Robin Sainty: It's not just what you do - it's the way that you do it
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Just before City embarked on a run of six fixtures against sides with genuine prospects of promotion, four of them away from home, pundits were suggesting that this would be the acid test of the Canaries’ promotion credentials.
The fact that they have emerged at the other end of that run unbeaten, despite a crippling injury list, with 14 points out of a possible 18, makes its own statement, but there is much more to it than the garnering of points from potential rivals.
Last season City were regularly, and justifiably, labelled as naïve and rather soft, but those epithets no longer apply.
The last two games in particular, against sides packed with big physical players, have created the sort of challenges that City would undoubtedly have struggled with last season, but the fact that they passed those tests with flying colours is indicative of how Daniel Farke is changing the mentality of his players.
It’s not just a question of being better equipped to stand up to bigger opponents, but also an increasing mastery of the art of breaking up the flow of the game and buying a free-kick when in trouble.
It’s true that after Emi Buendia’s second yellow on Tuesday there was a wobble as mental discipline slipped, but whereas previous City sides might well have caved under the Stoke aerial onslaught this one was able to see it out and emerge victorious.
That was Buendia’s third red card in three seasons at Norwich, and while there will be plenty of fans who will see his lack of discipline as something to be indulged because of his undoubted flair, the bottom line is that in a team game every player has a responsibility to his team-mates, and while it could be argued that his first booking was harsh, the silly challenge for his second could well have seen City drop two or even three points in a game that they had been in total control of.
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He is undoubtedly one of the most gifted players that I have ever seen at City, but it seems highly likely that his periodic lapses of control were a factor in no Premier League team pursuing him in the summer despite his impressive stats for chances created.
The sending off and subsequent suspension also creates an added headache for Farke at a time when players are dropping like flies to injuries, but one of the German’s biggest achievements at Norwich has been to develop a cohesiveness of approach that flows through from the Academy to the first team and makes it easier for young players to make the progression.
We’ve seen that many times already with the likes of Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell, and Josh Martin’s impressive performance at Stoke suggests that he could be the next star in the making.
However, while finding another young prospect is exciting, it is also important to note the contribution of an elder statesman at the Bet 365 Stadium. Alex Tettey may not be central to Farke’s plans these days, but his experience and strength were vital on Tuesday night and will be needed again as the midfield resources continue to be decimated by injury.
Clearly the injury to Tim Krul is a big blow, but it is clear that Farke and the players have faith in Michael McGovern. McGovern may not have Krul’s stature and is clearly much less comfortable with the ball at his feet, but he has over 30 international caps for a reason.
I said in last week’s column that keeping players fit would be key in this condensed season, but City currently seem as unlucky as last season. While there have been questions about the intensity of training, some of the injuries, like Krul’s, have been simple twists of fate.
At the moment City are riding the storm, but the ranks are getting dangerously thin.