Rob Sainty: Canaries stars are rising to the occasion ... again
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Seven days, six City points, two Brentford defeats and suddenly the world seems a much better place for Canaries fans.
After a difficult spell, confidence seems to be coursing through the team again and key players are starting to hit top form, but there is still an awfully long way to go, and any criticism about City dropping their intensity in the second half on Wednesday should be weighed in the context of the workload ahead for players who will be pushed to the limit over the next three months.
That’s particularly relevant given how much effort City’s players put into the pressing game, and in both games this week goals came directly from chasing lost causes.
Against Stoke, Emi Buendia harried Morgan Fox when most players would have dropped off for fear of being played around, whilst against Coventry, Teemu Pukki was halfway across the pitch when Kyle McFadzean received the ball, yet put in a tremendous effort to close down and rob the defender to set up Buendia’s tap-in.
City’s slump coincided with downturns in the form of Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons, but all three have been excellent in this week’s games, with Cantwell, in particular, appearing to have been given more freedom by the return of Buendia as City’s midfield started to fire on all cylinders again.
There is no doubt that the Canaries function at their best with Kenny McLean and Oliver Skipp at the base of the midfield, not least because McLean’s natural attacking instincts blend perfectly with Skipp’s brilliant reading of defensive situations allied to the athleticism and tackling skills required to make that count.
That McLean is naturally left-footed is a key factor for City and, while Jacob Sorensen did a fantastic job as a stand-in left-back, the arrival of Dimitris Giannoulis has now given the side a perfect balance, and after a torrid introduction to the Championship he is really starting to find his feet, both in his defending and mirroring the forward runs of Aarons on the other side.
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He also showed character in responding to his mistake for Stoke’s goal on Saturday by almost immediately setting up a goal for Buendia, which illustrated all his key assets of pace, awareness and quality on the ball.
With Giannoulis, McLean and Ben Gibson in the side City are now equally capable of launching devastating attacks from either flank, making them so much harder to defend against.
In both games it was noticeable that City were moving the ball much quicker and also switching the play more often and that has to be the template for the rest of the season, not least because it gets the best out of Pukki, who suddenly looks like the steely-eyed predator of 2018/19 once again.
In fact, there was an encouraging ruthlessness about this week’s performances from City that bodes well for the upcoming run of games against struggling sides, which, if negotiated successfully, could heap enormous pressure on the sides chasing them.
I was concerned that trying to play Farkeball on the morass of a pitch at St Andrews might be dangerous, but in fact City made it work easily, which will give them confidence when they return there again next week to face Birmingham.
Although the signs are good, anyone thinking that all will now be plain sailing need only look at Brentford. A week ago, they looked unstoppable, but their potent attack has always masked a questionable defence which has been exploited by Barnsley and QPR this week. It will now be a test of their character as to how well they bounce back.
As someone much wiser than me put it; “Never get too high when you win or too low when you lose”. Sage advice because I suspect that there are many more twists and turns to come for all the teams chasing promotion.