Chris Goreham: Unsung hero is forming his own Norwich City lockdown

Grant Hanley helped the Canaries keep a clean sheet against Swansea Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus I

Grant Hanley helped the Canaries keep a clean sheet against Swansea Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

There is one type of lockdown that we can all agree is for the best.

After 180 minutes of football at Carrow Road over the last week the rate of goals conceded by Norwich City has remained at zero.

Tim Krul and Grant Hanley have expertly overseen the efforts to track and trace any threat posed by Millwall and Swansea. The defensive duo have established themselves as Norfolk’s answer to professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance but with hard graft instead of complicated graphs.

City go into this international break in much better shape than the last one. They began October with a 1-0 defeat to Derby County who are now bottom of The Championship. That was their only win so far. Teemu Pukki’s penalty slip combined with Wayne Rooney’s late free kick suggested this was a Canary campaign that could easily unravel. They had lost two successive games, mustering just four points from the opening four matches.

That two-week international break didn’t provide the respite supporters had been banking on. Within three minutes of the first game back they were a goal down at Rotherham. It wasn’t long before the Millers had a penalty which would have put them 2-0 up. Krul saved brilliantly from Freddie Ladapo and seasons can turn on such moments. Jordan Hugill was able to convert from the spot in the fifth minute of stoppage time to clinch a 2-1 victory. Krul ran the length of the pitch to join in with the goal celebrations. It might only have been a marginal victory against a side who were in League One while Norwich were attempting to hold their own in The Premier League but it felt significant.

Grant Hanley has been in excellent form for City so far this season. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus

Grant Hanley has been in excellent form for City so far this season. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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It was the first of seven games in four weeks. Norwich have come through all seven without losing, winning five of them, and now look well placed in the early stages of the Championship promotion Grand National. They needed Krul again on Saturday to make a string of smart saves in the win against Swansea.

That seven-game run also coincides exactly with Hanley’s return to the team. The skipper has perhaps been the squad’s most under appreciated player. A terrible run of injuries meant he was only able to start six games when Norwich won The Championship in 2018-19. He’s already surpassed that this season.

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Hanley was also injured when the Premier League returned from lockdown. There was an awful lot wrong with Norwich City in that dreadful final month in the top flight. The captain’s presence probably wouldn’t have kept them up but his leadership and influence was definitely missed. He was there for the famous FA Cup win at Tottenham and the 1-0 victory over Leicester back in February, the last time Carrow Road was full. The Canaries were often too easy to score against last season, those games were two notable exceptions.

The last two years have seen precious few shut outs at Carrow Road. Maybe that’s what comes with having so many young players in the team. Just like students they were too busy having a good time to worry about clean sheets. This looks like a more mature outfit.

It’s hard to remember any Norwich manager having more options than Daniel Farke has now. Sam Byram, Ben Gibson, Xavi Quintilla, Lukas Rupp, Todd Cantwell, Kieron Dowell and Onel Hernandez were injured for Saturday’s game against Swansea. All seven could justifiably consider themselves first team regulars when fit. For most clubs that would amount to an injury crisis. Farke however was still only able to offer tried and tested Championship stars like Mario Vrancic, Alex Tettey and Hugill seats on the bench. In the end it was another substitute, 19-year old Bali Mumba, whose introduction turned the game in Norwich’s favour.

Farke’s squad is deeper than Grant Hanley’s voice when he’s bellowing at team mates. With a fixture list that is even more congested than usual this season that depth is going to be worth a good few extra points in the Championship.

The graphs are looking good for City right now but as Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick are always telling us, we mustn’t ever become complacent.

Editor’s note: This article was written before Hanley pulled out of the Scotland squad with a ‘minor hamstring complaint’.

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