Things felt… different. Until they didn’t, but it was too late for disaster to catch up with us. Jon Punt reflects on turned corners and frustrating cul-de-sacs
Lots of chatter in the stands prior to kick off was around two huge home games which might well shape Dean Smith’s tenure. Performances, but perhaps more importantly points, were and are required. City came out of the traps fast and the crowd responded in kind, with a decent vocal backing which waned a little as the second half became a bit more stilted. That said, once the visitors managed to claw their way back into the contest the fans sprung into life and managed to help the team over the line, which was admirable given nerves could easily have meant people sat on their hands. They didn’t. We won. Lovely old job.
McLean got the nod at left back and did a stand up job at deputising for, ummmm, whoever is injured this week. Kenny comes in for a fair amount of flak, some of it justified at times, but he’s a team man and he offered enough to show he can probably be relied upon in the short term, while also switching off positionally enough to realise we need temporary reinforcements in that area. The main talking point however was Teemu’s absence, which prompted lots of ‘oh shit, not Sargent’ comments from the stands. Dean Smith has made it abundantly clear in recent games that the American is ahead of Hugill in the pecking order and this performance in his preferred position was a real insight into why. The hardwork was to be expected, but a decent turn of pace, well taken goal and intelligent running off the shoulder were real signs of encouragement. It was also no coincidence that having a striker of that ilk on the pitch lent itself much better to the 4-3-3 system which it looks like we’re sticking to fairly rigidly this term. And if we’re sticking to that system, then I’m personally a fan of starting with the technicians in almost every conceivable position possible rather than out and out wingers. Cantwell, Dowell, Sinani and Núñez may all have got in each other’s way at times, yet on occasions their football intelligence and bravery created decent opportunities. More of this please.
Not necessarily a defensive horror show, but lapses in concentration and not being sharp enough when tested let Huddersfield back in. The fact it came when Norwich had created a cluster of chances to put the game to bed just screamed complacency. It made for the kind of final 10 minutes where neither the crowd nor the players really knew what should happen next given the circumstances. The dilemma was clear, some wanted to manage the game, others fancied going for the jugular and killing it. In the end the team ended up doing neither particularly well and just about stumbled over the line.
I am reliably informed that on many of those fancy websites which rate individual player performances, that Liam Gibbs ranked lowest for City. What absolute nonsense. The youngster may be raw, but yet he offers a different dimension to Norwich’s play at the base of the midfield. Suddenly everything feels a bit more forward thinking, a bit more dynamic and a little less safe. Gibbs’ energy is a real asset when urgency and energy has been in short supply of late. There will be times where Norwich may wish to contain, to manage the game and he might not be made for those scenarios, but for matches at home where more emphasis will be on taking the game to the opposition, Gibbs may well be the best option.
Gibbs aside, Danel Sinani showed exactly why people were clamouring for his inclusion at the weekend with the kind of classy and composed display which was typified by his finish for Norwich’s second. At that point, it suddenly felt like everything was right with the world, that for the first time this season chances had been taken and we might just get the points the performance merited. The fact that Norwich had to hold on might make the headlines, yet this game could easily have been wrapped up earlier had it not been for the brilliance of Nicholls and some profligacy on the part of a front line which still looks slightly short on confidence.
Probably the best City have looked in terms of chance creation, the doom merchants could dress this up as a struggle against a team who are out of form and were down to 10 men, the positive among us could point to the fact we’ve comprehensively bested last season’s play off finalists. The truth, as if often the case, is somwhere in the middle but yet it doesn’t really matter. What’s significant is the first victory is on the board and Carrow Road showed they are still largely behind this coach and his group of players. Back this up with another win on Friday and you can safely say the campaign is properly up and running.
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