Six things we learned from Norwich City’s derby stalemate at Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 11:00 22 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:58 22 August 2016
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After another East Anglian derby was dealt with, Michael Bailey takes a look at the fall-out from the Canaries’ latest Portman Road jaunt to take on the arch enemy…
1 – Champ Cam Jam is in his groove...
Away from all the conversations about Norwich City’s ongoing striker search – one that had better deliver a happy ending – there deserves to be an acknowledgement of Cameron Jerome.
Sure, there was that opening-day goal at Blackburn that the dubious goals panel might have awarded as an own goal to Jason Steele, had it occurred in the Premier League. But aside from that too, we’ve seen great signs from City’s number 10 since the second half against Bristol City.
And it carried on against Ipswich at Portman Road – endless channel-running, harrying the opposition’s defence and taking that golden chance when it comes along.
There is no point comparing Cam’s goalscoring record with City’s transfer targets because it’s not about one or the other. It’s still about Jerome being given a helping hand and support.
But what’s reassuring is that we seem to be in the presence this season of the Jerome we know can make the difference at this level.
Keep up the work rate and willingness to run for his team-mates, and he will deliver – hopefully until that back-up arrives.
2 – ...and it’s good to see Mulumbu too
Last season’s arrival of Youssouf Mulumbu was effectively a disaster.
The midfielder made almost no impact on Alex Neil’s Premier League squad after joining as a free agent from West Bromwich Albion – and it was widely expected his stay could come to an end before Championship hostilities would be the focus of attention.
However the signs are now that Mulumbu has a big part to play in Alex Neil’s quest to deliver another second-tier promotion at City.
What is perhaps more significant is that Mulumbu looks ready to get involved too. His performances up to that first start on Sunday had been energetic and while the debate over the tactical necessity for two holding midfielders is one thing, Mulumbu certainly grew into the East Anglian derby at the weekend.
With Gary O’Neil having moved on, it feels like the City boss has switched the trust he had in O’Neil to the captain of Congo.
It also offers reassurance that if Alex Tettey should join City’s walking wounded any time soon – pray he doesn’t – then Youssouf at this level is a very able deputy.
3 – That’s a lot of muscle injuries
Speaking of injuries, it seems Alex Neil cannot get his side through 90 minutes at the moment without picking up a first team knock.
The hugely in-form Ivo Pinto is the latest to be struck down – and the vague description of the ailment and how serious it could be is, for me, usually a worrying sign that it’s not going to be a quick one. We’ll see.
What is starting to raise an eyebrow too is the volume of injuries and maybe most tellingly, what the injuries are.
Pinto’s knock got labelled as a muscle injury – which is where John Ruddy, Martin Olsson, Graham Dorrans and Alex Pritchard all sit too: muscle injuries.
That generally means a knock that hasn’t come from contact or the strain of battle – rather a weakness or an issue with strength, conditioning or fitness.
City’s strength this season has to come from the complete package – and that includes their fitness work. Hopefully the mounting injuries are just bad luck, rather than a flaw in their system.
4 – City are still to find fourth gear
City’s strong points are in danger of becoming weaknesses too at the moment.
Sunday was a prime example of where the Canaries have found themselves early in their return to the Championship.
City had spells where they kept the ball so comfortably – yet more where they gave the ball away too easily.
Michael McGovern had little to do as City’s back line were able to repel the best Ipswich could throw at them – yet there were too many hairy moments than necessary and one major switch-off ultimately cost them.
In fact, it feels like City have another three or four gears to find before you sit back and think, ‘Wow – that’s more like it’.
And yes, I’m aware they won 4-1 at Blackburn – a result seemingly destined to be referred to all season. The big point on day one was the niggling realisation that Rovers were shocking.
Top gear should never be the only way City pick up points – and that’s a positive from the opening games, given Norwich will play better yet already have eight points.
But they don’t want to spend too long looking for those bigger gears.
5 – They’re starting to sound desperate
The atmosphere inside Portman Road towards the end of Sunday’s derby was absolutely fraught.
It felt like the home fans were convinced things would go wrong for their side somehow or other before Mr Coote blew his final whistle of the day.
And that was matched by the huge cheers that greeted a point off the arch enemy – their first taken off City in six attempts. For the record, clearly the play-off semi-final draw at the same venue in May doesn’t really count.
It is remarkable how the expectations of the two sides in a derby environment have changed so much in a decade.
Ipswich’s 2-1 win over Norwich in April 2008 was watched by 29,656 fans. The last time Town actually managed to beat City came in 2009, in front of a crowd of 28,274.
And then on Sunday, the attendance was 23,350. That’s with an official capacity of 30,311, almost 2,000 City fans in the ground and the unrelenting draw of those lovely clap banners.
At times you wondered on Sunday if the derby momentum would shift – but it will take longer than 90 minutes.
6 – Alex Neil got his wish, for now
And so it continues, Alex Neil’s unrelenting unbeaten record away from home in the second tier. It’s a proud record, as the man said himself.
He was also desperate for it not to come to an end in Suffolk – an occasion that must have sorely tested those football gods.
I plan to keep a close eye on how City’s fortunes differ from home to away. The sample size is a little too small at the moment, and Sunday’s game by its very derby nature doesn’t offer much of a true reflection for a fair assessment.
But it does feel like the City boss is still trying to find the best balance to his side. After all, are they really dominating both the ball and territory like they should when Wes Hoolahan and maybe more pointedly, Steven Naismith are both on the pitch and looking for involvement?
The direct element that played such an influential part in City being able to mix it up at Blackburn has not really featured since, which has not been helped by the injury (yes, a muscle – hamstring) to Jacob Murphy.
The robust, direct nature of Ipswich’s game will be repeated on other trips away – and City must cope, derby or not.