Robin Sainty: How City have ridden through some choppy waters
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
With this season being a month shorter than usual due to the pandemic, the last few months have seen games flashing past at a rate of knots, but this international break at least allows us a little bit of time to savour City’s achievements so far.
However, it also provides an opportunity to look back at a few key moments when the season could have gone in a very different direction for the Canaries.
The first of these came as early as the third league game, when City arrived at Bournemouth on September 27 without either Todd Cantwell or Emi Buendia, after both were omitted from the matchday squad by Daniel Farke because he didn’t feel that they were in the right frame of mind to play.
Clearly the recurrent rumours of moves to the Premier League had had an impact and there is little doubt that their absence was a key factor in City’s narrow defeat that afternoon.
However, Farke’s firm action and his overall man management over the next couple of weeks saw both players not just return to the fold, but do so with a growing level of desire that has seen both of them produce some of their best football in a City shirt this season.
The next pivotal moment came on November 24 when talismanic goalkeeper Tim Krul limped off at Stoke with a thigh strain which was to keep him out for nine games. Michael McGovern’s substitute appearance that evening did little to inspire confidence as he looked uncomfortable with the ball at his feet and distinctly vulnerable under crosses as Stoke launched an aerial bombardment which, but for a somewhat generous refereeing decision which ruled out what would have been an equaliser, very nearly paid off.
However, game by game his passing improved as did his handling of crosses and a number of high class saves, including a remarkable point-blank stop early in the game at Blackburn, ensured that City continued to rack up the points, and even when he also succumbed to injury, the young Welsh keeper Daniel Barden came in to help City to a crucial win at Cardiff.
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Of course, City’s injury problems at that time weren’t confined to goalkeepers, with their squad decimated during November and December, including at one point having no fit striker and the home game against Coventry on November 28 seeing them without 12 first-teamers and able to name only five substitutes, most of them Academy players.
That would have been calamitous for most clubs, but despite losing at Luton four days later City were then able to come back from a goal down late on to defeat Sheffield Wednesday and then produce another four straight wins from some tough fixtures as the injury crisis slowly abated.
Since that point there have been few panics, but the defeat at Swansea on February 5, in a game labelled a “must win” by those of an excitable disposition, which led to Brentford briefly topping the table and the Swans moving within two points of City with a game in hand, was a huge test of the Canaries’ character.
The fact that they are now 14 and 15 points respectively ahead of Swansea and Brentford (although both have a game in hand) having beaten the latter in another of those “must win” games, speaks volumes about the level of desire and commitment within the changing room as well as what a great job Farke has done of ensuring that his players retain their focus.
In a league as notoriously unpredictable as the Championship, winning 28 out of a potential 30 points is a remarkable achievement and has left City on the cusp of promotion.
Of course, Farke and the fans still have to sweat on key players returning unscathed from the international break but hopefully all the pivotal moments of this season are now in the past.