Robin Sainty: Steering the good ship Norwich City into calmer waters
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s a peculiar paradox that Norwich City are almost certainly headed straight back to the Championship, probably as the bottom team in the Premier League, yet the team and manager were warmly applauded by fans at the end of Wednesday night’s cruel defeat at Spurs.
The game itself had followed a typical pattern for City; one poor half and one good one, missed chances and a big stroke of luck for the opposition. We also had ridiculously long VAR delays and once again every decision that could hurt City, like the possible red card for Todd Cantwell or the chance that the penalty could be overturned received forensic analysis from the VAR team yet those that would benefit them, like Jan Vertonghen's possible handball in the box, got a cursory glance.
Having spent the first 20 minutes largely camped in their own half, City had battled back only to concede just before half-time through the oft-repeated error of overplaying in a dangerous area.
Undeterred, they upped their game and when their pressure finally told in the second half with Max Aarons upended in the box it seemed that Teemu Pukki's spot-kick had secured at least a point and a City winner looked highly possible, only for a deflection off Christoph Zimmermann that could have gone anywhere to loop gently onto the head of Son Heung-min a yard out.
It was a kick in the teeth, but I don't think many people in the away end felt that the players could have given any more, just as had been the case last Saturday against Bournemouth, and some of the passing moves, with Ondrej Duda central to most, were lovely to watch.
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Unfortunately the finishing didn't match the build-ups, with Hugo Loris rarely forced into a save as Teemu Pukki had a night to forget in front of goal and City were perhaps guilty of a degree of over-elaboration when in the final third.
That wasn't the only criticism as their passing was often ragged, with possession surrendered too easily and too often, particularly in the first half, while their inexperience showed after Spurs' second goal as the hosts gave a masterclass in game management while City lacked discipline on the odd occasions that they got the ball back.
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- 10 'A wonderful season' - Praise pours in for City from legends and pundits
Of course, the league table doesn't lie and there can be no doubt that this City squad can have few complaints if they ultimately go down, but the ongoing rapport with the fans stems from two things.
The first of these is that we haven't seen the frequent surrenders of the latter part of the Alex Neil era or the turgid attempts to grind out a point that were the hallmark of Chris Hughton's time in charge. In fact, City have continued to produce flowing attacking football that has consistently drawn praise from opposition fans and managers, as was again the case on Wednesday.
However, more important is the fact that the vast majority of fans understand what Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber are trying to do and are fully behind it, and furthermore appreciate the fact that the younger players are learning on the job and consequently will make mistakes.
It can be frustrating at times, but exhilarating at others, and I for one would rather see young talent like Cantwell, Aarons and Emi Buendia playing without fear than the likes of Steven Naismith and Dieumerci Mbokani picking up huge wages for minimal productivity.
The end result may well be the same as in 2016, but whereas the feeling amongst the fans then was that the club had become rudderless, this time around there is a clear direction in place and as long as Farke and Webber stay in their positions what seemed like a catastrophe four years ago could now prove to be just a staging post on the way to something even better.