2017/18 – THE ACN REVIEW

09/05/18

Loyal listeners of the ACN podcast will know our pundits don't always agree when it comes to Norwich City. So we thought why not let a few of them have a go at reviewing the season, what could possibly go wrong?

Moment of the season

Jon – In a campaign that’s been unspectacularly more about transition than anything else, it might just be worth focussing on an off the field memory for inspiration.

Cast your mind back to August. Nelson had grabbed a last gasp equaliser at Craven Cottage, eight days later Sunderland were in town for the first match of the season. Forget the match, it was terrible. What preceded it, however, was magnificent. Barclay End Norwich organised the first fan march, from Wetherspoons to Carrow Road, and what resulted was better than most of us could have expected. Choruses belted out down Riverside, celebrating heroes past and present. It was noisier than it has been in the ground this term but what really stuck out was the optimism and unity. Everyone was behind the new project, excited at what 2017/18 might bring. It was a simpler time, a happier time.

Andy – The march was certainly excellent and the repeat pre-Ipswich was just as special. If we can replicate that in the ground next season, we’ll all have a wonderful time.

This may have been a forgettable season in terms of late drama, or big must-win games, but there have been moments to stir the soul. The first came when Harrison Reed spanked home the winner as we put QPR to the sword early in the season. Under the Carrow Road lights and with “Farkelife” taking off, the atmosphere was, for 20 minutes or so, electric. Maddison slapping Ipswich brought more joy, which came amid a memorable unbeaten run, in which we pushed Arsenal all the way in front of 9,000 travelling Canaries. The FA Cup even brought a sprinkling of magic as Jamal Lewis got his first for the club to annoy Chelsea, then the season was rounded off with a perfect goodbye to Wes. It’s not been vintage all the way, but if you stay off Twitter post-match there has been much to remember.

Tom – I celebrated James Maddison’s winner against the filth in Dublin airport, having just found out that she who must be obeyed was expecting our second sleep-thief (child). That was a great short break away, culminating in air-punching joy in an emerald WH Smith. The Emirates night was a close second, I still held high hopes for this regime back then, and the results were overshadowing the patchy play.

Ffion – Timm Klose’s schadenfreudical equaliser against Ipswich, with special thanks to the fans in the away end who already had their cameras poised to record that once-in-a-lifetime final whistle moment. In fact, we’ve had a few draw-salvaging goals in the dying seconds of injury time – Oliveira against Hull and Wolves, Lewis at Chelsea – which have all been exciting moments, but it would have been nice to have just one that bagged all three points.

Random star performer

Jon – The Barry Butler pick was easy, there could only be one. Yet for his sheer rate of progression towards the latter stages of the season, and for responding to his critics in the best way possible, it’s Mario Vrancic. The Bosnian’s talents had been called into question throughout 2017, but since the turn of the year he’s become a vital cog of a more effective midfield. Maybe the turning point was the visit to Stamford Bridge, where his ability to play in more finite pockets of space may just have proved to himself that he had what it took to prosper in the English game.

Andy – Having championed Vrancic since day one, I will go with the player I voted for to win the Barry Butler, safe in the knowledge Maddison had it sewn up: Christoph Zimmermann. The reasons are many. Here is a man who one year ago was playing 4th tier German football against the likes of Uerdingen and Verl. To have taken to Championship football so quickly is testament both to him and the new transfer policy and bodes well for the seasons to come. Also, he seems to be a lovely chap. Here’s to you Mr Zimmermann.

Tom – Continuing the Barry Butler vibe, my vote was for Jamal Lewis (again due to knowing the rightful heir apparent to that award was in the bag). If his development continues at the pace that’s made him a natural in the team in the last five months of this term then at worst he will earn us a healthy fee in a couple of windows time. However, at best, he could be the example of why we can rely on Godfrey, Louis T and Toddy being involved regularly next season.

Ffion – Grant Hanley was only parachuted in as a direct response to the defensive catastrophe that was Millwall away in August, but after a few months of chopping and changing he has made himself indispensible at the back, quietly and effectively getting the job done and demonstrating the leadership characteristics that might well make him a worthy recipient of the captain’s armband next season.

Farke watch

Jon – There is a very real sense that Farke had to rip up any solid plans he had for the season once he’d witnessed the horror shows of Millwall and Villa. The decision to remove Russell Martin from the side, only a few weeks after he’d labelled the man a club icon, was recognition the club was changing in way most of us weren’t used to. Out went Marcel Franke too, shortly after he’d been signed presumably on Farke’s recommendation.

It saw Farke revert to a more pragmatic philosophy, suggesting that maybe he’d misread the Championship and he was prepared to admit it. Only recently have we seen a more expansive and balanced side, albeit without the striker we really need. And that’s been the perennial issue – we just haven’t been able to finish our chances. Whether you see that as a coaching deficiency or a lack of personnel is perhaps immaterial, but one of the yardsticks with which to judge the German will certainly be the goals scored column come next season.

