Paddy Davitt verdict: City have the X-factor. They also have work to do
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Daniel Farke might need to change the locks on his office at Colney to keep Mario Vrancic out after another remarkable slice of Championship life at Norwich City.
Even by the epic standards of Norwich City’s title winning campaign two years ago the manner of these last three league wins defy belief.
Two stoppage time victories, and an 87th minute decider to sink Birmingham in between; with Vrancic the centrifugal force spinning his side upwards.
There was something reassuringly predictable about the final outcome when the Bosnian dotted that ball down 20 yards outside the box and prepared to dip into his set piece bag of sorcery. Roughly two hours before Vrancic was the very last Norwich player to return to the dressing room during the pre-match warm ups.
Alone, with a ball for company, he practised a series of free kicks almost in the identical spot in front of the Barclay where he delivered when it mattered.
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That is either delicious coincidence or Vrancic knew he might be required for another dramatic match-winning intervention. It certainly highlighted again his impeccable timing and showman’s instinct.
Inevitably the clarion calls for Farke to shoehorn him into his midfield from the start will grow even louder.
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Perhaps led most vocally by the man himself, who you can be sure is unimpressed at being labelled a ‘super sub’. Farke, as he does so well in his media briefings, has already explained the logic and his thought processes. Vrancic’s ability to turn a game, and his ‘world class’ instincts to smell a pass others simply never see, are not in doubt. Least of all by the head coach who joked recently people thought he was Vrancic’s ‘father-in-law’, given his faith in the cultured midfielder during a rocky debut season in Norfolk.
But Vrancic does not offer the same defensive protection as others at Farke’s disposal.
That subtle change in the balance of Norwich’s central midfield, undertaken in the midst of a failed Premier League relegation tussle, appears to remain uppermost in the German’s thinking.
Kenny McLean and Alex Tettey became a preferred option when Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull were unable to exert the control they threatened in those optimistic early months of top flight life.
Now it is Olly Skipp and Lukas Rupp; a pairing with potential but, as demonstrated against a wonderfully spirited Wycombe, yet to provide the type of control Farke demands on a routine basis in a key area. From the moment Scott Kashket intercepted David Wheeler’s hopeful knockdown, a procession turned into another Championship grind.
Arguably up until the physical and mental exertions of trying to bridge the gulf in quality told.
But it still took a moment of individual brilliance from a player who may well have to accept his current status for the foreseeable.
Farke needs no convincing of his talent, but there is a bigger picture in play. The priority, following relegation, was to shed a losing culture; when getting beaten became the norm and acceptance, at least peering from outside the camp, appeared to come all too readily.
That is why the likes of Ben Gibson and Jordan Hugill were recruited - as much for their character and leadership as their obvious footballing ability.
If Farke has decided this opening phase of the Championship fightback is about marginal gains, about restoring confidence and self belief, and ultimately about winning games, then his team selections betray a degree of conservatism tinged with the undoubted X-factor potential further forward of a Todd Cantwell or Emi Buendia.
Fulsome credit needs to be showered on Gareth Ainsworth’s side. This was not just about what Norwich failed to do for a large portion of the contest.
They married resilience with attacking ambition and it made for an uncomfortable watch. It was also a pertinent reminder there are no cheap points. Especially with trips to Brentford and Bristol City on the horizon - assignments were Norwich will need solidity without the ball. They may also need Vrancic to sprinkle his magic dust.
This is less a conundrum for Farke. It is a signal to the rest Norwich possess an enviable depth of resource. That should be a cause for celebration.
A trio of league wins does not disguise there are issues to be resolved.
But City’s impressive levels of productivity since the international break is putting foundations in place. The roof and the fixtures and fittings can come later.