Connor Southwell: The case for City's defence

Norwich Head Coach Daniel Farke and Grant Hanley of Norwich at the end of the Sky Bet Championship m

Norwich City's defence have conceded the joint fewest goals in the division this season. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

There is one point in everyone's football career, regardless of how successful, where they want to be the player who grabs the glory and scores the goals. 

After all, it is very rare for defenders to appear in headlines or be handed trophies during the end of season award ceremonies for individual performances. Attackers are praised more, rewarded more and command more money in the transfer market. 

That is why every youngster replicates the goals of their favourite attacking players rather than replicating a brave block from a fearless defender.  

But for every Emi Buendia, a once in a generation type talent, you need a Grant Hanley or a Ben Gibson to balance out the ship. Every band needs a frontman, the performer, the star. But don't forget about those supplying the tune on the bass guitars.

Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles. That was the quote uttered by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. 

It can be applied to Norwich City as well.

When minds are cast back to their 2003/04 Division One champions, admittedly, Darren Huckerby is the first player to be remembered for his contribution, but then it quickly shifts onto Craig Fleming, Malky Mackay, Adam Drury and Marc Edworthy. 

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Fleming and Mackay are considered one of the greatest defensive partnerships of the modern era. Well, Hanley and Gibson are on course to record fewer goals conceded this season. 

City are currently conceding goals at a rate of 0.7 per game. If that remains for the last nine games, they will ship another six goals - that would take their total goals conceded this season to 35. 

When you consider City's class of 03/04 let in 39, that would be a remarkable achievement. Based on that projection, they would also match a club record of goals conceded in a season, which is currently held by the class of 71/72 who conceded 36 goals in a 42 game campaign.

Last season, it was about how many they could keep it down to rather than how many clean sheets they could amass. It's been a turnaround of epic proportions. It will be the factor that many point to as the reason why they are in a stronger position to retain their top-flight status next season. 

Ben Gibson of Norwich and Lewis Grabban of Nottingham Forest in action during the Sky Bet Championsh

Ben Gibson has formed a formidable partnership with Grant Hanley. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

After Manchester City conquered Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League in midweek, Canaries follower Pep Guardiola spoke about how his side defends by retaining possession of the ball and pushing their full-backs into midfield areas to control counters. 

Farke has spoken previously about his close philosophical alignment with the former Barcelona manager in terms of football. City's ability to starve sides of possession is a critical part of how they defend. 

Playing out of possession is tiring. Both physically and mentally. It is harder without the ball to maintain fitness, you're eating up the yards in an attempt to restrict opportunities for your opponent. As City have proven during this campaign, eventually an opening will appear. 

There can also be no underestimation of Oliver Skipp's role in City's newfound defensive security, either. 

The Spurs loanee has been a major protagonist in City's side during this campaign. Offering dynamism and energy but he has also screened the back four expertly. His positional awareness and off the ball quality is integral to the Canaries' improved resilience. 

Concerns about his future remain, with Tottenham keeping a close eye on his progress with a view to next season. His current performance levels are of the standard that would be expected of a Spurs regular.

Equally remarkable is the Canaries' defensive consistency in terms of personnel. During this nine game-winning run, the back five has remained the same for all bar two matches when Christoph Zimmermann replaced Gibson at the back. 

Grant Hanley of Norwich and Dimitris Giannoulis of Norwich celebrate victory at the end of the Sky B

City are on course to match a club record for the fewest goals conceded in a single season. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Tim Krul has kept 15 clean sheets and is the only goalkeeper in English football to have a save rate of over 80%. If Norwich's defence isn't getting headlines because of its defensive work, it should be. 

Gibson and Hanley have grown throughout the season. They have reached the stage whereby they seem to understand their strengths and weaknesses seamlessly.

Gibson is the man to step into midfield and change the point of an attack with an incisive pass. Hanley is the one to cover and atone for the ex-Boro's man lack of pace. 

During each game, the prominent voices heard are those with a deep Scottish and Teeside accent. Those intangible elements make them more formidable.

Max Aarons is a more balanced full-back than two years ago. There is less naivety and more consideration in terms of when to bomb forward. Dimitris Giannoulis is beginning to flourish and looks a snip at the future fee City will pay upon promotion.

When City are pressed, their full-backs push on and act as an escape route to progress the ball up the pitch. When they face a low block, they sit back and offer that space to City's creators. 

Tim Krul of Norwich tips the ball over the bar from a header by Tobias Figueiredo of Nottingham Fore

Tim Krul has kept 15 clean sheets. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

That flexibility and quality at the back is underpinning their promotion push. It may not be as glamorous but is fuelling the winning machine they have created.

And so you end up back at Ferguson's phrase, City's attack is winning them matches. But it may well end up being the defensive unit that secures them the Championship title.

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