Chris Goreham: It’s a new age thing for Norwich City’s ‘young guns’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The clocks went back at the weekend, but an hour wasn’t enough for Daniel Farke.
A composed finish from Teemu Pukki, a Mario Vrancic free-kick and a late winner propelled the Canaries to within touching distance of the top two in the Championship.
It was as if Norwich City had found a way to turn the Carrow Road clocks all the way back to 2018-19 and that memorable Championship-winning season.
The temptation is to believe that Farke is attempting an action replay and trying to recreate that remarkable campaign. Look a little bit deeper, though, and you will see that this is a different Norwich City.
That promotion was achieved with a very youthful squad. The mission that Farke chose to accept in 2017 when he flew into Norfolk was all about bringing through players from the academy. He’s been so good at it that Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis remain Premier League footballers, despite City’s relegation.
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Those multi-million pound sales have allowed the club to bring in replacements from outside who are not untried youngsters. Ben Gibson is a centre back with a Championship promotion under his belt and who was once on the verge of the England squad. At left-back, Xavi Quintilla has taken Lewis’ place in the side fresh from crossing swords, and he’s not bad at crossing things, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in La Liga last season.
The promising stars that were not sold in the summer have suddenly graduated from being bright young talents to reliable first team regulars. Max Aarons made his 88th first team appearance at the weekend, Emi Buendia has just five fewer games to his name and Todd Cantwell has now played 72 times for his boyhood club. We are no longer watching a side that can point to a lack of experience as mitigation for mistakes.
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For all Farke’s achievements in the City dugout, it is often said that he is reluctant to give his substitutes enough time to make an impact. It was an aspect of his management that was regularly questioned during that bruising Premier League campaign.
Plans B and C have been well rehearsed in the opening exchanges of this season. Mario Vrancic’s transition from Super Mario to super sub is indicative of how important the bench warmers have been for City already.
The boss makes all the decisions - VrancicVrancic’s two well-taken winners against Birmingham and Wycombe mean that four of Norwich’s eight league goals have come from substitutes. Perhaps it’s a result of having a squad that isn’t as decimated by injuries as last season’s so often was. Farke has a greater variety of options now than at any time in his Norwich City reign.
The final piece of yellow and green received wisdom that we might need to start challenging is at the other end of the pitch. The Norwich defence has been reassuringly sound so far. If it was possible to underline the words ‘so far’ in red pen in this newspaper I would have done it. Bigger tests are to come and if a feeling of optimism about the solidity of the City back four remains intact after trips to Brentford and Bristol City this week we’ll all be encouraged.
We can only go on what’s happened so far.
Conceding just six goals in the first seven league games of the season is a far cry from the 12 they had leaked by the same stage in 2018-19. Hesitation from Grant Hanley allowed Wycombe to equalise on Saturday. That sort of thing will happen. If defences were completely perfect every game would end 0-0 and no one would go and watch them, even if they were allowed to.
It’s what follows those errors that is key. There was no capitulation and no lack of composure against Wycombe and if Hanley and Gibson can stay fit it has the potential to become a formidable partnership in this division.
Hanley’s last 12 first team appearances have brought five clean sheets. The skipper was able to start only six league games two seasons ago. He certainly wouldn’t want to turn the clocks back, so perhaps we all need to pause and judge this Norwich City on what they actually do and not what happened in the past.
Taking the Mick
This is a testing time for Ground Hoppers.
Football supporters who like to keep a record of how many places they have watched games are having to be imaginative.
Norwich City joined the chorus of clubs calling for supporters to be allowed back in to watch matches at the weekend.
Carrow Road was not the only ground where a match that was happening outside could be watched on screens indoors.
The few hundred fans who were able to socially distance inside the Gunn Club would have boosted the club’s finances, but this was not about money. It’s a mischievous way of pointing out the inconsistencies in the current Covid guidelines.
City back #LetFansIn campaignNo one is asking for 26,000 fans to pack into the ground again, but if a gathering is allowed inside for a big screen, a way of fitting some people into the stands safely ought to be possible.
The big question for me was whether you can officially say you were ‘at’ the game if you were inside a lounge at the stadium at the time it was being played.
Ground Hoppers on social media appear to have emphatically ruled against it and there is no VAR in the Championship. Their decision is final.
My argument was that you can claim to have seen The Rolling Stones at a festival like Glastonbury even if you’re miles away from the stage. At big concerts now most of the ticket holders end up having to peer at the jumbo TV screens to really get a sense of what’s going on.
As great as it is to see Norwich City winning games with late goals it does make it impossible to pretend that football is anything other than a sideshow at the moment. Mario Vrancic’s free-kick against Wycombe deserved a full-throated roar from The Barclay. It would have been right up there with seeing The Stones live.