Paddy Davitt delivers his Preston verdict after Norwich City’s listless Championship stalemate against North End.

1. Scratch the surface

On the face of it, David Wagner might well have signed for 64pc possession and 18 recorded shots on target against Preston before a ball was kicked at Carrow Road. There were near misses for Liam Gibbs and Shane Duffy late on in that tally, but, in truth, this was one that got away.

Preston played like a side trying to halt a miserable run of three straight league defeats. They erected a mid to low defensive block and tried to threaten from set pieces. That conservative policy almost brought reward when Ben Whiteman’s rising strike thudded the top of Angus Gunn’s bar in the second half.

But this was not about North End’s lack of ambition, this was about Norwich’s general dearth of quality. With such a weight of territory and the ball they carried very little in the way of guile or nous or dynamism.

By the end Wagner had introduced the likes of Borja Sainz, Jon Rowe and Przemyslaw Placheta, but it remained largely an exercise in hope rather than expectation.

Wagner can package this as another step in the right direction, after claiming nine points from the previous 12 to halt a decline, but with a shot of upward mobility in their grasp they were neither bold or fearless enough to grasp it.

It was a fitful, anaemic display which will do little to assuage the underlying concerns at the direction of travel this season.

2. Home comforts

One statistic that does not make comfortable reading for Wagner is Norwich have now claimed four points from the last 15 available at Carrow Road.

The smattering of boos again were dipped in frustration at the final whistle. It has been tough going in recent times, after an early season bright spot that hinted Wagner may have cracked the code, following last season’s enduring struggles in NR1.

It has been thin gruel for the loyalists now for too long. It is nigh on impossible to build a sense of momentum or excitement if Norwich continue to labour on home soil.

Those dedicated band who trekked to Cardiff and Bristol recently have had wonderfully uplifting moments to share with the players and backroom staff. But for the majority you can understand why, for the most part, it is an act of duty rather than delight that is compelling many to make the pilgrimage at present.

3. Second sample

Another deployment at centre back for Kenny McLean. Another watching brief for the likes of Danny Batth and Jaden Warner. Wagner explained away withdrawing his captain from midfield at Bristol the previous weekend as a desire to get that left-sided balance against a Robins’ side who, he felt, would not carry an aerial threat to test the Scot’s defensive robustness.

Preston certainly offered that physical dimension - from set pieces especially – a point Wagner highlighted at Colney in the build up. But it was McLean in the Norwich back four again at Carrow Road alongside Shane Duffy.

The German had also made it clear in the warm afterglow of that dramatic winning finale at Ashton Gate he viewed the Scot as a viable centre back option. There was more evidence of what he can offer in possession in the ease with which he stepped into central areas to try and release players like Onel Hernandez or Adam Idah.

But with Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson both closing in on fitness returns, should McLean remain in his current station what signal does that send to Wagner’s recognised centre backs, or more broadly Norwich’s recruitment in recent windows?

A point to park in the here and now, but the profile of centre back Ben Knapper wants to see in the seasons ahead you suspect will look radically different, not just in age but approach.  

4.  Performance-enhancing  

Wagner could point to three wins from four, pre-match, but after the turbulence to this stage of an arduous Championship campaign it is going to take much more to convince the doubters. Certainly more than Idah-inspired late interventions at Cardiff or Bristol City.

Look at the possession statistics in that mini run and they clearly signalled this remains a work in progress, if the end goal is a consistent level of performance and control.

Listen to new sporting director Knapper map out his vision for what a Norwich City side will deliver on his watch, as this journey moves through the gears, and it would appear well removed from those recent spirited but intermittent league offerings under Wagner.

So in that quest to nudge the dial more please of Marcelino Nunez in that deeper-lying midfield pivot, where his natural ability on the ball and his composure in tight spaces look and feel like key components in raising performance levels.

Nunez, alongside Gabby Sara, might well have been what the previous sporting director had in mind when he recruited the south American duo in the same summer window.

But it was telling Wagner highlighted prior to this forgettable draw Nunez’s period of adaptation on the park and off it as he tries to master the language.

The Chilean, however, looked comfortable again as he glided across those central tracts against Preston.

Give him the potent attacking threats to hit further forward, and his creative potential is clear.