The ACN Match Review – Sheffield United (a)

22/10/22

A good away point or an opportunity missed? It's both, but here's Jon Punt to tell you about what he thinks anyway...

The line-up

Big calls all over the shop from Dean Smith, restoring Cantwell and Núñez while handing Hayden and Giannoulis starts.

It reminded me of the days in which I actually had the time to play Championship Manager, where it really didn’t matter that my star players were 46% fit, they were getting played regardless. Starting not even half-fit players is a huge gamble, and yet it felt as if Smith had very little option – especially when it came to filling the left back berth.

All four of the aforementioned players rewarded Smith in some shape or form, Núñez showed his full range of passing and class which has been absent of late and he looked far more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

The atmosphere

Full disclosure, ACN had no-one at the match, so any atmospherics can only be judged through the prism of Canaries TV, but it felt like a decent away day showing from the travelling support.

City have travelled in numbers all season and given the fact Bramall Lane isn’t usually a happy hunting ground, 2,700 hardy souls were rewarded with a first half display full of the qualities fans look for – hard work, control and grit. Of course we then decided to Norwich it all up, but it was fun for a while and a wise man once told us all football should be fun.

Hurrah moment(s)

Teemu Pukki has snatched at a few chances of late, was goal-less in four games and yet, he has continued to do Teemu Pukki things throughout that time. Moving intelligently into space, selflessly making runs into the channels and chasing down lost causes.

It turns out the first lost cause of the afternoon he decided to chase down resulted in a fortuitous opener and took him one step closer to Robert Fleck’s 84 City goals. It also perhaps restored a bit of his poise, because within 15 minutes a typically calm and composed finish doubled the lead and put Pukki alongside Fleck as Norwich’s fourth all time top scorer. Unfortunately, a tame late penalty couldn’t take him clear, but nevertheless the hundred is slowly coming into view over the horizon.

Boo moment

With some characteristic shithousery, Billy Sharp got underneath Norwich’s skin – and it led to United dragging themselves back into the contest. Hanley was drawn out of position, Aarons then had to engage and a lack of cover at the far post (sound familiar?) meant Ben Osborn had a relatively simple task of slotting past Angus Gunn. It was the first time Norwich had looked really troubled all afternoon, but it was as calamitous as anything they’ve served up in recent weeks. We know what it then triggered and a subsequent lack of any kind of control in the latter stages could easily have seen City leave with nothing to show for their efforts.

Hero of the match

Todd Cantwell showed what Norwich have been missing since his minor knock, with a performance full of energy, drive and intelligence. The formation change helped, Todd has never really looked like a natural number 8 and harnessing his talent higher up the pitch might just help with some of those issues with creativity in and around the opponent’s box.

Our post-match takeaway

It is perhaps no surprise that two teams with one win between them from the last ten games couldn’t best each other, but this was a huge opportunity missed for Norwich. 2-0 up and supposedly cruising. But one goal managed to expose all the recent frailties and an equaliser then felt almost inevitable.

And so, we limp on. Smudgerball actually produced some moments of quality and decent interchange between players who showed at least a few signs of clicking. A point could be considered a good result given the three games that preceded the match.

BUT. It’s one win in seven, five without a win; rivals are starting to find third or fourth gear and everything still feels, well, uncertain and disconnected. Our weaknesses are so easily exposed, confidence is fragile at best.

Draw your own conclusions about where the issues really lie but Norwich are losing ground. It feels as if this season needs a *moment* to regalvanise both players and supporters.

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