Chris Goreham: How the match nobody wanted teed up Norwich City's winning streak
PUBLISHED: 15:00 25 September 2018
It was the match that no-one wanted.
When Norwich City were drawn away to Cardiff City in the second round of The Carabao Cup the groans from Norfolk could probably have been heard in Wales. Yet that night might just prove to be the pivotal point in the Canaries’ entire season.
It certainly didn’t feel like it at the time.
Having scrapped through a tricky first round tie against Stevenage with two goals in the final seven minutes there wasn’t much of an appetite for a 500-mile round trip to Cardiff in the midweek before the East Anglian Derby.
Ipswich Town had come up with a clever plan that involved losing to Exeter on penalties in the first round of the cup to leave them a clear week ahead of the derby.
With that tussle looming large the reservations were understandable.
Daniel Farke described it as “the worst draw we could get” when he spoke to the media the day after it had come out of whatever the modern equivalent is of the old velvet bag that they used to use for cup draws.
MORE: Six things we learned from Loftus Road win
Farke, as expected, made several changes to his team when the game came around.
Max Aarons was at left back with Todd Cantwell in front of him. Emi Buendia started for the first time and Marco Stiepermann was employed in an attacking midfield role.
Not many people in the ground, and I’ll hold my hand up to this, would have predicted the impressive 3-1 win against Neil Warnock’s Premier League Cardiff City that was to follow.
Norwich City hadn’t rearranged the deckchairs for the sake of it.
That performance was so impressive that Aarons and Buendia have started every game since.
Would Daniel Farke have picked them at Ipswich if he hadn’t seen them deal so impressively with Cardiff? I doubt it. That performance gave him a reason to back his untried talents in the Championship.
More recently Stiepermann has been reprising the role he played that night in Championship matches.
The German must feel like a new signing to Farke. Last season we saw him filling in at left back when he wasn’t injured.
Only now is he getting the opportunity to show City fans that he’s actually a midfielder and a pretty decent one at that.
Like Hernandez, Mario Vrancic and Moritz Leitner, Stepermann is one of the foreign imports we saw last season who is benefitting from being allowed time to get used to the demands of the English game.
MORE: Scoring more is next target for City
One person who hasn’t been as fortunate is Dennis Srbeny.
The striker was arguably the stand-out player in that cup tie, scoring twice and pushing his claims for a Championship start as hard as he possibly could.
Poor old Srbeny has only been allowed an 11-minute cameo as a substitute against Ipswich since that double.
It’s not so much Daniel Farke who has been keeping him out of the team as Teemu Pukki. Srbeny is the Andy Murray of the current Norwich City squad. His best form has coincided with Pukki being as faultless as Federer and Jordan Rhodes as determined as Djokovic.
Srbeny will probably get his chance at Wycombe tonight in the third round and if he takes it again who knows what might happen?
Perhaps we need to stop thinking that League Cup line-ups with nine, 10 or 11 changes are signals of disrespect to the competition.
Farke has made no secret of his admiration for Aarons, Cantwell and co. but he needed to see them in anger rather than the Under 23s before placing his full confidence in them. They have certainly grasped that opportunity with both hands.
What started as a match that no-one wanted has ended up contributing to a winning run of three straight league matches.
On the right Rhodes
One player who deserves a special mention for the role he’s played in the wins over Middlesbrough, Reading and QPR is Jordan Rhodes.
Yes, I know he’s been a substitute for all three games and been on the pitch for a grand total of 11 minutes but there is method in my madness. Don’t write me off just yet as one of those smart alecs who likes to talk-up James Milner as the real star of a Liverpool team that includes Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
QPR’s Loftus Road stadium is one of the tightest there is. Our commentary position was so close to the action that we had a brilliant view of Norwich City’s pre-match warm-up. During it we noticed Jordan Rhodes almost man marking Todd Cantwell. Not in the way a bigger boy might try to steal a first year’s dinner money, he was talking to him more like a teacher at regular intervals and clearly passing on what advice he thought was most appropriate to a 20-year old on the verge of just his second league start.
After the match, while waiting for interviews by the tunnel, Rhodes came past with a smile almost as bright as that illuminous City third kit. “What a week!” he beamed to the assembled journalists as we sheltered from the rain.
It felt significant because here was a case study of a player showing all the character and spirit a successful squad needs. Brought in on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, Rhodes seemed set to be Nowich’s main striker this season but found himself left out of the starting XI for the match against his old club Middlesbrough just over a week ago.
It was noticeable at Reading when he was sent on with City protecting a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute that he didn’t behave like some strikers might have done. After being put in promising attacking positions a couple of times he didn’t look to score a goal that would make a point to the manager and further his own cause for a starting place. The 28-year old looked after the ball as close to the corner flag as possible for as long as possible and helped Norwich see that win out.
One, two or even three swallows don’t make a successful season so I’m not getting carried away but it is good to acknowledge a group of players when they are trying to do the right thing.