David Freezer: Next part of the puzzle to be solved is obvious for Canaries
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Some of the pieces of Daniel Farke’s new Championship jigsaw puzzle have started to click into place at Norwich City but it’s clear which area needs to be solved next - in front of goal.
City posted some seriously impressive passing statistics against Birmingham on Tuesday but it was well into squeaky bum time at a depressingly empty Carrow Road when Mario Vrancic finally broke the deadlock.
That was despite a hail of 23 shots being rained on the visitors’ goal, a total only achieved during eight previous league games since Farke took charge in 2017 - yet, strangely, four shots on target was the lowest return of the season so far.
Todd Cantwell’s rusty finishing took the gloss of his extremely encouraging performance in general play, with Neil Etheridge denying the returning midfielder, Teemu Pukki and the excellent Lukas Rupp with saves of shots on target.
Jordan Hugill’s radar needed a slight readjustment, Grant Hanley nodded a header wide from a corner and Emi Buendia passed up a fine opportunity to shoot when he was tempted into a pass for Adam Idah instead, which went awry.
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It really was a display befitting of a comfortable margin of victory but perhaps a gradual improvement will be better in the long run, as that has been very evident from game to game, as familiarity and confidence grows.
During Farke’s first season in charge frustrations were obvious, particularly at home, when increasingly desperate shots from the likes of Nelson Oliveira and Josh Murphy had seen plenty of fine possession-based play go to waste.
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Take the 1-1 home draw with Hull in October 2017, for example. That match saw the visitors reduced to 10 men in the 57th minute but it wasn’t until Oliveira found his range in the 90th minute that an equaliser was found, despite 72 percent of possession and 25 shots, six of which were on target.
Two months later and Brentford escaped with a 2-1 win despite City having 22 shots, eight of which were on target. Or similar stories in the back-to-back goalless draws with Bolton and Nottingham Forest during the second half of the campaign.
Of course the big difference arrived in the summer ahead of 2018-19, when Teemu Pukki continued his lethal form for Brondby and drastically improved the Canaries’ conversion rate.
In 2017-18 it was 49 goals from 650 shots, of which 185 were on target (28.5pc) for a conversion rate of 26.5pc from those shots on target.
In 2018-19 that leapt to a club record second tier high of 93 goals, scored from 709 shots, of which 254 were on target (35.8pc) for a big improvement in conversion to 36.6pc.
But so far this season, despite unleashing an impressive 100 shots while shaking off the Premier League relegation hangover, just six goals have been scored so far, from 31 shots on target, for a conversion rate of 19.3pc.
It’s still too early in the campaign to take that as a clear comparison but it points to the next stage of development Farke’s revamped squad will be focussed on - which may come as worrying news to a struggling Wycombe squad.
Wanderers represent a particularly slippery banana skin, having narrowly lost to Millwall and Reading in their last two games, restricting early leaders Reading to just the one shot on target. They will be desperate to take a scalp for their long-serving boss Gareth Ainsworth after a disappointing start so, as ever in football, there is absolutely no room for complacency.
Just to emphasise how early it still is as well though, the Norwich City class of 2020-21 have as many points after six games as the automatically promoted teams of 2004 and 2011, but three fewer than the 2015 team which had to go through the play-offs, and five more than the 2019 title winners.
Those encouraging signs really need to continue today though as one of the toughest weeks of the season follows today’s game, away to Brentford and Bristol City, two teams with serious promotion aspirations.
- The 2020 edition of the Official Norwich City Sticker Book is available to order now from PinkUnShop.co.uk ahead of stickers being released in November