A little bit of luck will go a long way for the Canaries
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
So which Norwich City will return from the international break?
Will it be the glass-chinned outfit of the first few games, who played some good possession football but were invariably floored by the first significant counter-punch, or the seemingly impregnable, albeit shot shy, team of the eight-game unbeaten run?
Hopefully it won’t be the uninspired, fatigued group who laboured through the three disappointing losses that followed that monumental effort at the Emirates and released the latent negativity that hadn’t been evident during City’s climb from the bottom three to the top six.
To be four points off the play-off places in mid-November is hardly disastrous, but the reactions to both the unbeaten run and the recent defeats have tended to extremes. However, are City really that far from where they should be?
It’s easy to get caught up in emotional responses, but let’s consider some hard facts. Of the side that started at Bolton, six players, including three of the back five, have played a maximum of 16 Championship games in their careers.
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In addition, the club’s premier attacking midfielder has yet to start a game this season and their leading scorer in the league has managed four starts due to persistent injury problems, while Alex Tettey, who played a key role in the rearguard efforts at Bramall Lane and the Riverside, has been missing since the last international break.
In fact, Daniel Farke has had more than his fair share of injury problems this season, but that doesn’t exempt him from criticism. City have looked increasingly one dimensional in recent weeks and the oft-repeated suggestion that they are constantly striving to score the perfect goal isn’t without justification.
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Clearly there is a pressing need for more end product in terms of chances and goals, but I remain convinced that the return of Pritchard and a fully-fit Oliveira will provide a significant boost in that respect.
The continuing absence of Oliveira has inevitably resulted in moans that another striker wasn’t brought in during the transfer window, but, realistically, the shocking defending at Villa and, particularly, Millwall dictated the need for the remaining budget to go on another centre back, who ironically now seems surplus to requirements, but only with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.
What is clear is that the board have fully committed themselves to the new structure, and whilst there is a certain hysteria in some quarters about the consequences of a failure to get promotion this season, this is very much a long-term plan and Farke’s squad will be allowed to develop organically, even if that means further setbacks or another season in the Championship.
While that would mean that there would be a need to cut costs further in the summer, predictions of a fire sale of all the club’s prime assets are a long way wide of the mark.
However, that’s an argument for the future because we’re not even halfway through this season yet, and City have already shown that they are more than capable of putting a good run together.
I would be more concerned at this point if I thought the squad had got anywhere close to its potential. Whilst the setbacks are frustrating, I’ve seen enough since those early defeats to convince me that, given better luck with injuries, the play-offs are by no means out of reach.
However, taking everything above into account I think that City’s current position is a fair reflection of their overall performances. Progress is rarely a straight-line event, and the recent slump was perhaps inevitable in that respect, however depressing it’s been to witness for most of us.
Exactly how far this squad can develop this season is something that only time will tell, but it’s important both that they get their campaign back on track this afternoon and that the crowd get behind them from the start.