Robin Sainty: Back to the grindstone as City look to build again

Oliver Skipp, right, has been on England Under-21s duty Picture: PA

Oliver Skipp, right, has been on England Under-21s duty Picture: PA - Credit: PA

It’s a well-worn football cliché to refer to the race for promotion as a marathon rather than a sprint, but in this condensed season it more closely resembles the labours of Hercules.

Teemu Pukki reacts after a missed chance during Finland's midweek game in Wales Picture: PA

Teemu Pukki reacts after a missed chance during Finland's midweek game in Wales Picture: PA - Credit: PA

City’s players may not have to clean the Augean stables or slay the Hydra, but they are about to enter a congested series of games that will push their fitness to its limits.

International football may now thankfully be in abeyance for the winter, but Daniel Farke’s men embark on a stretch of three games in eight days before the end of the month when they go to Middlesbrough on Saturday, with another eight games to be crammed into the month of December.

With a litany of stress-related injuries such as minor strains and soreness announced at the press conference before the Swansea game, the international break will have provided a welcome respite for those players who stayed in Norwich, but there was no such relief for City’s international contingent who added even more miles to tired legs.

It’s therefore no surprise that the EFL clubs have this week agreed to using five substitutes in a game from this weekend, a rule change that many of us moaned about when it was introduced under Project Restart, but which now seems almost imperative with no let-up in the frequency of games.

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Unlike last season, such a rule would be of benefit to City because of the depth of their squad, but it will need to go hand in hand with a careful policy of rotation with such a demanding winter fixture list ahead. Of course, the fact that most clubs will be struggling to keep players fit is likely to make the Championship even more unpredictable than ever this season.

Had it not been for the growing injury list I suspect that Farke would have preferred league football to continue after the win against Swansea as City were building momentum whilst only occasionally hitting top form.

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City’s performance against the Swans was a bit of a curate’s egg. After another impressive start, the Canaries struggled to create many clear-cut chances until Marco Stiepermann’s decisive strike from Emi Buendia’s lay-off secured the points, and they had a string of fine saves from Tim Krul to thank as the impressive visitors created openings of their own.

I’m sure that Farke will be pleased with the part played by Bali Mumba in the build-up to the goal on his Championship debut and the youngster’s introduction certainly injected some dynamism into a City performance that threatened to run out of steam. However, it’s the result that counts, and City will take great confidence from the fact that what had looked like a tough run of fixtures against sides near the top has yet to yield a defeat.

Aside from Mumba’s impressive showing, Farke will also be delighted that the international break saw Sebastian Soto not only make his full debut for the USA, but also score twice to back up his excellent form in the Dutch league for SC Telstar, and while that in itself won’t lead to the work permit that he would need in order to be able to play for City, it will be a significant step in the right direction.

Farke will obviously be hoping that his international contingent are fully fit and that City can get another positive result in the north-east to extend their unbeaten run and maintain the feelgood factor that has been steadily growing at Carrow Road, with a growing sense among fans that the side are getting closer to clicking on a regular basis.

The week has, however, been tinged with sadness with news of the death of Delia Smith’s beloved mother. A fixture at City home games, including those of the youth team, for as long as she was physically able, Etty Smith’s passion for the club matched her daughter’s and she will be sadly missed.

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