Michael Bailey: 2 Onels, 1 Norwich City dream – 6 things learned from Bristol City win
After a Carrow Road victory as rousing as they come, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey dishes out his six things learned as the Championship leaders turnover in-form Bristol City.
1 – If it’s not fun, best to give up
Comparing many things of a Norwich City persuasion these days comes with an altered perception of time – such has been the stark change in just 18 months under Daniel Farke.
The Canaries underlined on social media one of them: the 27 league goals scored in the eight games at Carrow Road since November.
More stark for me was that from the seven equivalent fixtures last season (Rotherham were in League One), City scored just six. Three of the games finished goalless. It doesn’t half feel a long time ago, hey?
City are now not only the Championship’s leaders and leading scores (68); they have considerably more goals from open play (58) than any other side, and more attempts on target (188). But then, Farke would tell you it was converting the chances last season that was the problem.
Either way, it’s always worth taking a step back to appreciate when things are good – as football specialises in swift turnarounds.
2 – No falling apart just yet, Robins
One element was most satisfying about Saturday’s victory over Bristol City, who twice this season have had Norwich’s number: they pressed and broke in behind, waiting and running into just the right spots.
It was textbook – exemplified by numerous first-half attacks, including their opening goal. And a 100pc 2019 record showed this was a good side doing it.
And that is why Saturday was so pleasing. We know a high press causes issues if Norwich are casual – but not for the first time a mix of character, belief and merely tactical tweaks from Farke prevailed. It’s a fantastic knack to have.
Wolves and Cardiff both won fewer games over the second half of last season than the first, on their way to the Premier League via the top two; fourth and fifth-best respectively if you turned it into a 23-game table.
Teams learn from each other but City are still adapting enough to stay ahead of the game. There’s no choice now but to maintain that.
3 – McLean lives for a moment
I was almost in a hole as one of my press box colleagues pointed Kenny McLean in the direction of a tweet that suggested his two goals were one thing, but the rest of his performance wasn’t up to the same mark.
It was actually one of my tweets – and I felt far more comfortable as McLean conceded that he agreed.
McLean and Onel Hernandez were out on their own in terms of most poor touches over the 90 minutes in a yellow shirt. Fortunately those didn’t include his two efforts on goal: both on target, both nestling into the net behind Frank Fielding.
Add the fact he was the most fouled player on the pitch, and it was almost a performance akin to last season’s number 23 vintage.
As has been written here before, the best bit about City’s midfield competition is that McLean, Mario Vrancic and Moritz Leitner all offer the same and yet something different. After a long, harsh wait, it feels like we’re now seeing McLean’s full menu.
4 – Half of Onel is a top player
For the second season running I’ve kept player ratings for every game – albeit unlike my colleague Paddy Davitt, I don’t have to make mine public. Even so, it’s far from easy trying to pin Onel Hernandez’s 90 minutes to one number.
First things first, the 26-year-old remains so important to City’s attacking intent. Power, pace. A bulldog that pulls opponents in directions they don’t want to go, when they’ve got so many other types of threat to deal with.
That bit of the game, Hernandez has nailed – and it really does work.
But while he leads City’s dribbling stats per game, Hernandez is also the leader in bad touches and dispossessions. The human eye will also tell you just a slight improvement in Hernandez’s end product now could add a lot more points to City’s cause.
In fairness, Hernandez plays a high-risk game that gets us out of our seats. The unpredictable cog in a beautifully crafted machine.
5 – The Robins are in the thick of it
Back to Bristol City, who have impressed on two occasions against Daniel Farke’s side this season – two games that almost perfectly spanned a 13-game unbeaten run and seven successive wins that kicked off 2019.
So much of what Lee Johnson has done at the Robins is impressive and while there will be question marks now the runs have ended, the signs at this point are good.
And Norwich will certainly hope their opponents’ form carries through, given their remaining fixtures.
The Robins sit sixth – with Norwich top – and still have to play the rest of the top six: Leeds at home on March 9, before trips to Sheffield United and Middlesbrough in the space of four days to welcome April, and then a visit from West Brom soon after. Come on you Robins.
One final word. If you’re going to make a big play for your full away allocation when the home club could sell out the ground, actually sell what you ask for.
6 – Come on, just feel that noise
Flags of yellow and green with banners showing pride in Norwich City’s past and present, stretched across the entire lower tier of the Barclay Stand and glistening in the low winter sun.
The noise. Carrow Road is still reverberating from it. Before kick-off; during the game, but especially as the end came into view and the belief in this remarkable Canaries campaign found a new lease of life.
I have to be honest, as someone who spent 10 years in that stand and lost their dear, City-loving dad just five months ago, it was pretty hard to concentrate on the match report I was filing.
Everyone inside Carrow Road on Saturday felt it. And they will take it to the two away tiers of The Den next weekend. A precious bubble of genuine momentum.
I make it 12 games left to play and regardless what anyone else does, eight wins to finish the job. With everyone pulling in the same direction, the road doesn’t look quite so daunting.
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