Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' 1-1 Newcastle draw
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Paddy Davitt delivers his Newcastle verdict after Norwich City's 1-1 Premier League comeback.
1. Half measures
Dean Smith and his Norwich City players may have privately signed for a 1-1 Premier League draw at Newcastle before a ball was kicked. They most definitely would have rejected that offer nine minutes in, when Ciaran Clark was rightly red carded for hauling back Teemu Pukki.
But if anything that numerical disadvantage appeared to inspire Eddie Howe’s new charges.
City were lethargic and lateral, laboured in possession and lacking in ideas until Pukki smacked a wonderful volley into the top corner to rescue a point that in the final analysis stretched Norwich’s unbeaten top flight run to four games.
And by dint of Burnley’s inactivity, actually moved Smith’s squad a place higher in the pecking order. But that will feel like scant consolation given the hand they were dealt with more than 80 minutes of normal time left.
But to paraphrase Smith’s own mantra, after those stirring home efforts got his reign off to an unbeaten start, ‘never too high with a win, never too low with a defeat.’ Where a draw ranks, and the manner of this one, is a moot point.
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2. Revealing clues
Smith had eulogised about the attitude and the quality at his disposal since coming through the door following his dismissal from Aston Villa. Just in the build up to this basement battle he declared himself ‘pleasantly surprised’ by the depth of riches at his disposal.
On this occasion he was without the injured Milot Rashica and Mathias Normann, plus Todd Cantwell for a ‘Covid-related’ contact issue.
But he inherited a group rock bottom for a reason. It was not solely what Daniel Farke did, or more pertinently, did not do why the Canaries were listing so badly after the early skirmishes.
There were weaknesses in this group of players, some tactical, some physical, some maybe even mental. Flaws and a lack of belief that was routinely being punished in a demanding Premier League environment.
Smith will arguably learn more from what he did not see, between Clark’s red card and Pukki’s sumptuous leveller, that may well trouble him but also aid his understanding of what needs to be fixed over the course of the months ahead.
In the final analysis, even on a poor night Norwich found a way to earn a result. That is a solid foundation for the work he has to undertake once the honeymoon glow wears off.
3. Smith switches
What was beyond doubt yet again is Norwich have a head coach in charge who can detach himself from the emotion and the fury that envelops the touchline and cast a cold eye over the proceedings.
Both against Southampton and Wolves previously, Smith and his trusted assistant, Craig Shakespeare, were able to decode what was not working and find a fast-acting fix. That was evident again in the decisive final stages at St James’ Park.
Adam Idah was introduced to offer physical ballast and a focal point as Newcastle sat deeper and deeper to protect what would have constituted their first league win of the season. But more tellingly, the marauding Brandon Williams made way for the all-out attacking instincts of Dimitris Giannoulis.
With that natural left-sided balance and width, City were able to stretch the under-manned Magpies and when Martin Dubravka spilled Billy Gilmour’s deep cross, Giannoulis was there to collect and then coolly lob the ball back for Pukki to strike.
If Pierre Lees-Melou, a half-time arrival, had slotted a massive stoppage time chance, with Dubravka to beat, then Smith’s crystal ball gazing would have scaled fresh heights. But Smith’s ability to alter games at the highest level is a welcome addition.
4. Money in the bank
It should underline the level of City’s summer recruitment that even without Rashica, who was ruled out with a groin issue after two eye-catching displays under new management, Smith could turn to a Greek international purchased at considerable cost within the Canaries’ budget.
A second Premier League start for Christos Tzolis, who must have felt his luck was in after 10 minutes when the Magpies were reduced to 10 men, and the prospect of all that space to unleash his pace and thrust.
There was one or two glimpses of promise. Dubravka had to dive to his right to keep hold of a low shot. Arguably his best moment was the perfectly-timed run and cross that Josh Sargent was unable to bundle home from close range at the back post. But Smith had seen enough by the interval and hooked the youngster for Lees-Melou in a remodelled midfield.
Tzolis may feel a touch of disappointment he has yet to scale the heights of his headline grabbing League Cup against Bournemouth.
But there is a clearly a raw young talent who Smith and Shakespeare may find comes to the party as this season unfolds. Any Premier League exposure now for the teenage can have a long term dividend.
5. Max Air
Smith revealed after the goalless draw against Wolves, prior to this Tyneside assignment, he was enjoying working with Norwich’s England Under-21 international. But there was an interesting sidebar attached that he had been instructed to curb his natural attacking instincts so loved by Farke.
Given Smith has also made great play of making City a much harder to beat entity, and a team who cough up far fewer ‘clear cut’ chances, it is no huge surprise Aarons has been more circumspect. But when Clark departed early, Aarons was the spare man for large swathes of the opening period.
Smith and Shakespeare could be heard demanding Norwich’s centre backs look for their young colleague at every available opportunity.
The message did eventually get through, with Aarons having opportunities to probe in the final third as the game unfolded. There is no doubt the one time wide player’s aggressive attacking instincts are already well honed. If Smith can improve the defensive side of his work expect him to remain on the radar of some of the biggest clubs at home and abroad.