Robin Sainty: Canaries find a welcome starting point after win ‘double’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
And we have lift off.
Two gritty victories in four days against obdurate and physical teams intent on disrupting City’s passing game will do wonders for the confidence of the players as well as calming the nerves of many fans.
While Tuesday night’s victory over Birmingham City was more convincing than Saturday’s when Rotherham’s energetic pressing caused City considerable discomfort in the first half, this stage of the season is all about building momentum rather than reaching a peak.
Of course, there are still issues to be resolved, but there are promising signs that the self-belief is returning, aided by the fact that Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia are not only back in the side but showing a real appetite to prove their commitment to the club.
Both were excellent against Birmingham, but for me the man of the match was the much less-vaunted Lukas Rupp, whose all-action performance allowed the two creative talents the freedom to express themselves.
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He was everywhere, both in attack and defence, outperforming the more highly-rated Olly Skipp, and it was no surprise when it was he who got a foot in to rob a dithering Scott Hogan and allow Buendia to set up Mario Vrancic’s late winner.
There is no doubt that Rupp struggled as a newcomer to a demoralised side last season and he inevitably became something of a whipping boy for those who need a scapegoat, but if he continues to perform like this he will win over everyone with an open mind.
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It’s also good to see Grant Hanley fully fit, and his partnership with Ben Gibson, whose awareness and quality on the ball fully justify City’s lengthy pursuit of him, looks highly promising at this stage.
Hanley brings solidity and experience to a central defence that looked worryingly naïve on occasions last season and Daniel Farke must be praying that he has finally shaken off his injury problems.
That City backline will need to be at its best as they come up against several genuine promotion contenders in the coming weeks, because the number of players that the Canaries get forward will continue to allow opponents plenty of space to break into if they are able to prise the ball away.
Even against a side as mind numbingly unadventurous as Aitor Karanka’s Birmingham there were occasions when opposing players were allowed to carry the ball unchallenged through midfield to confront City’s defenders and that could prove more costly against the likes of Swansea and Brentford.
However, that is an inevitable consequence of City’s style, although they do sometimes create their own problems with both Cantwell and Buendia guilty of getting caught in possession in dangerous areas.
One area that City will need to improve upon is the speed at which they move the ball. To some extent that’s down to confidence and the passing was noticeably sharper in the first half against Birmingham than it had been at the New York Stadium on Saturday where they were largely unable to turn their dominance of possession into genuine chances.
Of course, City’s game is based around short passing and moving defenders around, but in both games some variation in the form of the occasional longer ball might have made it harder for the opposing defences to keep such a disciplined shape.
However, these are issues that can be resolved and shouldn’t detract from the general air of wellbeing which currently permeates the club and its fanbase.
Turning to Saturday it will be interesting to see whether Farke sticks with the combination of Teemu Pukki and Jordan Hugill if Marco Stiepermann has recovered from illness. The combination wasn’t an unqualified success against Birmingham, but it had its promising moments and there is no doubt that Hugill’s physicality is an asset in the Championship.
Another win would make it an excellent week, but there are no givens in football!