A frustrating yet heartening afternoon at the Carra. Jon Punt looks back on an encouraging defeat, nervy ball-boys and only four minutes of stoppage time for all that shit-housing?
The returning Onel Hernandez not only gives the head coach an imminent selection dilemma, but also provides the team with another dimension. Pace is a commodity that can't be coached and Championship defenders can't live with it. Ally that with the Cuban's strength on the ball and his desire to regain possession when he loses it and suddenly Norwich have a more potent threat. Where they shoehorn him in is up for debate however. Stiepermann had perhaps his poorest game since his encouraging return to the side, Buendia looks creative yet enigmatic and Cantwell is still sipping the sponsor's champagne. All three know they have to work hard for their colleagues and will be reluctant to give up their place without a real fight. Not that anyone would want ACTUALLY want to fight Onel, we all saw that footage of him boxing, right?
Moment of the match
Post match, having left nothing on the pitch, Farke's young charges (and some of his older ones) lay dejected on the turf, bemoaning their luck on a frustrating afternoon for a team whose efforts were worth much more.
Carrow Road did their level best to pick them up, give them a nice warm cuddle and make them a lovely sugary cup of tea. Choruses of OTBC, 'Yellows!' and rapturous applause were widespread. It may not have left the players feeling any better about themselves, but it suggested things are changing, and this time for the better.
Farke's pre-match pleas for unity and vocal support were largely lip service, a well-orchestrated PR exercise to try and get the more persuadable onside. The appreciation for the players once the final whistle had blown was altogether more tangible. This is no longer a side in transition - it's one whose hard work over the last 14 months is being rewarded and one that the fans can buy into.
Even the most pessimistic of naysayers in and around the Barclay were openly positive in their acclaim, fully acknowledging the team's efforts. It was as happy as Carrow Road has come away from a defeat in years.
Random star performer
As City poured forward in search of an equaliser the sense of urgency was rising within the stadium. A Norwich attack was cleared with some venom by the Potters backline, cannoning off the advertising hoardings and into the path of a young ball-boy. He stood there as the ball hurtled toward him, looking as terrified as Monty Panesar under a skied Australian hook shot, sensing all eyes were daggering toward him, willing him to return the ball as quickly as possible to young Aarons, probably only a couple of years his senior.
Nerves might have got the better of a lesser person. Not this lad, clasping the slippery object into his palms and handing it back to City's full back all in one excellently executed movement. We noticed. Well played that man.
It was easy to point the finger at the match officials following City's last home outing, and so we did our best to resist temptation. This week however, there was some first class Stoke shithousing which deserves attention. Referee David Coote turned a blind eye to the whole affair, literally turning his back on the ball on so many occasions he was oblivious to it. 'Professionalism' is becoming a scourge of the game, especially when you're on the wrong end of an undeserved 1-0 defeat.
For the record however, and just in case Chris Wilder might be reading this, we are quite happy when the Super Nodge do it.
Oh, and only four minutes added time despite aforementioned shithousery and six second half substitutions? Nah mate.
A first defeat of the season for the military green parka, so at least that monkey is off Farke's back. Rumours emanating from Colney suggested the jacket was in good need of a wash but Daniel had refused the kit man's advances while his side remained victorious.
That success had given the head coach a dilemma. Usually known for shuffling his pack, five unchanged starting line-ups have created consistency and balance. It might have been one match too many for Teemu Pukki however, who looked leggy towards the latter stages of the game following his recent exploits for club and country as a lone frontman.
Farke's changes once again were just about right and early enough to turn the tide. Hernandez looked purposeful, Vrancic had a decent penalty shout and Rhodes offered more of a focal point. Unfortunately City weren't anticipating the knock ons though. Bit more work to do on our route one game when times are desperate.
As good as it's been this season. Various in-match OTBCs threatened to spread to other parts of the ground apart from the Barclay/Snake Pit and supporters admirably stuck with their team throughout. No groaning, no bemoaning a perceived incorrect substitution and no questioning why City prefer to retain possession as opposed to 'gitting ut fuhwud'. It finally feels like everyone (well nearly everyone) is pulling in the same direction.
Whether that lasts is anyone's guess, and will largely depend on results. Yet there is a real sense that this is a team fans can buy into. Three academy products regularly shining in the starting eleven, a centre back partnership that understand how much this means to the crowd and a more purposeful forward line. People are starting to enjoy the journey rather than the destination.
Norwich will play much, much worse and take all three points. This was a Stoke City side full of international players who've started to adjust to the division, yet our young guns matched them and more. Cantwell's growing influence was testament to the trust being placed in these bright young things, while Max Aarons ability to remain so composed on the ball when bombing forward has been a highlight of the campaign so far.
The true test of course is can this team go again? Promotion hopefuls pick themselves back up, dust themselves off and start another unbeaten run. The level of performance on show suggests that's entirely possible should fortune start to favour the Canaries again.
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