3 games in and already matchday 4 feels like it could be hugely pivotal in the futures of both Norwich City and Daniel Farke. 3 encouraging performances, coupled with 3 disappointing results does not a happy ship make. Step forward old flame Alex Neil who brings his Preston side to an expectant Carra. Andrew Lawn spoke to Aaron Briggs for the lowdown.
Andy - Let's kick things off with an easy one. With the season a mere 3 games old this is already a massive game for us after an encouraging but hugely disappointing start to the season. As such, Alex Neil will have you boys do the decent thing and turn up at his old employers and roll over, letting us tickle your bellies all night right?
Aaron – Ha. Yeah right, have you seen our run of fixtures lately? Opening day win against QPR then we've had Swansea A (1-0 loss), Stoke at home (2-2) then 3 away games of Norwich, Derby then Leeds in the Carabao cup.... pretty hard run there. We'll need to a win against Norwich Wednesday night to try and build some kind of momentum.
A must win game for both sides then. Like you, we have an important run coming up, following you with Leeds at home then Ipswich away, so immediately it feels like crunch time.
How have you started performance wise? 4 points from 3, including playing 2 relegated sides looks pretty good going?
I think we’ve done quite well really, we’ve given Swansea and Stoke decent games but like a lot of championship sides, we lack a certain killer instinct when on top. It might sound a bit like rose tinted glasses but, we could have beaten both ex-Prem sides with the chances we created.
If only we had a former goal scoring phenom like Jordan Rhodes...
Well that's true but that's been exactly our problem too.
We have played well enough to win all 3 games we've had so far and yet here we are with 1 point instead of 9. We completely outplayed West Brom in our last home game, but at 1-1 the aforementioned Rhodes missed a penalty and soon afterwards (partly courtesy of a Tim Krul howler) we were somehow 3-1 behind. Then Saturday at Sheffield United, with the game poised at 1-1 we missed a chance with 3 players clear through with just the GK to beat, and we went on to lose to the last kick of the game.
Essentially my point is football is really annoying.
On to the game then, you've alluded to not taking chances, but how are you creating them? Who is the danger man?
I'd say there's no one danger man, but rather everyone on the front 4 is capable of bagging goals.
I'm keen to see more from the 2 Man City loanees - Lukas Nmecha and Brandon Barker. Barker's off the mark already in his first game (in the cup vs. Morecambe) and Nmecha looks handy. He could have put us 1 up in the first 3 mins vs. Stoke on Saturday but the chance came too soon in the game for him it seems. The loanees have been brought in presumably on the back of having Sean Maguire and Billy Bodin both injured fairly long term.
That's a nice segue to some questions for you - as an outsider it seems like Norwich sold their 2 goal threats in Murphy and Maddison. Is that a lack of ambition from the board? Does Rhodes fill that hole they've left?
I think we'd rather face them than old lumbering Hugill at the moment though as we seem incapable of defending aerial bombardments, without wandering under the ball.
It might look like that, but the reality was actually fairly different.
Maddison is Premier League quality and will be in the full England squad within the year. We were never going to keep him over the summer, but given that this time last year he had barely played in the Championship (he made his debut v you the season before, scoring our 3rd) and certainly no higher, Daniel Farke can take huge credit in polishing the diamond. £20 odd million for him represents outstanding business for everyone.
Murphy was slightly different in that he was home grown and, on his day, unplayable. However, those days were becoming more and more infrequent and the relationship between player and some 'fans' was faltering, so it too represented a good deal all round.
Maddison is harder to replace but in Onel Hernandez (who is on fire right now), Teemu Pukki and Rhodes, we carry a greater threat this season and no longer have the spectre of financial oblivion hanging over us.
Talking of financial oblivion; Alex Neil. Excellent at first but then his abrasive style wore off here - any signs of that at Deepdale?
It's good that Norwich moved to sign several replacements whereas when we sold Hugill earlier this year we didn't replace him and have continued more so down our existing path of signing total unknowns for Ireland and lower leagues.
That's not to say they're not decent players, clearly, the likes of Ledson and Burke are showing already what kinds of qualities they can bring but, there was ambitious signing there if you see what I mean?
Nothing much on Alex Neil losing the dressing room yet although it is interesting that Daniel Johnson is no longer a starter and apparently hasn't signed a new deal. He was rumoured to be fancied by the Blades. Perhaps with us building a squad of younger hungry players, there are fewer egos involved and they're keen to learn from the manager.
That seems to be where he does best. We lost our way once the likes of Matt Jarvis and Steven Naismith arrived, which coupled with some bad results saw us suddenly implode.
What are you expecting from the game? Would you take a point?
I think we're both going to be similar in approach again, only this time we have more strength in depth so right now Neil is rotating his starting 11 and has in pre-season even lost his senses temporarily and shifted from the 4-2-3-1 of doom we're all too familiar with in favour of a....wait for it....4-1-4-1.
We'll be coming to win but to be honest I think it'll be exactly the same as last season 1-1. What do you think?
I don't see a draw myself and think it will go to one of two extremes. Either we're angry and we come flying out and put you to the sword early, winning comfortably, or we will find our confidence drained and we'll slump to a meek defeat.
Finally, how do you see your season panning out. From the outside looking in, a few of us in the preview mentioned Preston as a side that could really struggle this season...
I think we'll be close, but we'll miss out on play-offs again.
We've continually punched above our weight the last 3 seasons and the project which is young hungry cheap players playing as a team hasn't changed yet. We fielded a starting 11 vs Stoke which combined cost £1.3m vs their 11 costing £50m odd.
What caused you to think we'd struggle? And by struggle do you mean relegation?
A relegation battle certainly. I think the feeling was that this is about the time when Alex Neil's abrasive style starts to wear thin and players stop listening. That, coupled with a few season's over-achievement suggests this season could be a bad one.
They're words that are unlikely to come back and haunt me...
0-3 on Wednesdays now...
I can see where you're coming from, if Neil loses the entire dressing room then we could well and truly fall off the wagon but like I said, we've no big-name players so that shouldn't happen.
Where do you see Norwich finishing?
Pre-season we were optimistic and we're now in the odd position of having had 3 hugely encouraging performances, resulting in 3 disappointing defeats. From here if we cut out the errors and keep going as we are then the top 6 is achievable, just like it is for almost every other side. If we go the other way and lose confidence though, it could be another long slog of a season.
A lot comes down to how we do this week...