Paddy's Pointers: Luton Town 3 Canaries 1
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Luton verdict after the Canaries' 3-1 Championship defeat
1. Ways and means
Norwich had turned finding a way into an art form so far in this gruelling Championship season. But in order to keep doing that you need options, you need resources and you need game changers from the bench.
Daniel Farke is now peering into parts of his squad even he arguably did not know existed prior to this debilitating run with injuries.
Jacob Sorensen at left back, Marco Stiepermann at centre forward. Przemyslaw Placheta at centre forward against Luton, and an under-populated bench stacked with raw talent he admitted in the build up to this sobering reality check at Luton should be nowhere near the first team conversation right now.
There was going to be a Luton type display; full of lethargy, lacking in energy or intensity.
Not just in deed but in thought.
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Some of the decision-making was as poor as the lack of defensive resolve or creative intent. Norwich had a case to question some of the key decisions but Farke was also accurate to highlight his own side’s deficiencies.
2. Fan power?
It would seem hard to comprehend just 1,000 home supporters dotted around Kenilworth Road could exert such influence on the officials.
But referee England did appear to be unsettled by what felt like a novel soundtrack on the terraces, after those months and months of fan-less football inside stadiums.
Farke tartly observed the ‘11 fans in one corner of the ground’ maybe earned the free kick from which Matty Pearson clambered above Sorensen to head Luton’s second.
The decision to penalise Grant Hanley for stumbling onto the ball with his hand, when he was clearly levered off his feet by a Luton player seconds after the interval, was a staggering penalty call.
As Farke remarked afterwards, why would Norwich’s captain go to ground inside his own penalty area when he had the option to do his job and clear his lines?
Norwich did not lose their unbeaten record due to the performance of the referee.
But Farke had a point to highlight how many of the key decisions went in the home side’s favour. Draw your own conclusions. It was ever thus, and City need to make the most of their home advantage when upwards of 2,000 return to Carrow Road for each of these next two league games.
3. Settling old scores
It cannot simply be the loss of Tim Krul that has brought to the surface again set piece frailty one associated with Norwich’s failed Premier League tilt.
Both Stoke and now Luton have scored goals from dead ball situations. Farke revealed after this defeat they had actually refined the zonal approach to specifically try and go man to man with the likes of Pearson.
Fine in theory but there was just as many questions left unanswered as to how the centre back could rise in front of Sorensen to power a header past Michael McGovern.
Not many teams in the Championship can seemingly take the Canaries on when it comes to smooth possession and patient build up play. But there appear to be plenty who fancy their chances from corners and set pieces. McGovern does not exude the same reassurance coming for crosses as Krul.
But to narrow the focus on City’s back up is to absolve those in front. You can be sure Tony Pulis will look to test the underbelly this weekend.
4. Does one man make a team?
No. Unless you go by the moniker Ronaldo or Messi. But Teemu Pukki comes pretty close for this Canaries’ collective. It is not solely the goals and fear his record appears to strike into opposition managers and defenders.
Recall Michael O’Neill’s warm eulogy after his match-winning brace at Stoke when he labelled Pukki is the best in the division.
But as has been witnessed in the two games missed with a hamstring strain, there is something tangibly inferior to Norwich’s threat in general play when he is absent.
Stiepermann and Placheta have put in emergency shifts but neither offer the cunning or the guile or the awareness of space. Pukki is far more than a goalscorer supreme, he is the focal point of City’s attacking endeavours.
He is the runner the likes of Emi Buendia and Stiepermann himself look for at every opportunity. Without him in this Norwich side, there is an over-reliance on Buendia at present that is unhealthy and unfair on the Argentine.
One can only hope Farke’s pre-match assertion Pukki will be available for Sheffield Wednesday is true.
5. Hot breath
The top seven is now separated by three points. One win. With Bournemouth slipping up at home on Tuesday to Alex Neil’s Preston, Norwich had an opportunity to put some real daylight between themselves and the pack with victory at Luton. It was not to be. But as Farke rightly pointed out, anyone expecting a 25-game unbeaten run and promotion secured by January is deluded.
This is the Championship, the proverbial marathon. Norwich may well concede top spot in the ebb and flow of these next few weeks. Particularly while they await the return to health of those currently sidelined.
But Norwich’s 10-match surge ensured a night like Luton did not mean lost ground to make up.
Swansea boss Steve Cooper suggested after his side’s recent Carrow Road defeat he did not expect any team to break from the pack and disappear over the horizon. It is certainly shaping up to be a long, arduous run to the finish.
That experienced banked by Farke and many of the current squad from two seasons ago may prove invaluable to retain a sense of perspective and composure.
Defeats are inevitable at this level. It is how Norwich responded to adversity two years ago that marked the title winning group out as special.