Robin Sainty: a day when Carrow Road and Norwich City acclaimed a true 'team ethic'
PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 February 2018
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Saturday's game was much more than just a football match, with so much raw emotion in the Carrow Road air as fans of both teams united spectacularly to show great respect for the passing of Michelle Dack and Gemma Thomas.
The tribal nature of football support can often translate into callousness, but on this occasion divisions were abandoned as the ground rose for two people that the majority would never have met. It was hugely uplifting and hopefully provided some comfort to their grieving families.
The game itself wasn’t a classic, although that was virtually inevitable given the presence of Tony Pulis, the doyen of attritional football, in the away dugout and was rendered more so after Rudy Gestede’s early departure after two poor challenges, the second deemed worthy of a straight red in its own right by referee Mike Jones as he dived in with studs raised.
Whilst that decision may have been arguable, there seemed little doubt about it being a second yellow, so Pulis’ post-game moaning about the sending-off seemed as bizarre as his assertion that his side had been worthy of a point, yet it seems to have produced dividends, with the Independent Regulatory Commission deciding that no serious foul play was involved, a decision which gives credence to the existence of unicorns.
In reality, if James Maddison’s clever free-kick had been the right side of the upright and Onel Hernandez had found an unmarked Moritz Leitner, City would have won in style, and the discipline that they showed in keeping the ball and probing patiently for openings was the perfect way to play against 10 men, with Boro unable to generate any threat whatsoever on the odd occasions that they got the ball back. Leitner’s home debut was highly impressive, and it’s not difficult to see why he was seen as a potential playmaker for the full German national team while captaining the Under 21s earlier in his career. His assured touch and range of passing may well have a significant part to play in City’s season and will certainly take some of the creative pressure from the shoulders of Maddison, who looked to be in some discomfort as he limped off on Saturday and may benefit from a rest.
Hernandez, too, showed good pace and directness in his cameo and will offer Farke another option up front, while he could probably be excused on debut for his lack of awareness of others with the goal in his sights.
There can be no doubt that Farke is now working with a squad which fully understands what he wants from them and has totally bought into that approach, while the spontaneous ripples of applause from the Carrow Road crowd as neat passing moves created space suggested that an increasing number of fans have done so too.
Despite his unassuming approach it is clear that Farke is not a man to be messed with as Nelson Oliveira, Marley Watkins and, most recently, Marcus Edwards have already found to their cost this season, and the quality of his man management is undoubtedly a major factor in what we are seeing on the pitch.
Compared to last season’s fractious unit, City are now a team in the real sense of the word, and while there are still areas that need fine-tuning there can be no doubt that progress is being made.
However, the next couple of weeks will be a real test of that progress, with the derby sandwiched between visits to the two teams which currently hold the automatic promotion spots.
Whilst inevitably a good point return from that run of games would reignite City’s play-off hopes, a more realistic objective may be to enable Farke and Stuart Webber to gauge exactly what else is needed to ensure that City can compete with teams of similar quality to Wolves and Derby next season.