Robin Sainty: Building on Birmingham win is an absolute must for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There have been painfully few crumbs of comfort for City fans in recent weeks and, whilst the victory at an injury-ravaged Birmingham City removed a little of the gloom hanging over the club I don’t think anyone is going to get too carried away just yet.
At least the travelling fans have had some performances to cheer about, but the Carrow Road faithful have been offered thin gruel all season, something that clearly contributed to the poisonous atmosphere in the closing stages of the Brentford game with some chants against the board and the owners.
Although statistics can be given too much importance, it’s interesting to note that on away form Norwich currently rank ninth in the table with an average of 1.33 points per game and five wins, but just 18th in respect of home games with an average of only 1.17 points per game and three victories.
There was never any real sign of those figures improving against Brentford as a shocking first-half performance in which City combined a lack of penetration with some schoolboy defending effectively gifted the game to the Bees, and it could have been much worse had Angus Gunn not produced the sort of performance that led to his recent call-up to the full England squad.
Yes, City belatedly got some momentum after the break, but it was all too little, too late and fans could hardly be criticised for airing their frustrations, because Brentford, while neat and tidy, were hardly world beaters.
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I’ve never been fond of the use of the phrase “must win game” with half a season to go, but the pressure for a result at Birmingham was immense and the fact that a much-changed Canaries team delivered will offer Daniel Farke some welcome respite, but with games coming thick and fast it is likely to be brief unless his team can build on the success at St Andrews.
By the way, while City fans have had a torrid season it’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for our counterparts at Birmingham. Just over a year ago they must have thought that the world was at their feet. Under Gary Rowett the team was just outside the play-off places and rich new Chinese owners Trillion Trophy Asia were about to take over.
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Unfortunately, their first move was to sack Rowett, who wasn’t considered a big enough “name” and replace him with Gianfranco Zola, who proceeded to win two games out of 24 before giving way to Harry Redknapp who also failed miserably and left the current incumbent, Steve Cotterill, with a massive rebuilding job, although one wonders how much longer he will be given.
While Birmingham are undoubtedly a poor side you can only beat what’s in front of you, and what was promising from a City perspective was the return to the tactical shape that produced the eight-game unbeaten run earlier in the season, with Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull resuming their holding midfield partnership.
For me, City have looked horribly unbalanced in recent weeks, and while fielding three playmakers should theoretically result in plenty of creativity that hasn’t been the case, while too many gaps have been left between the midfield and back four for opponents with the ability to move the ball quickly to exploit.
They have also suffered from the absence of a natural left back, with Marco Stiepermann, responsible for the goals conceded against both Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds, looking increasingly out of his depth. The return of Jamal Lewis could not have come at a better time and his first start was impressive, particularly against a player of the quality of Jota.
However, City have tougher tests to come, starting this afternoon against a Burton side which pushed Leeds all the way on Boxing Day and then a Millwall team who will be certain to test their physical resolve to the limit.