Question marks still hang over his ability to manage bigger characters in the dressing room, and Martin being shipped out on loan, when he could potentially have been part of an effective defensive three, rings some alarm bells.

However, a solid 7/10 for me though so far Daniel, keep on keeping on.

Andy – A fair start, but that’s all it is, a start. Given the amount of upheaval, all of it necessary, a season of mid-table comfort is a fair return. Some early expectations were of a top six finish, but they would have been the same at Sunderland, Hull, Reading and other strugglers. This is an unforgiving division and while we have far from set it alight, we have dramatically altered the shape of the club, while remaining competitive. The foundations need adding to this summer, but with our transfer plans likely to encompass completely unheard of names from around Europe’s lesser known leagues, has there been a more exciting time to be a City fan since Lambert left? For me – no.

Tom – I echo Jon’s sentiments about Russ, his off the field leadership has been missed this season. It took him about a fortnight to start to be appointed the “face the media after a shit result” senior player fall guy for a much larger club with far loftier ambitions than ours.
The decision to freeze him out rang warning signs of his man-management abilities, and it’s a credit to Russ and shows his love for the club how little stink he publicly kicked up about it (especially in context of the momentary discretions forgiven another player who like Russ has made circa 300 appearances in yellow and green).

I wrote before the season started that football won’t get any better than Wembley 2015. Thank goodness we had that amazing day (and that it was quite recent), because Farke has done precisely zero to suggest to me that he has any of the skillset to make similar memories anytime soon.
If we didn’t have Maddison playing out of his mind we would have been fighting relegation. He didn’t sign him, just recognised, as could anyone, that it was reluctantly time for him to replace Wes as first name on the teamsheet. Had he not had that loan spell getting kicked around Scotland would he be as well rounded and ready this year for Farke to benefit from?

If Stiepermann and Husband weren’t such spectacular flops and had injury problems, Jamal wasn’t going to get a kick.

There is no Plan B to our approach. Subs are made too late and I can’t remember a time we’ve heralded him for changing a game from the sidelines this season, as we did regularly with our last two successful managers, Neil and Lambert.

I am 100% behind the club and hope for much better next season, but don’t personally see what the fuss is about and why he hasn’t come in for far more criticism this season.

Ffion – It’s certainly been a steep learning curve for Daniel Farke, and he evidently hasn’t yet reached anywhere near the top of it. The defensive issues he inherited that lingered into August have been vastly improved, but the lack of cutting edge up front has been painful to watch. The much-heralded scouting network needs to seriously bear fruit this summer in that department, particularly when we’re about to lose the source of a sizeable percentage of our goals. But we were asked for patience, we promised patience, and I’m happy to let things continue to play out over the summer and next season. If nothing else, Farke is an extremely likeable and intelligent bloke with a clear passion for the opportunity he’s been given. I’ll take our kleines Karussell over the English managerial merry-go-round every time.

Atmosphere

Jon – Ranged from the sublime to the terrible, much like some of the on field performances. Yet the two didn’t always correlate. It didn’t always take the team to lift the crowd, and there were some genuine signs of supporters understanding they could influence proceedings. As much as the team is a #workinprogress, so too the atmospherics at Carrow Road need some fine tuning. Part of that would be easily realised by a designated vocal/singing section, but that’s currently just a fantasy.

Andy – Atmosphere wise, this has been one of the worst seasons I can remember for large parts, punctuated by some truly fantastic moments, including the aforementioned marches and final minutes v QPR. Even the Ipswich game sparkled, then died, then exploded. For the first time in many years, there will be upheaval in the stands over the summer as a fair few have chosen to call time on their Carrow Road commitments. The hope is that fresh blood in the stands, will complement the fresh blood on the pitch and we’ll all get to enjoy it much more.

Tom – It certainly feels time for the club to be open and welcoming to all suggestions about how to make FCR a daunting place to visit. I saw a bit of the last Palace game and it A. Looked great fun and B. Sounded unpleasant to play in front of.

If a few fans have to be annoyed about being rejigged to create a singing section, I think now’s the time to do it, accept a bit of negative local news with whining letters and bask in the glory of years of good national (international?) press from the Barclay being a whirling dervish of noise, colour and SUPPORT for our boys.

Ffion – Just eight wins and 25 goals in home games this season, compared to 15 wins and 55 goals in the previous campaign – clearly there’s been a great deal less to cheer at Carrow Road. But it’s felt at times like elements of the crowd are desperate for the half-time whistle to blow with a scoreline of 0-0 or worse. As fans, we can’t do the things like signing players, switching up tactics or giving half-time team talks that turn mid-table teams into promotion challengers. But we do have the power to make a trip to Carrow Road an enjoyable experience, even if things aren’t going entirely our way on the pitch. So perhaps instead of performatively booing on our schedule of entitlement, we need to take ownership of our current mid-table status – which means that, sometimes, we’ll go in at half-time not winning – and instead hope for better in the second half, at which point we get backing instead of barracking. If Farke and the players do their bit, we might become a bit less mid-table, and even if they don’t, we’ll probably have had a bit more fun. After all, a season ticket is an expensive and time-consuming way to have a miserable afternoon.

