Six things you might have missed from City’s eventful draw with Preston
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a hard fought 2-2 draw with Preston, David Freezer assesses Norwich City’s early season progress in the Championship.
1 - Positive trends so welcome
After having to dwell on so many negative issues for so long, it’s nice to have some upward trends to discuss.
It may have been a draw with Preston but it was also the first time City have scored two goals in a league game since the 2-2 draw with Tottenham last December.
Teemu Pukki’s header, with a big helping hand from Declan Rudd, was the first headed league goal since Kenny McLean during the 3-2 win over Manchester City a year ago - with Grant Hanley’s goal at Burnley in the FA Cup in January the last headed goal overall.
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Eleven shots on target from the first two league games is as many as during the final five of the Premier League relegation campaign.
But perhaps the happiest is that it was the first time the Canaries have fought back to claim a point since Mario Vrancic scored the free-kick which earned a point against Wednesday in April 2019. City managed just three league equalisers since that night - during two defeats.
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2 - Rebuilding confidence isn’t easy
However, overall this was a rather disjointed display from Daniel Farke’s team.
Preston’s incessant pressing really knocked City out of their stride in the first half and the speed of thought required didn’t quite seem to be there from the hosts.
At this very early stage of the campaign, after such a barren spell during an unprecedented time in the history of football, it’s fair to afford time for the players to find some rhythm as a rebuilt squad and to start rebuilding damaged confidence.
North End will not be the last team to press hard though. Huddersfield did it but couldn’t keep up the intensity the previous week. Nor will they be the last team to try and turn the game into a physical scrap.
It’s heartening to see the spirit and quality shine through eventually but sharper movement and passing is needed to beat that press. Can they settle down and find that rhythm before the transfer window closes? That’s the big question.
3 - Selection issues are building
It was little surprise to see Farke name an unchanged XI after a win, City’s boss likes to keep the faith.
Emi Buendia’s failed fitness test set transfer tongues wagging as he didn’t return to the squad after suspension but selection issues look likely to be more pressing ahead of a tough trip to Bournemouth on Sunday.
Christoph Zimmermann was dragged out of position too easily ahead of the second goal and Ben Godfrey also went wandering, leading to Xavi Quintilla’s desperate yellow card as he tried to fill the space left open. Recent signing Ben Gibson will be eager for his first chance.
The midfield pairing of Kenny McLean and Oliver Skipp seemed to lose its balance, with the talented but inexperienced Skipp culpable for both goals and neither offering the defensive cover of Alex Tettey.
It’s not quite happening for Onel Hernandez or Todd Cantwell yet either and with Kieran Dowell getting hurt, a Buendia return is looming.
4 - Attacking duo make their case
Two players also pushing hard for a start now are Przemek Placheta and Adam Idah, who both cause real problems as Preston tired.
Placheta replaced Dowell in the first half but it wasn’t until Hernandez was replaced by Idah in the 63rd minute that the Pole started to catch the eye, as he got more chances on the left.
Placheta missed a golden chance to make it 2-2 after Idah had brilliantly forced a fine save from Rudd, then adjusted well when another big chance came to finish the crucial equaliser nicely.
It was the late chance the 22-year-old created that was exciting though - started by fine play from Idah - with a really determined run and cross, from which Rudd so superlby denied Pukki.
There’s a reason Idah has just been capped by Ireland and is keeping Jordan Hugill waiting as well. He has a balance of physicality, skill and speed that coaches crave in a striker. He may only be 19 but he’s ready and hungry for some proper game time.
5 - Left-back role in the spotlight
The match was followed by news of Sam McCallum returning to Coventry on loan for the season.
City’s decision left many fans worried about the lack of cover for Xavi Quintilla, so soon after the sale of Jamal Lewis to Newcastle.
The 20-year-old did okay at Luton in the League Cup but missed his chance to really lay claim to the starting spot and Quintilla has proved an influential figure during the first two league games, with his set-piece providing added prominence.
The Villarreal loanee has promising technique and is still adjusting but with Sam Byram out until January, an injury or suspension means Bali Mumba or Max Aarons are likely to be needed on the left. Ben Gibson has also played at left-back a few times earlier in his career, as have Ben Godfrey and Marco Stiepermann.
McCallum getting regular Championship game time clearly makes sense but City have now put a lot of faith in Quintilla proving a success.
6 - Familiar feeling is a huge boost
The final say has to go to the returning season ticket holders though, after a promising step back towards normality at Carrow Road.
Just to see some yellow shirts as we made our way to the stadium brought back a welcome sense of familiarity.
One of the nicest moments came during the warm-up, with many of the 1,000 fans already in their seats in the South Stand after being encouraged to arrive early due to temperature checks and long queues.
It was Tim Krul, Michael McGovern, Daniel Barden and goalkeeper coach Ed Wootten out first to be greeted by a big cheer, as any nerves about the day gave way to a realisation that those lucky fans were back home after more than six agonising months away.
Placheta provided the big moment they craved and for a split second it looked like Pukki had found a special winner, but it wasn’t to be. Now we can only hope that the trial was successful and will be allowed to continue.