Paddy Davitt: Alarm bells ringing at Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 14:53 11 March 2018 | UPDATED: 14:57 11 March 2018
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At this rate scoring goals or keeping them out is not Daniel Farke's biggest headache. Retaining the focus of his players as the Championship season meanders to a finale is the challenge.
That unity and sense of purpose, which earned any number of results in real adversity over recent months, is in danger of splintering.
Some in Farke’s squad must know they are moving on in the summer.
Either on their terms or by design, as the next phase of this voyage of discovery continues under the stewardship of City’s head coach and sporting director Stuart Webber.
The feeling of drift engendered by a relatively comfortable mid-table position is unlikely to sharpen the senses either.
Farke has spoken graphically on this topic. There will be no downing tools on his watch.
But those are words. The actions on Humberside suggested the danger is real and present.
It is not overt, it is subliminal.
It was in the sluggish nature they started the game and could have been many goals adrift until James Maddison moved front of house for his latest solo performance.
It was in the poor decision-making, the naivety and the rush to squander a position of relative strength at 3-1 up prior to the interval.
You can castigate Jamal Lewis but he was a symptom of a wider malaise.
Farke is right. The run-in does matter because it sets the tone for the summer and frames the degree of optimism around the club.
Lewis will be a key part of that strategy.
When you see him exposed at Hull against the best player on the pitch in Liverpool’s Harry Wilson it merely underlines his accelerated rate of progress and the seamless nature of his first team transition.
It should be no surprise that a 20-year-old who only made his senior debut on December 22 is going to have days that illustrate he is still learning his craft in a harsh, unforgiving environment. He needed more help from those around him but City’s play was bereft of cohesion or a collective discipline.
Farke has effectively had to plan without Christoph Zimmermann for the past two league games but that revision to a flat back four has left his defence vulnerable and Alex Tettey incapable of putting out all the fires on his own.
Nottingham Forest’s wayward finishing let them off lightly at Carrow Road.
Hull eventually found their radar, aided by a bizarre penalty decision from referee Simpson early in the second period. You could point to that episode as justifiable mitigation, but neither Farke or his players were offering any excuses.
The honesty with which the head coach opts to berate his men, when they drop below the standards he expects, extended to the shortcomings he witnessed at Hull.
Within five minutes of kick off, Farke was front of house in the technical area, urging his backline to engage higher up the pitch.
The message appeared lost in translation.
It needs to get through again.
This was not simply a bad day at the office, this felt like a warning.
To keep the motivation high when there is materially nothing at stake - in terms of Norwich’s league status - and asking certain players to step up who will not be part of the vision moving forward is a difficult tone to achieve.
But fall the wrong side of these type of goal-laden contests on a regular basis down the stretch and the questions will outweigh the answers in the minds of Norwich supporters.
It remains much too early to pass definitive judgements on the direction being shaped by Farke and Webber, but the fear is genuine signs of progress become clouded by obvious concerns on the pitch and the financial backdrop off it.
The latter is not going away, the former can only really be assessed next season, when another couple of transfer windows allow a greater degree of clarity.
If it feels like a holding pattern, with positive steps forward and the odd regressive blip, that’s because it is.
Days like Hull can only be dismissed lightly if they are outweighed by the seam of consistency that preceded these last couple of outings.
The foundations still appear to be planted in shifting sands.
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