absentees been available, they would have surely stood a greater chance of performing better and ultimately taking more from the game.

My issue is this has come up before. We waited a fair period for Nelson Oliveira – and in actual fact he missed most of City’s impressive days so far this term. Timm Klose, Tom Trybull, James Husband – would their presence really have changed the dynamic at the weekend?

More of a point perhaps was Daniel Farke conceding his side lacked maturity, which as he says, does tend to come with a younger team.

Russell Martin’s ongoing absence despite being available is additional proof this is the selected approach – at which point City fans need to think how much they want to back it, and then at what cost.

Alex Pritchard comes on to complete his comeback from injury for Norwich City against Preston at Carrow Road. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesAlex Pritchard comes on to complete his comeback from injury for Norwich City against Preston at Carrow Road. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

3 – Pritch is back on the pitch

You could tell on Friday Farke was wary of admitting it – the crazy idea Alex Pritchard could return after fourth months and an ankle operation. And return he did. There was no chance he would be on the bench and then stay there.

He has some weeks to build up to the speed of the Championship, that will only come from playing in it. It’s an important time to look after himself and avoid any setbacks. After that, we all hope to see the Pritchard that lit up last spring.

What I love about him is his hunger and desire to win. Just a few minutes chatting to him for the first time in months, reminded me of the fact. City need that, as much as his guile.

There is expectation over his return, but it will also raise questions for Farke: Who makes way? Does Maddison get a break? Should he?

The midfield balance has so far only appeared with Alex Tettey. Let’s hope another Alex proves just as valuable – and stays fit.

Norwich City fan David 'Spud' Thornhill is given the job of fourth official after replacing the injured assistant referee Mark Jones. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesNorwich City fan David 'Spud' Thornhill is given the job of fourth official after replacing the injured assistant referee Mark Jones. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

4 – Spud is a Canaries sensation

It happens throughout a season – one random game that has every football fan across the country talking about its unique little moment to treasure.

Well this weekend, it was Carrow Road’s turn – or more to the point, the turn of David ‘Spud’ Thornhill.

I’ve covered games for more than 10 years, been to them for almost three-times that – and I don’t think I’ve experienced a moment like when it became clear Spud was heading down the tunnel, to become chief numbers board holder. You just knew once the games were done, it would be the story flying across the football wires. And didn’t he do well too. Few officials get to hold up double figures of added time anyway.

But the best bit is the man Spud is – a great guy with a heart of gold, who just felt he should help out.

If only someone had given stricken assistant referee Mark Jones the same consideration as he limped off the pitch.

Preston North End manager Alex Neil enjoyed his return to Carrow Road to face his former side, Norwich City. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesPreston North End manager Alex Neil enjoyed his return to Carrow Road to face his former side, Norwich City. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

5 – Someone out there really enjoyed themselves

Interviewing people after games isn’t just a privilege and responsibility in terms of asking questions and holding them to account; it’s an insight into the character.

There were several times as City bos Alex Neil’s inner feelings after a match were portrayed more by the short exchange before microphones were turned on, than the words on record that followed.

That is probably why Saturday stuck with me, as Neil carried himself tall and clearly delighted with his side’s performance on his own Carrow Road return.

If I’m being honest, the Preston job was a better one than I expected him to walk into after his experiences here – but as things stand now, he’s at a decent club with a good track record that should help him prove all he learned while at City.

In the end his return was barely acknowledged by the home fans. That’s a shame. But in time when memories fade, there will still be that run to Wembley and the day there that followed.

James Maddison and Ben Davies tussle after Nelson Oliveira is left in a heap, during Norwich City's 1-1 draw with Preston North End at Carrow Road. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesJames Maddison and Ben Davies tussle after Nelson Oliveira is left in a heap, during Norwich City's 1-1 draw with Preston North End at Carrow Road. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

6 – November is not a winner

So that’s November done with again, and City have more points than games played. Hurrah!

In truth, City are probably grateful this month is over, as it’s a while since it was kind to them in the Championship. In fact, their two-point haul this year is two points more than they managed last November, and double their tally from 2014.

Even five November games in 2010 only brought one win – although what a win it was, 4-1 at home to Ipswich with that Grant Holt hat-trick.

This November still has one more event to digest, that being the club’s AGM on Wednesday. But once it’s December, the reality of City’s season so far should be as plain as the current table.

City are at least three points behind their tally at the same stage of the 2014-15 season – a run that eventually ushered Alex Neil through the door – and for a point of context, they are four points better off than the tally they had at the same stage of the 2008-09 season.

For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Michael Bailey on the following channels…

Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey

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Michael Bailey on Instagram @mrmichaeljbailey

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