Robin Sainty: Can we pause for a while to enjoy Norwich City’s good stuff
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
One of the many frustrating aspects of this strange season is the fact that the relentless programme of fixtures offers us so little time to relish good performances before the next game arrives.
That was particularly annoying after City finally clicked into the top gear that we’d wanted to see at Ashton Gate to properly kick-start their promotion drive, but with the hamster wheel of two matches a week continuing to spin, the focus shifted all too soon to Millwall.
However, last Saturday was a major step up for City. Teemu Pukki was back to his old sharpness, Emi Buendia was unplayable and Marco Stiepermann looked like the man of two seasons ago, while Jacob Sorensen showed the awareness and passing ability that made him a key target for Stuart Webber in the summer.
Having been critical of City’s apparent obsession with short passing in last week’s column, it’s only right that I should praise the fact that the longer ball was used to great effect against the Robins on occasions, while the overall pace of City’s attacking play was much better.
The confidence gained at Bristol was obvious in the early stages of Tuesday night’s game as City’s energetic press saw them consistently pinning Millwall back, but Gary Rowett’s team are as obdurate as they come, and while they offered little in an attacking sense they were impressively disciplined in defence.
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However, it is also true to say that City were nowhere near as sharp as they were on Saturday. Buendia was sloppy while Stiepermann reverted back to his form of last season when he looked off the pace and muddled in his decision making. However, he remains Daniel Farke’s best option as a number 10.
Even though there was understandable disappointment at the draw there are plenty of reasons for City fans to feel optimistic. Apart from the fact that the unbeaten run now extends to six games we are seeing an impressive central defensive partnership developing between Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson and it’s worth noting that City have looked much better against set-pieces this season, something which has been an Achilles heel for them in the past.
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Hanley, in particular, has been key to that, partly due to his towering presence but more importantly his ability to know exactly where to position himself.
In the middle of the park, Lukas Rupp continues to emerge as a more physical and energetic version of Moritz Leitner and along with Olly Skipp is providing City with an effective and highly mobile engine room, while Przemyslaw Placheta also continues to develop, although his end product is still too often disappointing.
After 10 games the Championship season is starting to take shape, and to no one’s surprise the league looks as unpredictable as ever, with anyone capable of beating anyone else on a given day. The fact that fixtures are coming even thicker and faster than usual will make it even more of a war of attrition and that means that rotation and avoiding injury are likely to be key factors.
Unfortunately for Farke, while some of his squad will get a rest after this weekend’s game, his international players will find themselves jetting around the world in the midst of a growing pandemic, in some cases to play totally unnecessary friendly matches before returning for yet another two-game week.
It would be nice to think that the league will be decided on quality, but this season it seems more likely to be a case of who has the most key players left standing when Spring rolls around.
In that respect, City are currently well placed, particularly with three important players due to return in the New Year, but we all know from last season how quickly a run of injuries can change things, so Farke, like every other manager in the Championship, will be praying for luck on that front.