We’ll all enjoy this international break a lot more than the previous one!
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The last time Norwich City faced an international break, it felt like they may have been staring into the abyss.
Four points from their opening five games, in the bottom three by virtue of Birmingham and Burton’s superior goal difference and smashed all over the park by Millwall. A wall of boos and expletives at the sound of the full-time whistle. Compare that to the jubilation in the Norwich end at the Madejski on Saturday. How things can change in little over a month.
Daniel Farke hasn’t just plugged a leaky defence, he’s made City stubborn. Extremely difficult to score against, even harder to beat and tactically astute. The kind of tactics that have left opposition managers such as Chris Wilder and Garry Monk seething at the full-time whistle.
Saturday’s win felt different to those games. It had been so long since Norwich had conceded a goal in the league you wondered how they might react. But there was no crumbling under the pressure once Reading pulled level, no sitting deep and falling into bad habits. That’s despite the goal itself being a particularly poor one from a defensive point of view.
With minutes left it never felt like Norwich were hanging on or were likely to concede. Jaap Stam said in his post-match interview when describing his team’s woes that he felt every ball into the Reading box threatened a goal. Up until a month ago Norwich fans knew that feeling all too well.
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There has been nothing ’typically Norwich City’ about this unbeaten run though. It was the first time this season that they scored more than once in a win, in a game where there were few clear- cut chances created. Clinical for the first time in a long time, and scoring directly from a free-kick for the first time in 99 matches.
In terms of individual performances, Cameron Jerome deserves credit for burying the next chance he had after missing the one-on-one in the first half. He’s not had much joy leading the line on his own in Nelson Oliveira’s absence but was able to add the necessary power to a header from a tight angle to celebrate a much-needed first league goal since April, and a first winner since February.
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James Maddison may have been the star of the week, but his performances caught the eye even before he began adding Championship goals to his repertoire. The 20-year-old’s technical ability has been evident all season, and it’s an encouraging sign that Farke found room for both he and Wes Hoolahan on Saturday, with the pair starting together for the first time since the Millwall defeat.
While his ability has been clear from the outset, the same can’t be said for James Husband who had attracted plenty of criticism after starting the season so poorly. Yet his displays deputising for Marco Stiepermann both against Middlesbrough and Reading were a class apart from anything we had seen of him previously. While he has been afforded much more protection from the midfield too, he has certainly upped his game and is proving his doubters wrong.
It was in the Millwall post-mortem too that Farke’s man management was questioned given that he’d hauled Russell Martin off minutes into the second half. Yet the way he handled Josh Murphy’s ill preparation midweek, leaving him out of the squad then giving him the chance to immediately redeem himself in Berkshire and in doing so putting the episode swiftly behind him, seemed spot on.
So two points outside the play-offs and only six points off Cardiff in top spot - September has signalled an incredible turnaround. Just imagine where City could be if the focus in this international break centres on scoring more goals and reaps as many rewards as the defensive work done in the last.