David Freezer: Steady progress is soothing City’s hangover nicely
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Shaking off a Premier League hangover could have been more difficult this season than any before, during these unprecedented times. Norwich City have smelt the Championship bacon however and are rising from their slumber.
Barely three weeks between a painful top-flight farewell and returning for pre-season, the distractions of the transfer window continuing six weeks into the season, a significant refresh of the squad and early injury blows all made for an incredibly testing time for Daniel Farke, who knew full well that expectations would be high.
That’s before you even get to the tactical tweaks, team bonding and confidence rebuilding required within a squad if a club is to find solid ground after the draining experience of falling through the Premier League trapdoor.
The Canaries rather took that to the extreme when they imploded to a club record run of 10 consecutive defeats - yet here they stand, close to a quarter of this condensed campaign played and in fourth place, top of the Championship form table after taking 13 of a possible 15 points from their last five matches.
Farke, his players and City fans know it means very little at this early stage of the season, particularly when the English second tier is so renowned for its gruelling and intense physicality in normal circumstances.
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Indeed, the class of 2020-21 has three fewer points than Norwich did under both Neil Adams in 2014 and Alex Neil in 2016 after top flight relegations, but three more than Farke’s title winners. The long and winding road is only just beginning.
It’s a start though, a good start, a solid foundation to build upon.
- 1 MATCHDAY RECAP: Canaries beaten by Barnsley in FA Cup
- 2 Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' 1-0 FA Cup defeat against Barnsley
- 3 Norwich City transfer rumours: Canaries interested in Luton midfielder
- 4 Farke's injury fears for Hugill after Barnsley FA Cup loss
- 5 Rupp set for FA Cup recall
- 6 Robin Sainty: Farke has taken City to a whole new level
- 7 Ton up Tim is wonderful for Farke
- 8 STARTING XIs: Hernandez starts as City make five changes for FA Cup tie
- 9 Barnsley v Norwich City in the FA Cup - all you need to know
- 10 Energetic Barnsley dump disjointed Norwich side out of the FA Cup
No team is yet to feel the brunt of a thrashing that will undoubtedly arrive sometime soon. There is too much attacking quality in the squad for there not to be enjoyable days during the journey - see the 5-0 thumping of Huddersfield and 6-1 dismantling of Millwall of 2014 as evidence, less than a month before Adams stepped down midway through that eventful season.
A solid but unspectacular start to shaking off the hangover has teed up the possibility of brighter days ahead, if confidence can continue to grow as rhythm returns and smiles spread.
Doing that wasn’t easy during the days before Covid-19, before the numbness of behind-closed-doors games and flat atmospheres that sap the fun from goal celebrations.
Just seven of the last 30 teams relegated from the Premier League have managed to bounce straight back automatically, Burnley in 2016 and Newcastle in 2017, with the remaining five doing so via Wembley.
So which sensible Canaries fan wouldn’t have happily taken 17 points from a possible 27, had it been offered to them at the start of this strange season?
It may not have been smooth sailing, the victories should have been more comfortable and more chances have been spurned than would be acceptable for most squads, but one way or another City have found a way to put together a five-game unbeaten run.
Confidence is so often the crucial element to success in football and that takes time, particularly after a bruising spell of defeat, doom and gloom.
Farke has been searching for a clinical edge and it was on the day that the world lost the big screen’s first and best James Bond - as the death of Sir Sean Connery at the age of 90 emerged just minutes before the lunchtime kick-off at Ashton Gate - that Teemu Pukki reminded his rivals that he already has his Championship licence to thrill.
The rekindling of the Finn’s attacking understanding with Marco Stiepermann was hugely encouraging and he really should have been sealing a second hat-trick in yellow and green with the chances that kept coming his way. You sense his energy and sharpness rapidly returning, even if Bristol were negligent in the amount of space they allowed City.
To have 45 goals from 93 games is quite remarkable, as Pukki closes on a place in the club’s all-time top 20. His movement before both strikes reminded us of the skills that his success for City and Finland have been built upon.
Tim Krul’s denials of Chris Martin were pivotal and Nahki Wells’ pathetic penalty truly let Farke’s team off the hook but you sensed there were more gears to go through if required.
Things are simmering nicely but there is much more to come, players still finding their form, if they can keep calm and maintain belief when the inevitable days of frustration do arrive.