Chris Lakey: Has there been a single ignition point for Norwich City?
PUBLISHED: 12:59 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:59 12 April 2019
Sitting in the shade of the press box at King's Lynn Town on a sunny July afternoon last summer, there was little sign of what might be ahead for Norwich City.
Daniel Farke had taken his players to west Norfolk to get rid of a few cobwebs, but it needed a second-half change of personnel to win the game 2-1, the fresh young legs inspiring the win.
Those youngsters included Max Aarons, who replaced newcomer Felix Passlack at the break.
It meant Aarons didn’t get to play alongside another recent signing, Teemu Pukki, who played the first 45 minutes, having signed for City just a week earlier.
First impressions are never to be taken seriously, but Pukki showed the odd glimpse that day which confirmed to those watching that he had played at a high standard.
With all due respect to Aarons, there wasn’t anything on show in the second half at The Walks that raised any eyebrows – not that pre-season games are much of an indication of what is to come.
Forgive me for this, but Pukki looked a tad old. He was 28 at the time, but could have been mistaken for someone quite a bit older. To be honest, he probably still does. I like it that he isn’t your archetypal footballer, in so many ways.
But we are all a lot older and a lot wiser now, and what I saw that day from Pukki and Aarons was definitely not an indication of things to come (major EFL awards included)... how could it have been? Nothing that happened last summer could have prepared us for what has happened since. In fact, nothing up to, what, the home defeat by Leeds on August 25 (five games in) or the home draw at Ipswich the following game, was any sort of indication of what is happening to Norwich City now.
Pinning ‘the change’ down to one match or one moment, is not easy, but I guess that’s proof of the work in progress. Sometimes the complexion of a single football match can change on a relatively small incident: a bad decision that goes against a team can somehow prove inspirational as players get an adrenalin rush. A near-miss, at either end, can do it. And if the spark ignites, things can take off.
Has there been a single ignition point for Norwich City or was it just a bit of a slow burner?
Pukki had scored two league goals in the opening six games, before scoring five games in a row - the first two for Finland – starting after the game at Ipswich.
If the change was that particular game, then is Aarons the instigator? It was his full debut for City and he hasn’t missed a league match since.
Or was it Christoph Zimmerman who came in for the home game against Middlesbrough – again, directly after the draw with Town - as City embarked on a run of five matches without defeat?
Or maybe it was Emi Buendia, another who made his full City debut against Ipswich and has hardly looked back since?
Then there’s Marco Stiepermann who arguably only became a regular starter after the match against Middlesbrough, holding down a place in the attack rather than drifting around as a makeshift full-back.
So everything points to the first two weeks of September, when City’s matches against Ipswich and Middlesbrough book-ended the international break that saw this remarkable transforation take its first real shape, identifiable as a smooth-winged beast with powers of defence, and pointy horns in attack.
Pukki, Aarons, Zimmermann, Buendia, Stiepermann – all key players.
What I and quite a few others saw at The Walks last July was just the very, very beginning.
Emi Buendia will be watching City from the stands for two more games – and boy has he learned a lesson for his rash tackle against QPR.
The red card that followed was a no-brainer – and there weren’t too many brain cells working inside Buendia when he tackled, with reckless abandon, Josh Scowen and earned himself a straight red.
How will he learn the lesson?
First, you expect Daniel Farke to have had a word in his shell-like. Farke has taught the youngsters well, and what he says to Buendia will stay with him.
Secondly, Farke’s track record suggests that, if City maintain their form then Buendia’s replacement, if it is the same player each time, will keep his place.
And if Buendia misses another three games on top of his suspension because he can’t get back into the side, then he will learn the toughest lesson of them all.
Footballers hate not playing – especially at times like this when there is so much at stake.
Lesson not learned
So, Ipswich could be relegated today.
If they don’t beat Birmingham – who have beaten Leeds and drawn against Sheffield United in their last two games – they will be planning for League One and come back better for it.
That’s the plan anyway. Doing a Norwich, if you like.
Except when City were relegated it was under Bryan Gunn and, when he lost that opening game at home to Colchester, his time was just about up.
Ipswich do it under the same manager who has taken them down. No plans for change.
Consider the stats. Gunn (in his first managerial job) had 19 games in charge, winning five, drawing five and losing nine for a total of 20 points.
Ipswich’s manager (in managerial posting number nine) has been in place longer – for 26 games – and has won three, drawn nine and lost 14 (plus an FA Cup tie at Accrington) for a total of 18 points.
Good luck with that one, chaps.