Chris Goreham: Will Norwich City fans still believe in Farke Christmas?
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Forget the Twelve Days of Christmas because, if you are a Norwich City fan the next couple of weeks are all about the Four Matches of Christmas.
City currently feel a bit like an old piece of tinsel on the Championship Christmas tree.
The Canaries are 10 points adrift of the play-off places and also 10 points clear of the relegation zone. They are not at the top with the stars, but neither are they scrapping to avoid that horrible smell emanating from the cheap aftershave wrapped up at the bottom. At their best, Norwich City have provided the odd glimpse of a sparkle, but too often they have been outshone by much brighter lights during the first half of the season. Ultimately they have brought a bit of decoration to the table but no one is really talking about them.
The mood of much of Norfolk at this most wonderful time of the year will be dictated by how Norwich fare in their four festive fixtures.
The first match of Christmas is against Brentford at Carrow Road on Friday night followed by Boxing Day in Birmingham, a last hurrah of 2017 at Burton and then blowing away the cobwebs against Millwall at home on New Year’s Day.
Good will to all men in Championship terms means I am duty bound to point out that there are no easy games in this division, but let’s just forget about that for a moment and consider that Norwich are about to play the teams currently placed 13th, 24th, 23rd and 17th. The fixture computer has been less generous with its Christmas gifts in years gone by, as anyone who saw Gareth Bale in full flight for Tottenham at Carrow Road on December 27, 2011 will testify.
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Santa Claus isn’t the only bearded figure gearing up for an important spell – Daniel Farke should have some sympathy for old Saint Nick. If the City head coach can inspire his team to binge on the 12 points that will be on the Christmas table then this season may not turn out to be the turkey that many are fearing. There have been signs of improvement in the Canaries’ performances in recent weeks and if they can start to cash the cheques that they have been threatening to write, helped by the returns to fitness of Alex Pritchard and Nelson Oliveira while Mario Vrancic starts to settle into the rhythm of English football, then perhaps we will be unwrapping a springboard to a much better second half of the season.
It’s hard to ignore the nagging concern that even improved performances at places like Cardiff and Leeds in the last two away matches have ended in defeat. If that happens two or three times over Christmas then this City side will be in serious danger of getting dragged into a battle at the bottom. Sitting next to our colleagues from BBC Radio Leeds at the weekend meant I was able to keep an ear on their post-match phone-in. Phrases like “an important win against a very good Norwich City side” add to the impression that the players in Farke’s squad ought to be doing better than 16th at the halfway stage.
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There have been mitigating circumstances given the number of new players at the club and the injuries to some key performers, but City’s new structure means that the head coach’s only job is to find a way to get the best he can out of his players. That certainly needs to start happening over the next fortnight or Norwich fans might stop believing in Farke Christmas.
The great secret that no sports journalist likes to admit is that we are nowhere near as good at answering questions as asking them.
So it was a very uncomfortable experience at Carrow Road last week to be put firmly on the spot by the giant former Wolves keeper Matt Murray.
He is now part of the coaching staff at Barnsley and was working with their Under 18s as they took on Norwich City in the third round of the FA Youth Cup. The Yorkshire youngsters started impressively, were deservedly 1-0 up at half-time and looked to have made it 2-0 early in the second half only to see an effort ruled out for offside.
What followed was one of the most extraordinary turnarounds I have ever seen in a football match at any level. The young Canaries, who had been below par, found their form to the tune of four goals in 10 minutes as Barnsley collapsed. Irish striker Adam Idah looked impressive as he helped himself to a hat-trick but, for the sake of clarity, I am not yet demanding he plays against Brentford on Friday night.
After the match I joined Dave Freezer of this very newspaper in going to interview City coach David Wright. While we were waiting a commotion broke out down the tunnel as the Barnsley coaching staff made their feelings known to the officials about their decision to rule out that second goal. An agitated Murray came over to ask us what we had made of the decision.
“I’m sorry, mister, I haven’t seen a replay,” was the best I could muster to the 6ft 5in Murray with all the conviction of a child who had kicked my ball over a neighbour’s fence.
Murray happened to be at Leeds on Saturday covering City’s match for Sky Sports. As I walked past him he was halfway through an angry rant to one of the other reporters. I heard him say, “and then we scored a second goal but that was ruled out for offside. It was a ridiculous decision”.
Four days on the frustration obviously hadn’t gone away. I took the proper ‘brave’ sports journalist’s approach and made sure I stayed out of his way for the rest of the afternoon in case he asked me any more difficult questions. It’s our job to ask them not answer them. Thankfully.