City report card: Loanees and support cast struggled to offer strength in depth
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In the final part of our Norwich City report card series, David Freezer takes a look at the supporting cast who featured during the Canaries’ disappointing relegation season in the Premier League.
As much as injuries did have a massive impact in ruining Norwich City’s momentum, they also exposed the lack of strength in depth in Daniel Farke’s squad.
The Canaries had made clear that they would have the smallest budget in the Premier League following promotion, so it was loan additions mostly coming in to strengthen a title-winning squad which had been rewarded with a raft of new contracts.
Those loan signings received a fair bit of criticism as the reality of an immediate return to the Championship became clear but one of them, goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann, could not be blamed for City’s disappointing campaign.
The experienced Schalke keeper only got to make three appearances but Tim Krul acknowledged the German’s quality as a key motivator for him after being voted Player of the Season.
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Fahrmann’s debut was the embarrassing 1-0 loss to League Two side Crawley in the League Cup second round in August, when Adam Idah unfortunately deflected a shot into the net.
His next opportunity came a month later at Crystal Palace, with Krul having to miss a couple of games to rest a back issue. The problem was that Fahrmann had a groin injury himself - but was desperate to play and made himself available for selection. It backfired and the 31-year-old limped off after being unable to save a Luka Milivojevic penalty 22 minutes into his Premier League debut at Crystal Palace.
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Michael McGovern came on and couldn’t prevent a 2-0 defeat at Selhurst Park, with the experienced Northern Ireland international also playing all of a 5-1 home defeat to Aston Villa, saving a penalty as he made his first league appearances for Norwich in two and a half years.
The 36-year-old also played all of the 4-2 win at Preston in the FA Cup third round and ended up providing cover for Krul for much of the second half of the season, as Fahrmann got frustrated and cut his loan short, initially joining Norwegian side SK Brann, although that stint was thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
We’ll never know how much an impact Fahrmann could have made but he has now returned to fight for his place at Schalke during pre-season, with McGovern entering the final 12 months of his City deal and set to continue providing cover for Krul in the Championship.
Stepping away from the loanees briefly, left-back Philip Heise did finally make his Norwich debut during that cup loss as well. The 29-year-old was on the bench for two league games but was playing for the under-23s prior to a January loan to Nuernberg. He’ll remain in Bundesliga Two with Karlsruher this season and is under contract with City until 2022.
Back to the loanees though and there was plenty of excitement about the summer arrivals of defensive midfielder Ibrahim Amadou and Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts.
Despite featuring regularly and looking bright during pre-season, Roberts played at Crawley as well - hitting the post with a long-range effort - but then only got three brief chances to impress from the bench before disappearing from view and cutting the loan short in January to join Middlesbrough in the Championship.
Amadou was more involved, with the former Lille captain making 13 appearances. He too made his debut at Crawley but as the defensive injury crisis started to unfold, chances in his preferred defensive midfield position were thwarted by necessity - putting in a brilliantly determined effort during the famous 3-2 win over Manchester City.
The 27-year-old couldn’t maintain that standard though and Alex Tettey moved ahead of him as Farke’s choice of emergency centre-back alongside Ben Godfrey. His big midfield chance came against Arsenal in early December and - some wild shots aside - Amadou proved a real physical presence, making a heroic late block to preserve a 2-2 home draw.
He kept his place for the trip to Southampton a few days later but was taken off at half-time with City playing poorly and only made one further appearance as a substitute after that, heading back to Spain with Leganes on loan for the rest of the season in January. He very nearly helped keep Leganes up as well, playing regularly in midfield as a late surge fell a point short of safety, including wins over Valencia and Athletic Bilbao.
The last of the loanees was Slovakia international midfielder Ondrej Duda, who struggled to build on a bright debut during a 1-0 home win over Bournemouth in January.
Nine of his 12 appearances were league starts but the 25-year-old’s poor set-pieces angered supporters and he returned to Hertha Berlin swiftly after relegation was confirmed, opting out of the final three games.
Away from the loanees, there was also Dennis Srbeny. The striker scored one of City’s paltry 26 league goals, coming on to seal the 2-0 victory at Everton in November during one of his eight league appearances as a substitute. The German was sold to Paderborn in January and managed five goals in 17 games but couldn’t prevent relegation from the Bundesliga.
There were also some new academy faces in the mix as attentions turned to the future during the painful slide back to the Championship.
Chief among them was tricky midfielder Josh Martin, with the former Arsenal trainee having caught the eye with an FA Youth Cup hat-trick at Carrow Road earlier in the season.
Five brief appearances gave the youngster a taste of Premier League action and he really should have put his name up in lights on the final day, when he fluffed his lines with a weak shot after fine play from Todd Cantwell, during the 5-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Two other academy prospects, centre-back Akin Famewo and right-back Jordan Thomas, were given their debuts that afternoon at the Etihad and will also be hoping for further chances to press their claims during the new season.