Robin Sainty: Good start - but it will only get tougher for the Canaries

PUBLISHED: 06:00 19 September 2020 | UPDATED: 07:36 19 September 2020

Oliver Skipp put in a top performance in Norwich City's opening game of the season, at Huddersfield Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Oliver Skipp put in a top performance in Norwich City's opening game of the season, at Huddersfield Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

©Focus Images Limited https://www.focus-images.co.uk +44 7813 022858

While the game at Huddersfield had all the hallmarks of early season, with players still feeling their way into their respective systems, the end result was exactly what was needed from a City perspective, and whilst reversing the record run of losses was vital, to do so with a clean sheet was the icing on the cake.

Xavi Quintilla Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesXavi Quintilla Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Of course, it was far from flawless, and I have seen suggestions that the hosts were poor and City lacking in cohesion, but I think that’s more a function of unrealistic pre-season expectations than an objective assessment of what we saw on Saturday.

Huddersfield were certainly lacking in ambition, but that in itself made City’s task harder, as after an opening salvo the Terriers’ main priority seemed to be getting as many men behind the ball as possible, something that I suspect City will have to get used to as the season develops.

The Canaries took some time to get going and will be a work in progress for a few games yet as new players bed in and Daniel Farke finds the right combinations, but there were plenty of reasons for optimism.

The first of these was undoubtedly the league debut of Oliver Skipp who seemed to be everywhere and exuded confidence, not least when he allowed the ball to run across him in his own six-yard box, shouldered an opponent aside and started the move that led to City’s best first-half chance.

Xavi Quintilla also impressed, not least with his excellent delivery from corners, a weak spot for City since the departure of James Maddison, and although he will be asked tougher questions defensively in the future, looked compact and well organised.

We also got a glimpse of the electric pace of Przemyslaw Placheta in his late cameo, and that will undoubtedly be a key factor in breaking down stubborn defences, and while Teemu Pukki isn’t a new face it was good to see a striker who was increasingly starved of service last season, and whose self-belief clearly plummeted as a result, showing the sort of appetite that made him such a key player in City’s promotion season.

He may not have scored, but he was a constant thorn in the side of the home defence, both in terms of his willingness to close players down and his ability to latch on to any errors.

His awareness is often overlooked, but the way that he drew the keeper and dropped a shoulder to leave Christopher Schindler on his backside before providing Adam Idah with a tap-in for the winner was top quality.

Whilst the suggestion that perhaps he should have taken the shot on himself shortly afterwards rather than trying to set up Idah again is a valid consideration, I suspect that he just needs one goal to be back to his absolute best.

However, what I appreciated more than anything was how well City controlled the game and, despite the odd scare on the break, completely nullified any Huddersfield threat to Tim Krul’s goal with ex-Canary Alex Pritchard largely anonymous. Once they had gone ahead, their game management was excellent, and they never looked like conceding an equaliser.

On the downside, the passing wasn’t always as crisp as it could have been and there were a couple of occasions when Josh Koroma’s pace created problems, but once the new faces have bedded in fully actions that currently require thought will start to become instinctive.

Overall, it was an encouraging start, but I won’t be building too many castles in the air just yet. Until the transfer window has closed and the squad is finalised there will be some anxious moments as potential suitors hover, and City will inevitably have to face considerably tougher challenges than those posed by Huddersfield, but this was a welcome first step on what will be a long (and probably winding) road.

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