Ian Clarke: Can Norwich City’s defence finally match the feat of the Fab Five?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
If Rob Green, Marc Edworthy, Adam Drury, Malky Mackay and Craig Fleming were in our squad now, how many of them would you start with at Middlesbrough on Saturday?
Random question you may think - but go with me for a bit.
With the combination of lockdown and the international break, I’m sure I’m not alone in having spent a fair bit of time reading about the Canaries, pondering the position we’re in now and thinking about the hectic schedule to come before the turn of the year.
I love a stat and as I looked over the facts and figures from this campaign so far, one thing stood out to me.
Daniel Farke’s men have conceded less than an average of a goal a game so far - just eight in the 11 matches.
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Yes, I know we’re only a quarter of the way through the season but with City’s recent defensive malaise, that is not to be sniffed at.
When was the last time we went through a season maintaining that frugal ratio I asked myself?
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- 10 Canaries drawn to face Coventry City at Carrow Road in FA Cup third round
I nearly tweeted NCFC Numbers, who I knew would have the answer quicker than Bali Mumba roars down the left flank.
But I thought I needed to do some work myself, so a trawl through the history books beckoned.
Year after year passed by and I was reminded of some pretty woeful years for defending.
Last season’s 75 goals in 38 matches was the worst total since 77 were leaked in that ill-fated 2004/5 relegation campaign.
When we were promoted in 2018/19, the Canaries’ net bulged 57 times in 46 games and even in 2014/15 - when City went up via the play-offs - there were 48 in the goals against column.
Back in the League One title winning season of 2009/10, there was one more goal conceded than games played,
Ok, eventually I got there and it was all the way back in 2003/4 that the feat of less than a goal conceded per match was achieved.
And that’s where I refer you back to Greeno, Edworthy, Drury, Malky and Flem.
In that 46-game campaign, City leaked just 39 goals and amazingly the back line only missed nine league games between them.
You really aren’t going to get more consistency and continuity than that.
Just three other defenders were used in the whole season (Yes, it’s a good quiz question and I’ll hold off giving the answer until the end).
Was that a dull and defensive team? Absolutely not.
City scored 79 times as they went up and when you’ve got the likes of Hucks, Iwan, Leon McKenzie, Matty Svensson, Paul McVeigh and Phil Mulryne in the team, there’s plenty of pace, attacking intent, flair and creativity.
That solid and cohesive back line provided the foundation to build the offensive plan on.
For too many seasons Norwich have lacked such a base.
Despite the encouraging signs this season, we all know that City’s defensive unit is far from the finished article.
Tim Krul and Max Aarons have both played in all 11 matches.
There’s nothing left for me to say about Super Timmy and already he’s shown he is as good as he’s ever been.
Max has also been hugely impressive, especially bearing in mind all the links to massive European clubs.
Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson have played most games together and in them, City have won four and drawn two and only conceded four times.
If they and Christoph Zimmermann are all fit, who will be the preferred duo? I can’t be certain but injuries permitting it’s a decent trio to chose from.
I’m pretty sure Sam Byram is the number one choice for left back once he’s back but Xavi Quintilla has looked the part and Jacob Sorensen hasn’t let anyone down filling in that berth.
The intense run of games and the challenges which will be posed by the likes of Middlesbrough, Stoke, Reading and Watford will show more about whether the paucity can be maintained.
In some ways, City have more attacking options now than in that 2003/4 season with Teemu Pukki, Emi Buendia, Todd Cantwell, Onel Hernandez, Marco Stiepermann, Jordan Hugill, Przemyslaw Placheta and Adam Idah all at Farke’s disposal.
If Farke can create real continuity and solidity at the back and finesse the mix with creativity and clinical finishing, then we’ll be in very good shape to be celebrating in May.
(Right, in case you didn’t guess, the other three defenders used in 2003/4 were Keith Briggs, Jim Brennan and Jason Shackell - and if I could mix the squads of now and then my back line would be Krul, Aarons, Drury, Malky and Flem).
I’m sure I speak for all City fans in passing on sincere condolences to Delia over the loss of her mother.
Etty was an institution at Carrow Road and so regularly sat next to her beloved daughter at first team and academy games,
She was staunchly loyal to Delia and to the club and she will be sadly missed.
I was interested to read that to reflect her passion for the youth set up, the academy player of the season award was named the Etty Smith Award – and a certain Adam Idah picked up the gong last year,
I’m sure she had a say – and proved she knew a thing or two about young talent.
Another great story relating to Etty was the part she
played in ensuring Grant Holt’s signature after there was a problem with his medical.
Just think how different a big chunk of Norwich City’s history would have been if Etty hadn’t intervened and the deal had collapsed.
In his biography, Holty said: “Thank you Etty, you are obviously a good judge!” Hear hear!
I was really chuffed to see Scotland qualify for next year’s Euros – especially as Norwich City players past and present had key roles in sealing the play-off final victory over Serbia.
He’s already the self-proclaimed mayor of Norwich and I’m sure plenty of civic honours north of the border will be bestowed on Kenny McLean after he coolly slotted home the fifth penalty.
Then it was down to former Canaries’ keeper David Marshall to pull off a terrific save to send the Scots to their first major tournament since 1998.
I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of the wild celebrations after the game – and yes king Kenny was at the heart of them!
I had forgotten Marshall played 92 times for City and that he got third place in the 2007/8 player of the season award, a campaign in which he was the only one to appear in every minute of every game.
We have such strong links with so many great Scots over the years, none more so than Bryan Gunn. If you’ve not seen his terrific interview with Chris Reeve on Talk Norwich City, I’d thoroughly recommend it.