Robin Sainty: More speed up front by Norwich City ... and look what happens

PUBLISHED: 08:05 06 January 2018

Nelson Oliveira - not winning another header. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Nelson Oliveira - not winning another header. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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As we trudged away from the Pirelli Stadium after one of the worst games of football I’ve seen for some time, and in which City’s first shot on target came in the 78th minute, I suspect that few of us were relishing the prospect of a game against Millwall.

James Maddison bowling the fans over after his goal against Millwall. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdJames Maddison bowling the fans over after his goal against Millwall. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

In fairness, the mood amongst the fans had been dampened before a ball was kicked by the news that Daniel Farke had made six changes to the team that won at Birmingham, a decision that would inevitably have resulted in a huge amount of criticism had City lost.

Of course, only Farke and his assistants would have known how many players were carrying minor knocks and it’s worth noting that Bristol City’s Lee Johnson, in complete contrast, made only one outfield change in their three games over the holiday period as he stuck with what he felt was his best team, but his tiring players picked up just three points, and were hammered 5-0 at Villa Park on Monday. It’s a difficult balancing act for managers when fixtures come so thick and fast.

While so many changes at Burton pretty much guaranteed a lack of cohesion, the fact is that few of the replacements did themselves any favours in a performance that lacked any real quality from either side, although a heavy pitch and a swirling wind didn’t help in that respect.

However, one thing that really stood out, apart from how poor City were in possession, was how little movement there was in front of the man on the ball, which only served to exacerbate City’s tortuous build-up play. Indeed, there was a worrying lack of energy overall, with very few second balls won anywhere on the pitch.

There were painfully few positives from the afternoon other than a commanding performance from Grant Hanley at the heart of City’s defence and the fact that the Canaries avoided defeat, but ultimately final judgment on Farke’s selection was always going to hinge upon events at Carrow Road on Monday.

I suspect that the hangover from Burton contributed to the outburst of booing at half-time in the Millwall game, although in fact City had been almost totally dominant and created chances only to fall behind to a goal out of nowhere. I can understand people expressing their disappointment about poor performances, but I’m not sure that booing an unrepresentative scoreline does much to help anyone.

Regardless of that the second half saw City moving the ball quicker and showing what they are capable of when they do so, as Millwall were pushed further and further back.

While I’m fully aware that the club would need to sell in order to buy this month, the winning goal did reinforce my growing belief that a smaller, quicker striker who can play on the shoulder of the last defender, in the style of Nakhi Wells or Elias Kachunga, might just be the key to getting more from the style of play that Farke favours.

James Maddison’s late and decisive movement into the channel, allied to Alex Pritchard’s awareness and ability to weight a pass, showed what can be done, but we have rarely seen that sort of run from a City striker this season.

Whilst it would be a leap of faith to dispense with a traditional target man, it’s worth noting that not only do City rarely go long from the back to the front these days, but also that when they do so the aerial battle is rarely won anyway, with Nelson Oliveira, in particular, apparently reluctant to compete for headers.

Regardless of transfer issues, with all Farke’s key players now fit the fans will rightly be expecting City to push on and start to climb the table, and with that in mind I suspect that many of us will be praying that there are no further injuries this afternoon.

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