Paddy Davitt verdict: Negativity meets reality in City’s losing quest
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Daniel Farke was pitch perfect in his dissection of Norwich City’s Premier League woes after defeat at Sheffield United. But the tune still has a mournful refrain.
To recover and go again after the epic emotional and physical highs of that FA Cup passage at Tottenham was always a herculean task.
Farke sought to offer no pre-emptive excuses ahead of the trip to Bramall Lane.
None were forthcoming either after Billy Sharp demonstrated the cold eyed predatory instincts that have largely eluded City over the second part of this season.
But there was an inevitable toll from such exertions.
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The uplift will come in a few weeks when Manchester United arrive for a mouthwatering FA Cup quarter-final that could echo down the ages, should City again harness the qualities they so lack in Premier League combat.
If you seek to package another away defeat in the league as an inevitable by-product of what it took to down Jose Mourinho's boys, then you will likely welcome Southampton to Carrow Road this weekend with optimism intact.
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But six top flight goals all season on the road, one in the last six and none in open play since January 1 surely indicate a prolonged, regressive trend. To highlight such is not negativity. It is reality.
And barring a dramatic upturn in productivity away from Norfolk it will now end in a return to the Championship.
This is where Farke was so good in the aftermath of another frustrating episode of what might have been; made all the more unpalatable as the club who followed them out of the Football League are soaring towards a remarkable tilt at European football.
Farke acknowledged an uplifting result in Yorkshire would have capped the perfect week, after beating Leicester and then edging past Spurs. But in both of those games the head coach pointed out City had also missed chances, lost duels and ridden their luck.
Yet they found a way to prevail against the odds. They have not found a way anywhere near often enough in the Premier League.
Teemu Pukki is enduring the first fallow period of a stellar career at Norwich.
No goals in open play since that composed finish at Leicester on December 14.
A game he ended with a damaged foot that appears increasingly to have marked a watershed in a season that started in the same thrilling finish he previously swept City to the Championship title.
Pukki's promptings since that injury interlude now lack the clinical edge we took for granted.
He is a victim of the impossibly high benchmark he set during a debut season for his club that was embellished with a leading role for his country, in firing Finland to a first ever European Championship finals appearance.
He needs help from his Norwich team mates.
By and large none has been forthcoming on a consistent basis, which is why the searing focus remains on his declining output in front of goal.
The sliced half volley that grazed the outside of Dean Henderson's post, in the early sparring, was the act of a player who knows he is not at the peak of his powers and who also realised he might not get a better chance.
Josip Drmic could have eased the load had fitness issues not blighted his first few months.
Now Drmic is fighting fit and showing signs in the cup he offers a goal threat. The problem for all concerned is games are running out. Fast.
You could never fault the effort, the commitment or the endeavour of this group but there feels an underlying lack of conviction at the sharp end, a stubborn blockage in front of goal that suggests City's current roster will in all likelihood come up short.
There is no shame in that. Norwich have embarked on a path that may require a backward step to return stronger in the future.
Farke perceptively peered through the post-match gloom to caution it is easy to show unity and togetherness against Leicester and Tottenham.
The real test is in adversity.
Norwich have had plenty of that this campaign, both on the pitch and off it, with a chronic catalogue of injuries.
If you want to know how crucial a factor that appears simply contrast City's defensive woes with the almost unbroken run for Sheffield United's dependable back three, behind a keeper in Henderson who is rightly touted as one of the best in the land.
Yet to paraphrase Farke there has been no raising of the white flag.
Bad days, yes. But even in defeat this is a team in more than name only.