Chris Goreham: City skipper's hard-hitting response to post-match question
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
“I’m not telling you.”
That was the answer Grant Hanley gave in our post-match chat when asked about Dean Smith’s first half-time team talk as Norwich City head coach.
The aim was to produce some radio as insightful and entertaining as when Michael Parkinson interviewed Billy Connolly. Instead, I ended up feeling more like Parky must have felt when he went up against Rod Hull and Emu. That’s what happens when you try to find out what really goes on in the dressing room.
It’s been a monumental couple of weeks at Carrow Road. The departure of Daniel Farke really was the end of an era. That fact was underlined on Saturday afternoon when the Norwich City squad for the match against Southampton didn’t feature anyone who had played for the club under any other manager. All 11 starters and the nine substitutes were given their Norwich debuts during the German’s four-and-a-half years in charge.
Perhaps a shaky first half against the Saints should have been expected. The new head coach accepted the warm applause of his home fans and then, less than three and a half minutes later, watched his team go a goal down. How must that have felt? Smith had been in New York a week earlier, visiting his son. Unlike the taxis there, his bright yellow charges were struggling to pick people up.
Southampton’s domination was punctuated by a rare but well timed Teemu Pukki header. Only the third of his 71 City goals that has been scored in such a manner.
Pukki now has four Premier League goals at Carrow Road since January 2020. That puts him level with West Ham’s Michail Antonio who got all of his in one afternoon during that dreadful Project Restart run. I can’t think of a fact that better underlines City’s struggle for top flight goals in the latter stages of the Farke era.
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Somehow Norwich held on and went in at half-time level against Southampton.
It was the first opportunity for Dean Smith and his assistant Craig Shakespeare to show what they are about. Could they inspire a better second half?
What happened between 3.50 and 4.05pm in the home dressing room will always remain a mystery. What goes on in there, stays in there.
We’ve all formed very definite opinions of what went wrong for Daniel Farke and how he ended up losing his job. The discussions about that and who was the best person to take over filled the international break nicely for City fans. Hanley’s refusal to lift the lid on the goings on behind the scenes at Carrow Road on Saturday made me realise how little any of us actually knows.
We base our assumptions on the bits we do see. Which is good news for Smith and Shakespeare because the second 45 minutes were so much more encouraging. At half-time a Norwich City victory felt like it would have to be a fortunate smash-and-grab effort.
By the time Hanley headed home the winner the City fans had begun to sense that it might just be coming.
They had waited long enough for it. It was the first time a packed Carrow Road had been able to celebrate a home league win since before the first lockdown. It was even longer since the Canaries had taken anything from a Premier League game in which they’d gone behind.
No Norwich City manager had won his first Premier League game in charge since Mike Walker at Arsenal in August 1992. That was a comeback that also owed much to Walker’s half-time handywork. On that occasion a 2-0 deficit at Highbury was transformed into a 4-2 win that started a remarkable couple of years for the Canaries.
There is plenty of work still to do but it was a win that felt significant. The perfect way for Grant Hanley to celebrate his 30th birthday, a winning goal in from of The Barclay. I just hope Hanley was a bit more forthcoming when his nearest and dearest ask what he’d like as a present.
Every summer football fans and pundits enjoy sharing their pre-season predictions.
It’s a pointless exercise though, isn’t it?
Who, at the start of August, would have come up with Norwich City’s first home win of the season being under Dean Smith?
The glorious unpredictability of football is what keeps us all going week after week.
In the summer Smith’s Aston Villa had signed Emi Buendia from Norwich. Yet there was cautious optimism about the quality of the new look City squad and Daniel Farke was beginning a brand new contract. Hard to believe that was only three months ago.
Staying in the same job for more than four years in modern football was a good achievement for Farke. It means his departure feels like a watershed moment. So what are the early impressions of his replacement?
Bill Murray once said: “I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.”
It’s one of those quotes you can get on mugs, t-shirts and postcards to stick on the fridge. Dean Smith has already mentioned his dog a couple of times in press conferences so we can take that as a good sign.
Apparently, he composes his team talk while on long dog walks. He must have the most motivated dog in Norfolk. We’ve already seen he’s good at regaining the lead.
I might have to increase the intensity of my own dog walks though. On Saturday the new head coach was lightning quick to get to his post-match media duties.
I’ve written before about how long it takes to get down from the South Stand gantry after a Carrow Road commentary. I then have to get round the other side of the pitch towards the tunnel where we record our chats for the radio.
If that’s the way it’s going to be under Dean Smith, I might have to start doing a bit of hopping up Mousehold in order to keep pace.