Ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat is real City strength
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 December 2018
Getting a result without playing well is key to any promotion push, so while it was disappointing to see City have to come from behind having led, albeit somewhat undeservedly, at Ashton Gate, the fact that they garnered a point from a game they could so easily have lost is a real positive.
If City needed reminding just how teams will now raise their game against them they soon found out as the home side started with real purpose and pressed them in possession at every opportunity. Had it not been for two key Tim Krul saves within a minute, one good and the other exceptional, City would have found themselves behind as their midfield persistently misfired.
Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell were as ineffective as I’ve seen them this season, although neither got much help from referee Roger East who seemed reluctant to punish a series of fouls on them, while Mario Vrancic also struggled to get into the game.
City’s protection of the ball was poor by their recent standards, and it was inevitable that their propensity to give it away in dangerous areas would eventually be punished.
Much as I admire Alex Tettey’s destructive qualities, I worry about any system that requires him to do anything too creative, and that’s been very much the case in Mo Leitner’s absence. Sometimes it comes off, but as was the case on Saturday for Bristol’s equaliser, a team that presses him effectively are likely to force him into a bad decision.
Lee Johnson’s team deserve a huge amount of credit. Talking to some of their fans on the way to the ground there was clearly widespread apprehension given Norwich’s recent form, but rather than try to keep the game tight Bristol started fast and kept up the tempo until the final quarter when City’s superior fitness started to tell. While they were hanging on by their fingernails after Max Aarons’ equaliser no one could realistically begrudge them a point.
There seems to be a perception among some fans that any team in mid-table should merely be cannon fodder for the league leaders, but that misses the point of the Championship. What makes it such a great (and unpredictable) league is the fact that anyone can beat anyone else on any given day. As an example, just look at how Leeds struggled to a win at Bolton, who had what looked a nailed-on penalty appeal ignored late on.
If you’re not at your best (and City were far from that on Saturday) then you’re going to have problems, but Norwich still found a way to get something from the game and could so easily have won it had Jordan Rhodes not drifted marginally offside before turning in Ben Godfrey’s flick-on.
Overall it was very much a point gained and keeps the unbeaten run going, and Daniel Farke will be delighted that his gamble to switch to three at the back and push Aarons into a left wing-back role paid off so handsomely.
However, this weekend sees another tough test, given Blackburn’s home form, and City will have to be much sharper than they were last week, although I have no doubt that they will, while the return to full fitness of Leitner and Grant Hanley will give another boost to a squad hardly lacking in confidence. Kenny McLean will also be almost like a new signing once fully match fit.
Despite City’s winning run prior to last Saturday it’s important to be realistic and accept that no team can maintain the highest standards throughout a 46-game season. Injuries, suspensions, illness and bad luck will always be factors at some point so Farke is right not to look too far ahead, but all those things will also affect the other promotion contenders at some point, and that’s why the ability to get something from games like last week’s is so invaluable.