Norwich take on Brentford in the Leovegas Derby this Friday, the fixture being rescheduled seemingly for no particular reason other than both teams wanted a rest before Boxing Day. We face a side who’ve had a relatively topsy-turvy campaign, Jon Punt talked to Beesotted’s Jon Restall to get the lowdown on their form, just how good Alex Pritchard can be and whether Sergi Canos is ready to spoil the Canaries' Christmas....
Jon (Punt): When we played you last in the EFL Cup, Brentford were without a league win. Things have changed remarkably since that time, and you now sit above us (albeit marginally) in the table. What’s been the secret to the turnaround?
Jon (Restall): We have actually played pretty well all season (we weren’t great against you in the cup admittedly and are hoping Barbet’s penalty lands soon), but weren’t converting chances or turning possession into goals. The fine margins moved in our favour and we started winning games. We are a decent team but have recently reverted to early season form with tepid draws against Burton, QPR and Barnsley and a loss at Hull (we did beat the Fulham 3-1 too). If we took our chances we would be pushing for promotion but equally we seem to have a frustratingly soft centre at times.
You've lost arguably your best player from last season in Jota, which from an outsider looking in seems like it's taken away a fair amount of your goalscoring threat. Is that fair to say, and is there anyone in particular we should be looking out for from your squad?
Jota was a breathtakingly good player for us but crucially was a great player within the system that we play – he’s not having a great time at “ten times better” (quote from Harlee Dean) Birmingham City so far. Our goal threat doesn’t really come through one player – although Ollie Watkins is often involved in most of our best attacking moments. He’s been another great young signing for us and will go on to play in the Premier League.
On the flip side, is there anyone in our squad you fear?
Maddison looks like a very good find for you and it will be interesting to see if you can get a formation together that brings out the best of him and Pritchard. Murphy and Vrancic both played well at Griffin Park but I believe this hasn’t been typical. If you’ve got a rubbish 6 ft 5 striker then we will almost definitely struggle with them.
Good news for you. No rubbish 6ft 5 striker to speak of. So….Alex Pritchard - talk to me. We've seen glimpses of absolute brilliance from the lad but he's only now returning to full fitness after a pre-season injury. Given he made the Championship Team of the Year when with you, how good can this man be?
Pritchard actually took a while to settle for us – I’d argue that he took a while to start playing for the team rather than just showboating his own abilities. But he’s got a brilliant touch and the ability to turn games. Like Jota, however, he was surrounded by players who were very much on his wavelength (Alan Judge, Jota, Andre Gray) who helped distract opponents and allow him the space to work his magic. He’s potentially a top class Championship midfielder, and beyond, if he can stay fit.
Battle of the Leovegas then this Friday. Our fans made some noises about taking on a gambling sponsor, as it's the first to be emblazoned on a shirt in the club's history. What are your thoughts on the increasing prevalence of betting sites in sports advertising?
Matthew Benham, our owner – who has resurrected our club and is a genuine fan – is famously from a betting analytics background so we can’t really be too sniffy. Betting can be a dangerous thing but would realistically always be involved with sport whether legalised or not. We’ve relied on a lot of local companies for much needed sponsorship over the years so hopefully we are getting well remunerated now.
Yeah, funny you mention that. Moneyball – often much maligned or misunderstood? I'm guessing your fans are sick of hearing the term now? Seems to me like it's helped you punch marginally above your weight in sustaining Championship football - are you a fan?
“Moneyball” is a simplistic way of looking at how we operate, importantly Benham has worked to build a sustainable model. To supporters our approach is very exciting when unearthing rough diamonds (Gray, Scott Hogan, Jota, Tarkowski) but also involves us moving on our crowd favourites if we get an offer that exceeds the club’s valuation (Gray, Hogan, Jota, Tarkowski) which can be tough to take even when you accept that our club is in a much better place than it’s been in the last 30 years or so. The massive upside for many fans is the progressive attacking football that we now play and the fact that #teamslikebrentford continue to upset some of the “bigger” teams who still seem to expect just to turn up and beat us.
Sergi Canos failed miserably at Norwich - we never really understood why though. Seemed to have bags of potential but was never really given an extended run of games. I'm guessing he'll be motivated for Friday night - what kind of form is he in?
Sergi looked bang up for the season but then got an injury which kept him out for a couple of months. He’s back now and he’s potty for it. He plays with his heart on his sleeve but can really make things happen during a game. I can remember when we first signed him (a young Spanish winger) on loan from Liverpool and supporters were worried about his physique and ability to adapt to the English game before his first match – within ten minutes of taking the pitch he had knocked a left back over an advertising hoarding and we knew all would be good. He burns out slightly during games currently but due to other injuries in the squad we need to use him every game. I’m sure he would love to put in a good performance at Carrow Road both personally and for the Bees hierarchy who always believed in him.
So how do you see the game taking shape on Friday? Possession based borefest or might we see some goals to keep us all entertained?
We’ve drawn ten games this season already so LeoVegas are probably closing the book on a score draw. We normally create chances and if we play our high pressing game effectively we can put teams on the back foot. We are equally capable of letting in a soft goal. Either way it can’t be any worse than the turgid 0-0 at Griffin Park last New Year’s Eve.
I’ll plump for a narrow City win by the odd goal. I’d say good luck for the season, but I only really mean that up until we play you again…
Thanks to Jon for taking the time to talk to us. You can follow him on Twitter, @TheCondorman or check out the Beesotted website, www.beesotted.co.uk
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