Paddy Davitt verdict: Time for Norwich City to take back control
The sight of Chris Wilder leaping for joy will have done nothing to convince Daniel Farke the world is not against Norwich City.
Farke was searingly honest in the build up; citing a number of key early Championship moments where the fates have conspired against his team.
Add a running injury theme that continued with Kenny McLean now ruled out, plus by any measure a testing league start.
The head coach is never one for excuses but taken to a logical conclusion such a theory suggests the Canaries are hostage to fortune, buffeted by outside factors or powerless to control their own destiny.
It overlooks they have a right back who appears to be struggling with the flight of diagonal crosses.
Or a combative central midfielder unable to mark opponents at set pieces, or another central midfielder with all the talent and technique but none of the cunning to beat a keeper from 10 yards.
One could go on but you get the drift. Farke himself knows the issues and the answers lie within.
The focus is firmly on him as much as his players.
Norwich have not been good enough in either penalty box and the danger, should this continue, is more of the navel-gazing and introspection that blighted Farke’s early forays this time last season.
City have undoubtedly progressed as a club and a squad from those stumbling, naïve offerings at places like Millwall or Villa but there is a regressive trend to their defensive work in these first three league games.
For Sheffield United to settle this contest in the 93rd minute, after the Canaries had inched so close to a spirited point, was indeed cruel.
This was not the ferociously intense atmosphere of City’s last visit to Bramall Lane - and all the accompanying unsavoury sub-plots - but it would have marked a step in the right direction.
To come so close and fail again fans genuine concerns about what this squad and head coach are capable of in the months ahead.
You sense an understandable lack of self-belief and self-confidence, with Norwich seemingly thwarted at every turn in the pursuit of a first Championship win.
That battling victory at Bramall Lane 12 months or so ago acted as a catalyst for a consistent seam of performance, until the curve bent southwards again for a spell prior to Christmas.
There is nothing to suggest a similar display, achieved from adversity, can produce another watershed moment. But each fresh setback tests the resolve of the optimists and dents the fragile confidence of those who seek to navigate a path through harsh Championship terrain.
Norwich have one point from their opening nine because individually and collectively, as a set of players and coaching staff, they have not been good enough.
City’s league season is stuck in neutral and all the positive signals are being swamped. In Jordan Rhodes, Norwich look to have found a striker with the goalscoring instinct to score in large numbers.
That tame penalty against West Brom was a stain but Rhodes showed again at Bramall Lane with the right service he is as sharp as most in the second tier. Onel Hernandez added to his growing tally of assists in Yorkshire. The infectious wide player is leading the charge, yet it needs others to follow in his slipstream.
The disparity in performance levels between City’s best performers and the rest is too great.
Farke admitted afterwards a lack of defensive resolve is his biggest concern. In that aspect, there is a clear parallel to the problems he encountered this time last season.
Then it required the addition of Grant Hanley and a more pragmatic approach that perhaps sacrificed some of the desire to swamp midfield with technically gifted operators. It may take something similar.
City succumbed in the final seconds but they looked vulnerable whenever the ball was fed wide at Bramall Lane.
Not for the first time this season, Norwich abdicated a position of relative superiority.
The half-time whistle triggered a smattering of boos from frustrated home fans, after the visitors had assumed control once they got back on level terms.
Yet Norwich were pinned back for long spells in the second half as Farke appeared to favour a more counter-attacking policy.
It nearly worked. It would have worked if Moritz Leitner or Teemu Pukki had slotted their chances and City managed to defend their penalty box one last time.
Fine margins again, but the script needs to change.
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