Melissa Rudd: High fives and the Millwall nightmare becomes a case of capital gains

Norwich City players look dejected after conceding goal number four at The Den in August, 2017 Pictu

Norwich City players look dejected after conceding goal number four at The Den in August, 2017 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The kind of football Daniel Farke has Norwich City playing has attracted plaudits far and wide – it has even sparked debate among fans as to which team was better; the current crop or Paul Lambert’s promotion winners of 2011.

I have always found those sorts of comparisons across different eras a little pointless; who would want to argue whether Grant Holt in his pomp would get in a side ahead of Teemu Pukki? One is a club legend and the other the sharpest finisher we have seen here in years. Let’s be grateful for both.

It is impossible to reflect on Saturday’s impressive win at Millwall though without comparing it to last season’s visit, as both, of course, were in the Farke era. The transformation has been nothing short of incredible.

There were no survivors from that August 2017 fixture in the starting XI, with Mario Vrancic instead on the bench at the weekend. Back then Christoph Zimmermann and Marco Stiepermann were both brought on as second-half substitutes when Norwich were 3-0 down.

It may have only been near to the start of that season but the disjointed performance from City that day was shocking enough to set alarm bells ringing. Norwich looked like a group of individuals who had no idea how to play together, and had capitulated against a newly-promoted side who had yet to win a game.

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We were days away from the end of the transfer window, and Farke and Stuart Webber still hadn’t addressed the one area of the pitch where we looked so poor under Alex Neil. The board proceeded to go all out to sign Grant Hanley in a desperate attempt to plug a leaky defence that at the time had conceded more goals than any other Championship side.

It was an ugly wake-up call for Farke, but one that he learned from quickly. He reshuffled the defensive unit, pairing Zimmerman with Timm Klose while Hanley worked his way up to full fitness, and five consecutive clean sheets in the league followed.

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We all know how the rest of the season unfolded, how the problems at the other end of the pitch took much longer to sort. Eighteen months on, now Farke has had time to assemble his own squad of players who fit into his philosophy and play as a complete unit, City are unrecognisable from the rabble who were thrashed 4-0.

Much has been written about the togetherness in the squad, and putting in a second-half performance to kill off the game after conceding a sloppy equaliser on the stroke of half-time is further testament to that. But it’s the togetherness in the stands that, thank goodness, became more evident than ever at The Den.

The full-time whistle was greeted with the customary high-fives and mutual appreciation between players and supporters, followed by the head coach’s famous individual salute to the crowd – something we have become used to seeing. It only highlighted the complete contrast to what happened last campaign.

Chants of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ and a chorus of boos and expletives greeted the previous result in South Bermondsey in the very same stand. There felt a clear divide between the playing staff and the people paying their hard-earned money to watch them. It was, quite frankly, a horrible afternoon to be a Norwich City supporter. It is only when thinking back to those occasions that you can truly appreciate the wave the football club is currently riding, and the enormity of what it could be on the cusp of achieving.

With two home fixtures in front of the television cameras in the next six days, there is now a golden opportunity to ensure City are the team the rest of the pack is chasing as the number of games remaining heads into single figures, and on this form there is no reason to believe why they won’t take it.

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