Paddy Davitt verdict: Where do Norwich City go from here?
PUBLISHED: 12:45 26 August 2018 | UPDATED: 23:40 26 August 2018
Sunshine and showers. If ever the mood matched the weather this was it in Norwich’s City Championship surrender to Leeds United.
Rain swept across Carrow Road at kick-off before brilliant sunshine provided the backdrop, as Daniel Farke’s side rocked the unbeaten leaders in the first quarter.
By the end, and that crushing realisation how big the gulf is, dark clouds had settled.
Leeds were good. Committed, confident and a team on the up under the intoxicating guidance of Marcelo Bielsa; the darling of top level coaches and football hipsters everywhere.
Norwich could again seek solace in self inflicted cuts that widened the margin of the Whites’ superiority.
But fate has now thrust Farke and winless Ipswich foe Paul Hurst together in an East Anglian derby tussle this coming Sunday that takes on even greater significance than neighbourly squabbling.
The season is long, there are many months ahead but the parameters of what is possible, the extent of the ambition, the hope of a fan base are framed in these early skirmishes. It is less about points but perception. The Leeds hordes who sang themselves hoarse expect Bielsa to lead them to nirvana. Farke’s direction of travel remains a voyage of discovery.
You can cast envious glances at the Whites’ resources. Patrick Bamford may have been a passing fancy in City’s Premier League sojourn but he arrived at Elland Road in the summer for a reported £7m. Bielsa is not an alchemist extracting gold from questionable material.
Leeds have ambitious owners and resources to chase the dream. Plenty has been lavished on a squad that only missed out on the play-offs under Garry Monk.
Middlesbrough and Derby County have been bankrolled under high profile management. Relegated clubs exiting the top flight now have the financial power to retain Premier League squads on Premier League wages, if they so choose.
The Championship landscape is distorted by wealth. But the Canaries are not victims of financial doping now they find themselves the wrong side of that line. If clubs with limited resources, such as Millwall or Preston, can sustain play-off bids deep into last season so can Norwich.
Alex Neil returned to Carrow Road this past week and made it clear the likes of newly-promoted Blackburn and Wigan have considerably bigger budgets than him. Brentford, under the astute guidance of Dean Smith, appear ripe to buck the trend this time around. It may be harder, you may be at a disadvantage to rich rivals, but it can be done.
The focus remains firmly on whether Farke is getting the maximum from Norwich’s squad, not casting envious glances over the fence.
The choice really is binary. Norwich’s fan base, plus those who make decisions inside their football club, accept challenging the likes of Leeds for now is beyond their remit or they buck the odds.
There was a shaft of light for those prepared to consider the latter course of action is still attainable this season.
Before Pablo Hernandez sparked a devastating counter, that cashed in on Ivo Pinto’s poor positioning and Tim Krul’s indecision, City burst from the traps in a manner rarely seen at home under Farke.
Moritz Leitner surged into advanced areas around the Whites’ penalty box, Pinto drove to the byline on numerous occasions, yellow shirts poured into the area. Louis Thompson bit into challenges, even Timm Klose offered an aggressive presence as he snapped in front of Kemar Roofe to recycle the ball and get City on the front foot again.
Corner after corner came to nothing, but the home crowd loved the intensity, loved the energy and the tempo.
Bielsa’s backside never touched the cooler box that is his trademark view. At one point the fourth official had to remind the Argentine and his coaches that only one authorised person is permitted at the edge of the pitch, such was the clear sense of concern.
Bielsa alluded to as much through his interpreter in his post-match press conference. City failed to sustain it.
Leeds got that vital breakthrough, and the chance to inflict a first defeat of the season on the slick visitors was lost. It may still have been lost even without fresh defensive hesitancy, but had Norwich sustained the same cut and thrust of the opening 20 minutes we would have had a contest not a concession.
One thing is for certain. A backward step at Portman Road is a sign of weakness the Blues will grasp.
Hurst needs a win. For it to come at Norwich’s expense would convince doubting voices in Suffolk.
But Farke needs a win as well. For the same reasons.