Michael Bailey: Sick Mario, ball boy Jamal and crucial timing – Six things learned from City’s Bristol success
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Now we’re talking… Norwich City leave Bristol City with an excellent 1-0 win, and MICHAEL BAILEY wraps it up with six key points from Ashton Gate.
1 – There’s no doubt Daniel loved that
It was getting on in the first half when it struck me: things were going well.
It wasn’t that Norwich were on top for a period or had created some good opportunities – both of which they did. It was more how the game was panning out: City looked solid, were keeping it tight and given they have tended to get better the longer a game goes on, you sensed the longer things were level the more likely they would be the team to win it.
And so it proved, riding the moments when they had to and happily seeing Angus Gunn step in to do the business. It was the kind of performance Daniel Farke would probably hail as efficient, if not perfect.
There are fine lines in that, avoiding going behind for starters. You could argue performances at places like Cardiff were just as good.
But Norwich are now in a better moment and that, as much as anything, helped carry them through to the win their efforts deserved.
2 – There is no ‘I’ in group
I remember the opening turnover. I remember looking up and seeing Ivo Pinto with the ball and the rest unfold. It turns out I probably got a bit of work done during the middle bit of Norwich’s winning goal.
The finishing work from James Maddison was exceptional, as no doubt every scout picked up on. The switch of play from Mario Vrancic made it – more on him in a tick.
But most pleasing about those 12 passes was it came against a side who pressed Norwich well, and it showed what collectively Norwich can achieve when it clicks.
Likewise, the second-half moment when Pinto and Nelson Oliveira tackled each other in the Robins box and then left City short on the counter, was the opposite.
As a group that lost one huge talent and another big character on Friday, plus more senior players to follow, it now needs to prove how strong it is – and such wins built on team success could yet prove crucially timed.
3 – Mario doesn’t do illness
Mario Vrancic let it slip as he popped out to talk to us after full time, not as an excuse but rather to make sure we didn’t come too close: “It was in the hotel last night, I slept really bad and I don’t know what happened – but I took some pain killers and yeah, I’m happy I could play 90 minutes; I didn’t expect I would to be honest.”
Some people don’t get out of bed at all when they feel rough, so fair enough to Vrancic – who not only got out of bed but worked hard and showed his quality.
In fact, he won as many aerial duels, committed more fouls and won more tackles than one player no doubt regarded far more combative, Korey Smith.
I’ve said it for months. Vrancic has to look after his effort and adaption, but his success will rely as much on who he has around him.
And on Saturday, that was Alex Tettey. Eight league starts, 22 points from a possible 24, 13 appearances in total, two goals conceded. Time for a mic drop.
4 – Jamal still has to carry balls
The last of the City players to leave their Ashton Gate dressing room were a rightly beaming James Maddison, his cricket buddy Harrison Reed and a 19-year-old left-back in Jamal Lewis.
The preceding two had their customary man bags – I dare not guess what was in them. As for Lewis, he left bearing a huge bag of footballs.
Maybe that was a nod to his fledgling first-team status. Maybe it was a nod to his character, in that Lewis doesn’t feel too big to help out the City backroom staff.
It could have even been a poke for coming a little too close to being sent off, with one booking swiftly followed by a couple of challenges that may have tested referee Simon Hooper’s already questionable patience. It took a word from Timm Klose for Lewis to take the edge off.
Saturday was a good test for Lewis, who is clearly a hugely talented boy – but also a good example of how far he still needs to be tested and how much experience he still has to discover.
5 – The Robins aren’t quite there yet
“This is just like September,” exclaimed my colleague David Freezer, with the game goalless. I didn’t agree, given City were generally ahead by the second half of games during that unbeaten run – but DF soon corrected me; he was referring to the first fixture back at Norwich.
It was true. Both sides were trying to do the same things – only Bristol City were doing most of them better: movement, strength, purpose.
And yet, in that half and throughout the game Norwich were the ones to create much better chances.
I wrote before the weekend my admiration for the Robins’ long-term growth and vision. Everything is in place for the Premier League, alongside an appreciation that building the squad is the bit that will take longest – even if it’s also where most clubs start.
I’ve always felt the Robins had the staying power this season, but after defeat on Saturday their next few games will be crucial.
6 – Time to bring on the free hit
There is certainly plenty to compare in terms of the Canaries’ current solidity and efficiency, alongside what they were delivering in September and October.
With Sean Raggett’s injury-time cameo alongside a back three that is starting to look close to what Daniel Farke wanted during the heady days of summer, there is a new platform to build on.
And perhaps most remarkably of all, Norwich could be within three points of the side currently sitting sixth in the Championship if they win at Carrow Road next weekend. I had to check that one a few times after it was pointed out to me.
Yet when City next take to a pitch, all of that will be irrelevant. Instead there should be the freedom to express themselves away from home at a cracking ground in a cracking competition and in front of a national BBC audience.
Pressure can do funny things, and the lack of it can do the extraordinary. Here’s to enjoying the ride.
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