The ACN Match Review – Leeds (h)


Floods, plague… and now pestilence. Dan Brigham reports back from what turned out to be an unbelievably crappy cherry on the Norwich Disaster Cake.

The line-up

Who needs one winger on the bench like most clubs when you can have four! And the magic thing about it? Each time we bring a new one onto the pitch, we get worse.

It was Liam Gibbs’ turn once again to play the second striker role as David Wagner continued to tinker to try and find an adequate replacement pair for Josh Sargent and Ashley Barnes.

We’ve had Sara, Gibbs, Rowe, Fassnacht, Hwang, and (in the Cup) Springett all playing the crucial second striker role, and, so far, all pairings are out of tune. Wagner’s no longer tinkering, he’s gone full-blown Dr Frankenstein and created a monster.

Hurrah moment

Finally, a big meaty header scored from a corner by a centre-back. And a lovely direct move finished off with a dash of magic by Sara.

Boo moment

The substitutions. Farke lit a fat cigar, sat back and watched his own changes turn the game on its head. Wagner lit the wrong end of a cigar, fell off his seat, and also watched his own changes turn the game on its head.

Hero of the match

Whoever chooses ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ for the players to run out to, a song choice as appropriate as playing ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ at a christening. Lads, Carrow Road isn’t a jungle. It’s a petting zoo.

The atmosphere

The crowd obviously wasn’t reeling from Todd Cantwell’s brave message that you can have blond hair and come from Norwich, because the atmosphere was unusually boisterous before kick-off. Leeds fans have a way of bringing the noise out in the opposition.

The first half was one of the loudest Carrow Road’s been since 2018-19. The second half? A mix of anger at the collapse; bemusement at George Long apparently finding the act of diving to the ground beyond his capabilities; frustration when Tony Springett kept ushering Dan James onto his one good foot; and Leeds fans belting out ‘Marching on Together’ (let’s be honest, it’s a banger).

Farke Watch

Still the parka, still the long hair tucked behind his ears, still his pals Eddie and Chris sat with him in the dugout. In many ways, little has changed about Daniel Farke – except it has all changed.

He was back. The man who guided Norwich to one glorious promotion, one escape-from-lockdown promotion, and some of the most sumptuous football we’d ever seen at Carrow Road.

His football was familiar. Terrible at defending set-pieces, bad at pressing, but some glorious link-up play, a proper defensive midfielder patrolling the centre of the park (imagine!), and a thrilling, breathless win from behind.

He didn’t celebrate the goals, and at the end of the match he took time to walk around all four sides of the ground, before declining to join in with the olés from the Leeds fans. Fair play.

Ah, they were the best of times, weren’t they.

Our post-match takeaway

For all of his faults – and there are many – Wagner should be cut some slack for losing Sargent and Barnes. After all, if Paul Lambert had lost the Holty and Wes partnership for half a season or Farke had lost Pukki and Buendia, would we have been promoted from the Championship in those seasons?

However. Hooowever. Like a man in his 50s keeping the same haircut he had in his 20s despite the increasingly glistening bald patch, Wagner’s insistence on playing the same system despite not having the personnel – Sargent and Barnes – to ensure it works effectively is a really bad look.

Sure, stick to your principles, but not when those principles are leaving chasms in midfield for teams to run right through you. Wagner lost the game for Norwich today, taking far too long to shore up central midfield, despite many warning signs in the first half.

The most depressing thing is that McLean and Sara have mostly been excellent this season. Just imagine how good they’d be if they had another midfielder alongside them.

It wasn’t all bad. There was some good, flowing attacking football from Norwich in the first half. There was intensity, there was power, there was good decision-making. But even when playing well, the huge gaps in midfield were evident. They are always evident. Yet, every game, Wagner does nothing about it, casually watching the rot set in and hoping it’ll disappear.

So, where do we go from here?

The club has built a squad of six wingers, no creative 10s, no defensive midfielder. And the club has built that deliberately, for a manager who won one of his last 11 matches last season.

Many said at the time it meant Wagner had to get it right or we’d be in trouble long-term, because any new manager would be going into a war without a gun. Or a tank. Or a uniform. Or their pants. And, well, here we are, with five defeats in eight. Wagner really should go, but it’ll take a very specific manager to take on this squad and get a tune out of them.

Good luck, Ben Knapper.


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