Reasons to be cheerful

Jon – In the sizeable shapes of Messrs Hanley, Klose and Zimmermann, we currently have our most able crop of ‘pure’ defenders since Malky and Flem partnered to see us canter to the old First Division title. The recruitment team should be commended for addressing what most of us have seen as a glaring issue for several seasons. Grant Hanley in particular has been a revelation and must surely be the outstanding candidate for the captain’s armband in August.

Andy – Alongside reducing the wage bill, Farke’s number one job last summer was to fix a defence that leaked more than a Trump White House. Early horror shows at Millwall and Villa aside, he has done both. In doing both, Farke has not only shown he can fix problems, but also the Farke/Webber team is better at recruitment than some of the predecessors. With many players arriving last summer, the (relatively) inexpensive captures of Gunn, Zimmermann, Hanley, Reed, Vrancic, Hernandez and Leitner highlight that bargains are out there. If the trick can be repeated at the front end of the pitch this summer, next season could be fun.

Tom – The Maddison windfall will fund some new players to watch, and if there’s a hungrier, chip on the shoulder style streak through our squad around Tettey and Trybull in the core, we should be more fun to watch.

On a personal note, my Dad should be up to getting to the games again from August after missing most of this season with a dodgy hip. This makes me extremely happy, even if it’s bad news for those season ticket holders around us. You think I moan? You should hear Roger.

Ffion – The squad is now so much less bloated than in recent years, and, as Andy notes, our transfer business both on a permanent and loan basis has been reasonably strong for the financial outlay, with the majority of the recruits making a tangible contribution. If that vein of under the radar signings continues and the evident gaps in the squad are plugged once Gunn, Maddison et al. have said their farewells, hopefully version 2.0 of the Farke era will have some substance.

Biggest whinge

Jon – There have been genuine issues with City’s speed of play, all of which have been recognised publicly be the management team. However, it hasn’t usually translated to improved momentum or thrust on the pitch. The fact Norwich have played in fits and starts, never really putting together a solid performance for 90 minutes, is a cause for concern.

Andy – The seeming desire among some City fans to be miserable. We wanted change – we got it, now enjoy it.

Tom – The patronising tone of the happy clappers (see above) and it not being clear what the use by date is on this ‘transition’ get out clause the manager has.

Ffion – Whinge isn’t quite the right word, but like the two seasons that preceded it, it’s just felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. The son of a Gunn with green and yellow blood, the new David Beckham in midfield, the influx of unknowns from Germany who have grabbed their chance in England with both hands…there’s a lot to like about this squad, and it would have been brilliant to have been backing them in a proper promotion challenge. When you think of the easy points we’ve dropped, it wouldn’t have taken a lot more to remain in the chase until at least after the clocks changed. We’ll probably never see Maddison or Gunn in a Norwich shirt again, and it’s just a shame it’s ended with, well, not much at all, really.

What are your hopes for next term?

Jon – The very nature of a transitional phase will mean there are some levels of inconsistency. However, with the third transfer window of Webber and Farke’s tenure about to open, it would be safe to assume the management team will soon be in a position where those excuses are no longer valid. If they recruit well, and plug the obvious holes currently remaining in the squad, then a sustained push towards the play offs is well within our grasp. That said, this side is perhaps one or two injuries away from looking fairly threadbare. A big summer ahead, the Maddison money, and level of subsequent investment that brings, could be key.

Andy – I hope that the sense of fun will return. Not on-field, where the performance is often largely irrelevant to my enjoyment, but off the pitch. We pay a lot of money to go games, rather than seeing this as justification for being as obnoxiously abusive whenever the smallest thing goes wrong, why not see it as a chance to have some fun with your mates?

Tom – We need to be competitive regularly in games and in the league, that will fix the atmosphere whether the club take progressive steps or not. I hope that Farke proves me wrong.

The incredible form of Maddison and get-out-of-jail card of ‘transition’ has helped his coaching staff get away with delivering some woeful football and worse results. The Canaries’ last two permanent managers have been sacked or honourably fallen on their sword after better results than these and without one of the league’s star players in their first XI.
If the first three months of 2018/19 deliver a similar lack of anything to shout on the pitch, however great the atmosphere in the stands, it will be time to stop letting the transition excuse be used and move on. Again.

Ffion – After they kicked lumps out of Timm Klose, Alex Pritchard and anything else that moved, that we don’t schedule another pre-season unfriendly with Cambridge United.


DON’T MISSNorwich Legends v Inter Forever is taking place at Carrow Road on 20th May, an event you won’t want to miss. There’ll be many household names on show, tickets are available now at www.canaries.co.uk , with all profits going towards the CSF’s The Nest Project, a cause we highlighted previously in our interview with club director Tom Smith.

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