David Freezer: City need to summon their Wembley spirit against Boro
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It’s time to summon some of that Wembley spirit, which Norwich City so memorably nailed in the play-off final three years ago.
So much has happened at Carrow Road since May 2015 that it almost feels like ancient history – as Middlesbrough continue their pursuit of revenge today.
Boro could not match the precision, determination and calm of Alex Neil’s yellow and green heroes of that brilliant bank holiday Monday. After all the ups and downs of that dramatic season, City got everything right when it mattered.
Digging out a performance of a similar ilk would be so welcome today, when the visitors head for kick-off as clear favourites after an impressive start to the season.
Too many times games been spoken about as ones that could or should have been won already this season. At some point soon, some of those near misses have to become wins, or trouble lies ahead.
That glorious Wembley day came little more than a month after Boro had come to Carrow Road and brought an end to a five-match winning streak to end City’s automatic promotion hopes, with an unfortunate Alex Tettey own goal the difference in front of the Sky cameras.
It was a defeat which fuelled Norwich for their big day – and earned an immediate Premier League return, in unforgettable style.
Of course it was Russell Martin lifting the trophy that day, the man recently let go by City. When the long-serving defender’s exit was announced it was also revealed he would be returning to say farewell at a game this season. What better opportunity that today, when the emotions are still raw and memories of that day can come flooding back?
Russ to lead On the Ball City ahead of kick-off? That would certainly crank up the atmosphere ahead of a game where a win could have a transforming effect on this crucial run of seven games in just three weeks.
Since that day Boro have experienced their own brief return to the land of hype and hyperbole but couldn’t even find a way to score against Daniel Farke’s team last season, losing 1-0 home and away.
They may be matching Leeds for points so far but it would be surprising to see Tony Pulis’ side pass with the sharpness of Marcelo Bielsa’s impressive promotion hopefuls, or press with the same intensity.
The former Stoke boss has proudly never been relegated and his reputation is founded on organisation, physical strength and set-piece dominance.
This Boro squad has too much ability to replicate the ugly, direct style which Pulis engineered to successfully keep Stoke in the Premier League for five years under his watch though.
From Darren Randolph in goal, to George Friend and Aden Flint in defence, to Jonny Howson in midfield and Britt Assombalonga up front, the visitors had the quality – now they have the manager with the nous and experience to point them in the right direction.
Is Farke that presence for Norwich? As yet it’s difficult to say that the German is having such a drastic influence on his team, even when the cost-cutting and vast changes are accounted for. While there have been highs and lows, City have only truly looked like a settled and structured side during the nine-game unbeaten run which kicked off around this time last year.
Recently there have been signs of greater potential as the ability within the remodelled squad shows glimpses of attacking flair but often this leads to a midfield which fluctuates in shape with each passing attack. Purposefully so, it would seem.
Confusing your opponent and making it difficult to predict where the threat will come from is great when it works – but when chances are missed and defensive mistakes are made, it can look uncertain and leave holes when confidence dips.
An organising figure behind that flexible midfield has of course been captain Grant Hanley, now facing around 10 games out with a thigh injury.
The Scot looked to be finding his form in recent games, with no end of headed clearances and physical tussles as he shook off the rust of a disrupted pre-season.
It’s a huge blow, no doubt, and has immediately prompted talk of big chances for Christoph Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey in the weeks to come. What happens if they can’t fill the Hanley shaped hole, though?
Buckle up, this next three weeks could be quite the ride on the Norwich City roller-coaster.
My team for today: Krul; Godfrey, Zimmermann, Klose; Marshall, Tettey, Trybull, Lewis; Pukki, Rhodes, Hernandez
Norwich City have been the 27th most exciting club to follow in English football since 1958, according to the Daily Telegraph.
An ‘Excitement Index’ using 60 years of data from the top four tiers and the FA Cup was used, awarding points for titles, promotion, relegation, a top or bottom six finish, goals per game, win percentage and the round they reached in the FA Cup.
Who comes out on top? No surprise, Manchester United, with 28.52 excitement points, apparently. Liverpool and Chelsea make up the top three ahead of Wolves, Wimbledon and Luton. The Canaries picked up 24.17 points to slot into 27th, between Blackburn and Rotherham.
Why over 60 years is not clear but had it been over the last 10 City surely would have been a lot higher up. Three relegations, three promotions and four seasons in the top flight – and yes, the jokes about excitement on the pitch for recent seasons are clear.
Ipswich were 40th. Where would they have been placed for the last 10 years...
Magic of the cup
I’ve covered a fair few FA Cup qualifying ties during my career but I’m fairly sure Tuesday’s 7-0 success for King’s Lynn was a first for me.
The Linnets should, of course, be beating teams who play two tiers lower than them in the non-league pyramid but had been held to a 2-2 draw at home by Histon last weekend.
That prompted Stephen Cleeve to sack Simon Clark, after a slow start to the season. Although that means the Lynn chairman may have made the wrong appointment this summer, fair play to him for reacting quickly.
The attacking energy of the Lynn squad’s approach was great to see, with caretakers Robbie Back and Neil Fryatt taking off the shackles.
It was always going to be tough to match the 100 points achieved under Ian Culverhouse last season and now Lynn would need to win 32 of their 36 games to match that huge total. So instead it’s all about avenging that cruel play-off final defeat instead – and appointing a manager who keeps that attacking spirit alive is needed.