Robin Sainty: Let’s hope Norwich City have something left in the tank
PUBLISHED: 08:00 20 January 2018
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The week leading up to the game at Bristol was a difficult one for everyone connected with Norwich City Football Club, with Alex Pritchard jumping ship for the greener grass of Huddersfield and Daniel Farke’s plans for the game disrupted by a late training ground injury to Tom Trybull.
With Yannic Wildschut off to Cardiff on loan and other potential departures being reported there wasn’t a great deal of positivity around before the trip to Ashton Gate, yet City produced one of their most convincing away performances of the season against a quality team who had plenty of possession but were offered few sights of the City goal until that late frenetic scramble.
While James Maddison inevitably stole the headlines, it was good to see three of the less high-profile players take centre stage. Grant Hanley produced another colossal performance in the centre of defence alongside Christoph Zimmermann, whose superbly-timed tackle on Josh Brownhill was just as instrumental as Angus Gunn’s subsequent save in preserving City’s lead in those final manic moments.
However, the one that pleased me most was Mario Vrancic, who admittedly started his Championship career well off the pace but has improved with every game recently and was central to Saturday’s win, not just because of his pinpoint 60-yard crossfield ball to Ivo Pinto that set up the winner, but also due to the number of times he got a foot in as Bristol pressed forward before initiating a City breakaway.
The Bosnian seems to be footballing Marmite to fans, but there is more to his game than he is often given credit for. His defensive work has improved tremendously, but the fact that his style isn’t all action has led to accusations of laziness. In fact, what he does bring is a calmness on the ball allied to a good range of passing, and I genuinely feel that he could become a key player for City.
In fact, the City midfield looked to have a better balance at Bristol and that manifested itself in City moving the ball more quickly and therefore looking much more dangerous on the break without showing any of the vulnerability that had been feared with the Trybull/Alex Tettey partnership being broken up.
However, if expectations were low before the trip to Bristol they were lower still on Wednesday as a City squad that was down to the bare bones produced a battling display that confounded the BBC pundits who seemed to think that Norwich were only at Stamford Bridge to make up the numbers.
Every single City player played their part, and hopefully these last three performances have finally put an end to the scurrilous attempts by parts of the national media to imply that there is a lack of unity at the club.
At the moment the spirit within the squad seems sky high, and Daniel Farke deserves huge credit for keeping his players’ heads up during that dreadful pre-Christmas run, but clearly more bodies are needed with further departures this week.
Marcus Edwards on loan was, however, a great start to the incomings, given how highly he is rated by Spurs fans, but Farke will need more reinforcements if City are to mount a viable play-off push.
Like most fans, my concern is that Wednesday’s monumental effort will have taken a lot out of the players, and we all know what happened after a similar performance at The Emirates, but these things can work both ways, and the confidence gained from pushing last season’s champions to the limit must be a huge positive.
It seems that we are finally seeing Farke’s preferred formation and that 3-4-3 is here to stay, but today is a day when the crowd simply must play their part in lifting a team that has given everything for the shirt in the last fortnight and may be running on empty.