Paddy Davitt verdict: What next for Norwich City?
PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:08 07 May 2018
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You have to hand it to Norwich City. This was a memorable way to wrap up a Championship campaign.
Those on duty at Hillsborough appeared intent on serving up one final, indisputable display of what is missing, and the task facing Stuart Webber to try and bolster Daniel Farke’s squad this summer.
The lack of a clinical edge to embellish the pretty patterns has been a running sore all season.
But this was bordering on the farcical.
The absence of any self-belief or ruthless intent plumbed new depths with each miscued header, each tame shot and every wayward dig that had fans diving for cover.
Let us be clear. City have been woeful in the final third over the last nine months or so.
There is no other conclusion that can be drawn. Norwich were among the lowest scorers in the Championship. You do not need statistics to illustrate what is clear to the naked eye.
Read between the lines, take the sound bites in the right context, and those who matter at Carrow Road are well aware of the problem.
Solving it will define whether a ‘work in progress’ moves beyond the inconsistent seam of results served up at various points of Farke’s debut.
That quest for momentum to take into the summer must now come from City’s transfer strategy.
The opportunity for upward mobility on the pitch has been squandered; bar the odd flourish, like Wes Hoolahan’s emotional swansong against Leeds United.
We know the mitigation.
Debilitating injuries have hindered Farke.
The financial imperative that underpinned Alex Pritchard’s mid-winter sale was another negative current; particularly after a previous transfer window where the need to lower a bloated wage bill and bring in a surplus became a clear, publicly stated mission statement.
The end of parachute payments can surely only accelerate those trends this summer.
Which is why the sight of James Maddison on crutches, with his left knee in a brace, must trigger alarm until City’s medical department provide definitive answers on how long the 21-year-old is likely to be out.
Maddison cut a forlorn figure as he acknowledged the travelling support at Hillsborough.
Webber’s close season task was already tough enough, without factoring in the unpalatable scenario of a £25m-rated starlet sidelined for the foreseeable.
It is stating the obvious to label the highly-rated midfielder the Canaries’ most saleable asset.
The goals, the assists, the avalanche of awards and the reams of column inches devoted to his future in January converge into a sense Maddison is crucial to City’s upcoming transfer business.
Sourcing proven goalscorers at cost price remains the sporting director’s top priority.
Norwich carved out nearly twice as many chances as Sheffield Wednesday and succumbed by a four-goal margin.
Farke was right to highlight defensive naivety - and another steep learning curve for some of his younger talent - but such fitful productivity at the other end is sucking the belief from supporters who have not already started to waver.
There remains a well of realism from the majority of a fan base that renewed season tickets again in voluminous numbers.
But they need more than spurts of optimism and the emergence of raw talent - or infrastructure projects.
This feels less about a concerted tilt at promotion to the Premier League next season and simply affirmation a bold, new approach is the right one.
That requires more than a mid-table finish and an enduring struggle for goals, plus the failure to harness the defensive resolution from their very best spells.
Take Grant Hanley out of Norwich’s backline and the brittleness and inexperience is too much for even Angus Gunn to stem.
The Manchester City loanee prevented a bigger whacking; albeit he will not wish to see the hosts’ fourth goal again after losing an aerial duel with Christoph Zimmermann in spilling the ball at Atdhe Nuhiu’s feet.
Take Maddison out of this Norwich midfield and the lack of creativity, goals and assists is no less concerning.
Let Nelson Oliveira and Dennis Srbeny lead the line, and the evidence is compelling. Srbeny is still learning his trade and adapting to English football.
Oliveira has simply failed to deliver.
That sense of renewal 12 months ago, with Webber and Farke spearheading a bright vision was intoxicating.
The glow has dulled somewhat in the intervening period.