Michael Bailey: Goal efficiency, the real deal and responsibility for actions – Six Things we learned from Norwich City’s Reading win
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
What a difference a month makes… MICHAEL BAILEY hands out his Royals realities as Norwich City plunder another win at Reading.
1 – It’s the art of German efficiency
City were in the bottom three heading into the first international break of the season – this time, they’re in the bottom five. Well, for goalscoring at least.
Far from this being a negative, it really is a remarkable state of affairs given how much City are getting out of the goals they do score.
Norwich are surrounded by the Championship’s bottom five in those scoring charts, yet have double the points of each side – if not more. Of City’s 11 goals, nine have helped bring home 16 of their 18 points.
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Saturday was actually the first time Daniel Farke’s side had conceded an equaliser all season – so perhaps one of the most satisfying parts of Saturday’s win over Reading was the fact the Canaries answered that particular question by producing one more goal to get what they needed and win the game.
Sure, some find the patient football a drag – but what we’re really watching is the most efficient play possible.
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2 – You’d be Mad to deny it
I warn you – there’s a bold statement coming. And I have no fears over making it.
Since being a nipper, there’s only been the odd young talent I’ve seen at City and thought, wow – that guy is going to the top… Just wait until everyone cottons on.
Chris Sutton was perhaps the first I remember seeing. Darren Eadie followed – only his knees stopped him fulfilling it. Perhaps the clearest was Craig Bellamy – a City teenager who always looked like he had it all. Even now, he’s my favourite.
Well finally, I’m watching another at City – and it’s James Maddison.
His free-kick on Saturday was perfection – Beckham-esque for a fellow number 23 and admitted boyhood Manchester United fan. His goal at Middlesbrough was also glorious. His composure on the ball and awareness of space is impressive. His willingness to tackle and work, contagious. He’s still just 20, has so much more to his game than I thought – and City are lucky to have him.
3 – Jerome has proven me wrong
I felt a little bad. Cameron Jerome was stood in front of me after Saturday’s win, and my first two questions were on how unfortunate he may have felt after hitting the post in the first half, and how annoyed he may have been at his role in Reading’s goal.
They were points of discussion but in a way Cameron’s honest, assured answers said as much about his character as his work rate and attitude on the pitch.
I questioned Jerome’s role in this City side pretty heavily back in August. He looked an unhappy man, regardless of his confidence.
Maybe nothing changed come September. Maybe everything did. But the City style Farke is now moulding is certainly bringing out the hassling, busy striker Norwich fans genuinely like.
With Nelson Oliveira’s continuing groin struggles, it’s been absolutely vital too – and when the big man is stood there in front of you still smiling, you can’t help but smile back thinking well done, lad. Well done.
4 – Reactions define mistakes
Fair play Marley Watkins. In a sport where excuses can be so easy to find, the Wales winger conceded on Twitter his error with that late tackle – and you imagine he will learn from it.
There are no complaints over the sending off here either. In front of a referee in Tim Robinson who was already on six red cards from his opening 13 games this season before Saturday, a lenient yellow was never likely.
For all the talk of togetherness, the often forgotten element of that is responsibility. If a team-mate mucks up, you step in rather than retort. And if the mistake is yours, you put your hands up.
Watkins response was as much as sign of the team spirit at City as anything.
Sadly it seems unlikely Mr Robinson will be putting his hand up for anything, given he had roughly four opportunities to produce a red card for the hosts before Marley slid in – on what was a fairly awful showing by the West Sussex official.
5 – Royals need to wake up
Jaap Stam seems to enjoy a bit of mental sparring, given how physical his side were – having stated how physical he felt City would be before the game. Very cute.
But he took things to another level after the game, when the Reading boss conceded his side are in danger of losing ground on the Championship leaders. After all, they were within minutes of returning to the Premier League in May.
The problem is, that’s applying last season’s logic to this season’s evidence – when in reality Reading already look miles off troubling the top six, injuries accepted.
The Championship is so ruthless that if you don’t realise where your battles are, you will have already lost them before you twig.
Just a note on City’s winning goal too. Reading switched to man-marking for it – and duly left acres in their six-yard box. It was the perfect example of why teams defend zonally, and why Reading will no doubt go back to it now.
6 – Thanks for the sizzle, September
There was one big worry heading to the Madejski on Saturday – complacency. Rarely do City fare well when everyone expects them to.
So credit here to Daniel Farke, who not only pragmatically worked up a solution to August’s woes – but ensured the solution was still working a treat some seven games later.
September was a phenomenal month that really introduced the City coach to English football, as well as a manager of the month nomination. No doubt his players have been given a few days off as a reward too.
A nod here for James Husband, who has embodied City’s improvement with his own – his work at Reading was reliable, energetic and influenced both ends of the pitch in a shape and style that has asked for solidity.
But perhaps the best thing about City’s September is the suggestion their improvement has foundations that can last far longer than one month. October, it’s over to you.